StreetFinder for the Palm

by: Dale DePriest Rand McNally has released a new version of StreetFinder with a Palm interface for 2001. This review covers the new version.

Tips, Problems, and Workarounds

Here are some tips to get the most from StreetFinder for the Palm:
  • Using several smaller maps instead of one huge one generally has better results from a memory point of view.
  • With multiple maps you need to be careful to make sure there is some overlap between maps as the program will shut the gps off if it leaves an area covered by the loaded maps.
  • If you use routes with only partial maps loaded the unit will continue to navigate using the route map even if you leave the area with actual maps so long as you don't leave the full rectangular area. It will not switch to another map even if you have a better one.
  • When switching maps manually the SF does not maintain gps navigation. You must reselect the gps interface to start it.

Street Finder from Rand McNally has had support for the palm for some time but only for directions. The 2000 deluxe version added support for gps and downloadable maps for the palm. In the 2001 version the program has been improved greatly to address problems in the original version. This review covers the new version but only as it relates to the palm, please see my Streetfinder review for information on the pc program.

The palm program has two basic modes of operation. The main mode is to display maps which can be obtained from the cdrom by specifying an area by using the PC version of StreetFinder to graphically define the corners and then exporting this area to the palm. The next hotsync will load the map to the palm where it can be viewed. The streetfinder on the palm can then be used to display a map, search for data, and to provide real time display position using a gps. The second mode is to display route turn by turn instructions. Unfortunately the turn by turn instructions do not support a gps so you cannot use theses instructions with a gps to guide you to a destination, however the route is also displayed on a map so you can use the gps to show your position on a map and use the map display to guide you along the route.

To get started you will need to sync program to the palm and download at least one map area for the palm. A downloadable map area is selected from the main Windows based maps which covers the entire continental USA plus Hawaii. Once the map area is selected the actual palm download map comes from another cdrom. These maps are ETAK based which is one of the most accurate available for palms. I found the road positions and the gps position to generally agree which is often not the case for Tiger based maps. In addition the downloaded maps look like the ones on the pc making good use of palm gray scale capability to show Freeways, highways, and secondary roads. The Freeways often even show the two divided halves of the road. The maps are full vector maps with street labels that are dynamically placed on the streets. Maps can be panned and zoomed with higher zoom levels showing full street level detail. Tap a road to reveal its name and for many streets a range of street numbers.

You can also download a route to be followed on the palm with turn by turn instructions. The routes are generated by an automatic routing engine that is only available via a network connection. You generate a route by specifying a start and end location and it will be generated via the network with the final route downloaded to the program. You can then display the route on maps, review it, save it, or export it to the palm. You do not have any control over the route and cannot specify any preferred route. If you need instructions to go back home you will need to generate another route with the start and end reversed. You can export a route to the palm which provides a graphic display of the entire route and a turn by turn textual description. The turn by turn can be displayed as a full scrollable summary or as individual legs. The graphic display is not tied to the text except that they share the same database file, which is too bad since it would have been nice for them to be synced together so that you could switch from one to the other easily. The graphic display always has a full view of the route available and detailed street level maps of both ends of the route. It addition is can optionally include full detailed maps of the full route with some surrounding area or a full detailed map of the entire rectangular area that contains the map. This last option can result in a really large map which might not even fit in the palm. Note that if you want a reverse route you will have to export it separately which can waste palm memory due to the need for several copies of the maps.

The maps are gray scale or color, pannable, and zoomable and include full detail that is automatically adjusted as you zoom out. A database of poi's can be downloaded that can be searched by category. You can also do address searches but they will only resolve to an address range on the palm. Gone from the 2000 version is the ability to search from your address book. You can add notes to the data and you can also add new entries yourself. This data cannot be uploaded back to the windows machine, however. Multiple maps are supported only limited by available memory. GPS support is visual position only with a limited visual track similar to the same display on the Windows version and the gps interface is turned off if you leave the area of available maps. There are no separate gps screen displays.

One problem with the Rand McNally maps is the fact that they are too detailed for some users. The full detail must always be loaded which means that, for large areas, the maps can be too big to fit in a palm. The 2001 version has solved this problem for trips using the auto router by providing the ability to download maps that are only detailed at the ends or along the proposed route without including any mapping outside the route area. This can dramatically reduce the required memory for maps but only works if you autoroute the trip.

So how does it all work

Once you have downloaded the maps and program to the palm you can simply start the program and select a map. If there is a route associated with the map you will be given a choice to view the route as well. The map selection page can also be used to view details about the maps and to delete them.

The display scrolling is done by laying down a successive set of fix location icons until the edge of the screen is reached and then redrawing the screen with the new position somewhere on the display that trys to minimize the need for another redraw. This can give a sense of direction and speed. The performance at highway speeds on a Palm III can cause lots of redraws with only a small amount of display time. Although the redraw speed is faster in the 2001 version that the previous version it can still present a problem for older palms, however with the new higher performance Palm units the display works quite well. If the performance is a problem a new feature is the ability to automatically scale the maps based on your current speed. This works well and can provide an effective compromise between detail and performance.

GPS performance was fine using my GPS Companion but terrible when I used any of my Garmin units via the serial port. Updates were spasmodic ranging from every 2 seconds (full speed on the Garmin) to 15 or 20 seconds between updates for no apparent reason. Having the update interval jump around so much meant the display was unreliable and couldn't be trusted to tell you about a turn in time to take it. This is a serious problem IMHO.

Outside of this one serious problem I found the program to be quite good and well designed.

Lots more stuff to come - stay tuned and check back often