Street Atlas USA 2005

Quick look

Detailed trip planner and electronic co-pilot

Price: $49.95 for the software; $99 for the software and an Earthmate GPS system

Phone: 800-561-5105

Street Atlas USA 2005

If you have ever tried to use an online mapping program, then you have probably experienced at least a time or two where the map was inaccurate. I use MapQuest a lot, but about once a month or so it tries to have me drive into a dead end or take the wrong exit.

Street Atlas USA 2005 does not simply rely on existing data like most systems. The company actually employs a lot of cartographers who use Global Positioning System mapping and aerial photography to constantly correct their maps. In our testing, the most recent 2005 version contained all the correct exit numbers for Northern Virginia, even though the state recently changed the exit numbers and the free online mapping services have yet to catch up.

The best part of the software, however, is automatic routing. You simply click on your departure point and then on your destination. It can take about a minute to crunch all the data, but when it is finished you have a very detailed route plan. The software will even suggest the best points to refuel your vehicle, if you are about to enter a long stretch of nothing and have been driving for a while. And it will suggest a location to stop for the night given your average speed and driving distances. Of course, it does not take into account the possibility of multiple drivers in the car, but is pretty accurate for single-driver situations. And the fuel suggestions are spot on in our testing.

One of the reasons it can suggest refueling spots is because it has more than four million points of interest programmed into it. This is everything from restaurants and gas stations to local Wal-Marts where you can pick up auto supplies or an extra DVD to keep the kids happy in the back.

Printing out the directions is worthwhile, but the best way to use the software would be to take a laptop and the program with you. You can tie your laptop into the Earthmate GPS system, which you can purchase for $99 and which also includes the Street Atlas Software, and the program will track your progress. If you want, it will even tell you when to turn by speaking to you.

I put a laptop in my passenger seat and powered it using a cigarette lighter adapter. As I drove my planned route, it told me 'turn left' as I approached the next intersection, and it tracked me on the maps. I was also able to have it compute the nearest fast-food restaurant from my current location and have it direct me there.

The Street Atlas USA 2005 edition is a powerful tool for road warriors. It's an unerring co-pilot that won't get on your nerves. That is because it has basic speech recognition software, and you can tell it to 'be quiet.' It will shut up after that without the slightest protest.

About the Author

John Breeden II is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

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