Quick Look: Delorme Street Atlas USA 2005

By Merle Nicholson, TTampa PC Users Group
merle@merlenicholson.com


Street Atlas USA 2005 is a very good product that is simply getting better year after year. It is travel mapping, travel planning, real time auto navigation, a “point of interest” locator, and much more. This version adds many functional improvements in addition to the expected highway and database updates. I’m going to be covering some of the improvements and also go over the disappointing installation problems. If you’re upgrading from a previous version, my own experience should save you some time.

At the minimum, even if you don’t travel with this software on a notebook as I do, you can make use of it on a desktop at home for travel planning and mapping. It’s useful as a substitute paper map of the city – for any city in the US for that matter – or perhaps to find the nearest Starbucks in Orlando if you’re visiting there and have a Latte attack. I think just about anyone can find a good use for at least some of the features. And at $49.95, you can’t beat the price.

My own interests extend to nearly the full capability of the software. I’d say the only thing I have no personal interest in is the hands-free voice command feature. I use a Delorme Earthmate USB GPS attached, and also an inverter to power the notebook charger while in the car. My next acquisition will be a Bluetooth version of the Earthmate, so I can eliminate the too-heavy USB cord that attaches to the GPS.

New Features

First and foremost, it’s faster. The program startup is very noticeably faster, something I appreciate especially on my not-too-fast notebook. The most important change they’ve made is to recalculate the route dynamically when you’re off the planned route. Say you’re out of state and in unfamiliar territory, and you decide to leave the highway for a gas stop. When you’re a certain distance off route, the program changes the planned route to get you back on track from wherever you are, and gets you back there the shortest (or fastest) way. What a difference this makes! Way to go, guys!

As you’re moving on a planned route, the synthesized voice anticipates turns and warns you ahead of time of upcoming turns. They’ve improved this by announcing the next TWO turns. Perhaps this doesn’t sound like much, but in practice it’s a much needed improvement I didn’t know I needed.

They’ve simplified the saving of route files. There was a big controversy over the redesign of this product several years ago (in the 2002 version, I think) and the file system was clever, but just too complex. Several other displays have been improved, and the large database expanded even further. There’s a GPS Points of Interest (POI) Radar search that is much easier to use. It searches for categories of items (stores, restaurants, exits, rest facilities) along the route, (optionally) in a forward direction. Good going, Delorme!

I do have a couple of complaints. There’s extra blank room on the right hand toolbar where a badly needed compass and speed indicator could go (and maybe altitude), and while that information is certainly available on a tab, you have to switch over to it and back to the usual tab, which for me is the next turn display. Another complaint I have is that there is no useful scale on the display to estimate distances. I say useful, because there is a fixed length bar that has a label specifying the length. How useful is a scale that says “2000 ft”? Or “500 ft”? Instead of 2000 ft it could be a slightly longer variable length bar that has marks to .5 miles. That’d be useful.

There’s a “clear trails” button that’s necessary to get rid of the green breadcrumbs wherever you go, but it’s in the wrong place in a hard to find location on one of the GPS tabs. And trails should automatically clear when you reverse your route.

Considering the complexity of this program, and make no mistake about it, this is a very complex program, it’s reliable and after a steep learning curve, easy to use. It has to be the premier product of its type. For campers, hikers and bikers, there’s a topographical version and also a version for Pocket PC’s. There are versions that also package their very fine GPS with the software. One deal is a package that bundles the Pocket PC version with the Bluetooth GPS for $150.

Installation problems

If you don’t have a previous version installed on the target computer, and you don’t have the Earthmate USB GPS driver software, you shouldn’t have any problems. I had both products, and if they had included instructions to uninstall the three previous products before installation (in my case, S&T USA 2004, S&T USA 2004 Data, and the USB GPS driver), I wouldn’t have had any problems either.

The installation program doesn’t recognize the existence of any previous version, so all the settings you may have had for the previous version are lost to the new one. You’ll probably want to edit the preferences to designate the speed traveled on each highway type, change the preferred highway and several other items, and you just have to do them all over again, just as you had to do the previous year.

To top it all off, the Earthmate USB GPS driver must be replaced with a new one, and the existence of the old one isn’t detected until the end of the main program installation. So at the end of a very lengthy program installation, it informed me that I needed to uninstall the old driver and then do the setup again. I uninstalled the driver from the control panel and also discovered that my 2004 version was still functional, so I uninstalled that, too. Then the new setup failed, with a message that temporary files could not be copied from some temp directory and with instructions that I must delete the main program directory manually. So I did that and, with both versions blown off the computer, I could start all over again. I’m still awestruck. It’s hard to believe that a computer program of this quality could not have an intelligent installation program written for it. If that CAN’T be done, at least add two sentences to the instructions: “First, uninstall any previous versions, including the Earthmate USB GPS driver” and “All your previous custom settings will be lost”.

Finally

The Earthmate driver installation has an optional serial port mapper, so that if you have other software that can read the NMEA standard GPS sentences, you can designate a “fake” serial port. This is very useful. If installed, you must also use the serial port designation for S&T USA 2005. The GPS connection settings are easy to set up.

The product comes on a two CD set for $49.95 ($39.95 + S&H promotional price for existing registered customers). The second CD is the database that can be used in your CD drive; installing it on the hard drive is optional. There’s a DVD version with a 31- million-business-telephone database on it, and various other packages including the topo version, Pocket PC and WAAS-enabled GPS, both USB and Bluetooth Logger. Look at the various packages at http://www.delorme.com. u