Ottawa PC Users' Group, Inc.
 Product Review 


Microsoft Streets & Trips 2006 with GPS Locator
by Chris Taylor

If I am ever stranded on a deserted island and can have only one book, undoubtedly, I want National Geographic Atlas of the World. I love maps. And that extends down to street maps. Maybe it has something to do with the “guy thing” of not wanting to ask for directions.

There are many options for accessing street maps for free, including Google Earth, MapQuest, and Microsoft’s Windows Live Local. Even the Ontario Ministry of Transportation offers downloadable road maps in Adobe Reader format.

With many free choices for maps, why would anyone buy a mapping program? For me, it was the richness I found in Streets & Trips (S&T) that attracted me. It provides street-level maps for almost all communities in Canada and the U.S.

For trip planning, S&T has some great tools. You can look up locations and S&T will zoom to that spot. Mark one spot as a starting point and another as the end and S&T will calculate the route and highlight it on the map. If you don’t like the route S&T calculates, you can highlight the route and drag it where you want. S&T recalculates the route to pass that way. You can mark an area you want to avoid. You can have it find the fastest route or the shortest route. It will even calculate the estimated time and gas costs.

You can easily change what landmarks are shown by S&T, choosing from 51 different categories including 15 different cuisines for restaurants. In all, there are 1.8 million points of interest.

Print options include overview maps, strip maps, turn by turn maps (which show close ups of places where you have to change direction), and you can print driving directions.

I like using free mapping sites on the Internet. But I like the idea of having all the data with me on my laptop’s hard drive. When I am on the road, I can look up new information, change my route, and find interesting areas nearby.

The full name of Streets & Trips with GPS Locator gives away the most fascinating thing about this version of S&T – the included Global Positioning System locator. This magical little two-inch square piece of plastic encases a GPS receiver; the Pharos GPS-360.

Just plug the six-foot USB cable into your computer, run S&T and bring up the GPS Task Pane. As soon as the receiver synchs up with enough satellites, it displays your current location on the map. As well, it displays your latitude and longitude, altitude, speed, and direction. Options include the ability to keep yourself centered on the map, rotate the map so your current direction is always upward on the screen, and having a blue trail show where you have traveled.


Screenshot: "On the way home"

New to version 2006 is the ability to have S&T speak directions to you as you travel along a route. While this is a really terrific feature, it uses the generic speech engine built into Windows XP. This was puzzling to me. Because it is a generic voice engine, it will try to pronounce anything, even that magical word from Colossal Cave Adventure game; XYZZY. As such, its pronunciation frequently leaves something to be desired. But S&T has a very limited vocabulary. I may be wrong, but phrases such as “Turn left in one point four kilometres”, “In two kilometres, continue straight” and “In three hundred metres, arrive at destination” seem to be about the extent of what it will say. S&T will not even attempt to tell you a street name to turn onto. As such, I think it would provide much clearer speech if it used canned sound snippets to generate the audible instructions.

That quibble aside, I love the GPS feature. The accuracy is quite good. If there are at least 3 satellites in view, which is normally the case, I find the position is accurate to within about 10 or 20 meters. With 5 or 6 satellites in view, the accuracy is about 5 metres or less.

Even if not using the GPS interactively, having it with me when I am on a trip guarantees I will never remain lost for long. I can just boot up the computer, and in minutes, I will know where I am within a few metres. And I don’t have to ask for directions.

System requirements:
Windows 2000 or XP (XP required for voice output).
Minimum disk space 500 MB (1.1 GB for full install)

Street price in Ottawa - $130


Bottom Line:

Microsoft Streets & Trips 2006 with GPS Locator
Street price in Ottawa - $130
from Microsoft


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