RandMcNally StreetFinder mini-review (updated to 2003)

by Dale DePriest

SUMMARY:

GPS capability of this software is limited to real time display and recording. It can indicate your position and record a track log of your movements. The log file can be replayed later. There are 3 gps screens with speed, odometer, satellite data, clock, lat/lon indication in degrees and integer minutes, as well as sunrise and sunset times and other NMEA acquired data including one especially designed for kids to use. It works easily with Garmin units and should work with others using NMEA sentences. There is no support for waypoints or routes in conjunction with the GPS. The 2000 Tripmaker product has an identical interface. New with the 2000 release was gps and mapping support for Palm Pilots which has been improved significantly for 2001. Please see my Palm Streefinder review for information on these new capabilities. Beginning in the 2003 product is map downloads for pockepc products as well. The maps on the pocketpc do not support gps.

While I wouldn't buy this program solely for its gps capabilities, you might want to buy it for the maps as they are excellent or for its abiltiy to export those maps to a palm pilot or to a pocketpc. The maps were supplied on two and then later three CDROMs because the detail and support data wouldn't fit on one. An addtional CDROM had maps for the palm. For 2003 they have managed to use the palm maps which are highly compressed for the pc as well and magically the whole product fits on one CDROM with a little room to spare. The data is based on the TeleAtlas (formerly ETAK) database. TeleAtlas constantly updates their data so any cdrom product will be out of date very soon. RandMcNally publishes a new edition each year towards the end of the year but doesn't seem to have picked up the latest possible data. The 2003 data seems to be based on TeleAtlas data of late 2002.

The Rand McNally 2001 deluxe and later editions offers support for GPS and you can even buy the product with a gps device included. New for that year was extensively revised mapping support for the Palm Pilot. I managed to get an upgrade price from my previous version so I ordered it. This review is primarily from the viewpoint of gps usage with a focus on the palm. The software can also be ordered directly from their webpage, but you need to besure and get the deluxe version. There is also gps support for Tripmaker but I did not purchase this product so I can't comment on it.

Streetfinder 2000-2003 data

Yes, there is gps support and it worked easily when I connected by Garmin G12 up to the serial port. I turned it on and it searched a bit and locked onto the unit and displayed the location on a map on the screen.  I had the gps in simulator mode and NMEA ver2.0 interface turned on already.  There are three display modes.  The gps screen, the map only, and both the gps screen and the map.  In addition there are 3 different gps screens that can be selected. The interface is described in the manual.

The gps screen called navigator shows a speedometer, an odometer, a satellite screen that indicates signal strength, an altimeter, and the gps clock time. It also shows a compass with the heading displayed and points of interest data as well as a destination if you have set one with a estimated time to arrive. Unfortunately the destination cannot be set to a waypoint that you have set on the map but only to something in the address book or internal database. Nothing is configurable and I wasn't able to reset the odometer except by turning the interface off and then back on. They also have an easy view which takes over the whole screen displaying the basic same information plus sunrise and sunset. If you click on the screen then it immediately reverts back to the navigator screen. There is also a kid's screen that shows similar data with an emphasis on are we there yet. By default the map icon showing where we are changes as the speed changes. For example at 20 mph it thinks we are a bicycle while at 100 it assumes we are an airplane. The kids screen has the ability to change this icon. You can turn all of the gps screens off and display only the map screen if you wish, although the map screen display is smart enough to scoll and maintain the map view clear of the navigation screen even if you move it. It does not respond well to a lack of NMEA data having once acquired it. It just locks with the last position continuously displayed without any error message. If the nmea data says there is a problem then it knows about it and will display status on the satellite display. The satellite display didn't always agree with my gps.

The map screen is a standard map display with the current location shown on the screen along with a bread crumb route that provides history. Maps re-center automatically as you leave the edge of the window.  There is a lat/lon display at the bottom of the map but it is not updated by the gps.  It is tracking the cursor but only to degrees and integer minutes so it is not of much use for precise positioning anyway.  In general you can do anything you wish with the maps, look up information, re-scale, etc., while the gps is working. The gps will automatically recenter the map but you can turn this off if you wish. There is a function key interface as well as using the mouse so that laptop use while going down the road is a little safer.

The unit has the ability to record NMEA sentences to a file while the gps is in use.  You can also replay these files later to simulate the trip again. If you turn this on it will be remembered even if you shutdown streetfinder. If you turn the gps on later and it seems to be not working correctly then this is probably the reason.

The main reason for going with this program is the TeleAtlas database.  It is a very accurate US database, however, it is not perfect and in my home there are lots of errors. In addition there is a good attractions database supplied that can find hotels, car repair shops, entertainment, schools and churches, and many other places.  The complete Mobil guide is present and you can get details on many of these attractions.

This program needs horsepower to run.  The program runs in windows95, windows NT or later and wants a minimum of 256 colors.  Prior to the 2003 version it needed a cdrom to load and comes with two CD-ROM's worth of data.  You could download maps locally so It could be configured for a laptop without a cdrom but you would need lots of space.  You could download partial states but the entire state of Californian would need 125 Megabytes of disk space.  There are color schemes available that can help with laptop displays and for gps use there is an automatic day/night setting. You can even design your own. For 2003 the entire product runs from the single Palm compessed data base. Thus it needs even more horsepower to run to work with the full database and the ability to download individual states to the hard drive is gone. Instead you can download the entire map database in about 550 Meg of disk space.

If you want to use the maps for some other program you can copy them to the clipboard and paste them into what application you wish. The big problem is calibrating the maps.  There is no good way to calibrate them since the lat/lon indicator has such low resolution, but you can use the gps interface to make it possible. Basically you can set the gps in simulator mode and enter the points you need in the lat/lon display of the gps.  The track entry will go the the correct place on the screen and you can then set a pushpin in the map to record the exact lat/lon numbers.  Later when you capture the screen these pushpins can be used to accurately define the calibration points.  It is work but at least you are getting great maps. This is also the best way to find the lat/lon location on any object on the screen since the display only shows whole minutes.

The real power of this version is the ability to create maps for a palm pilot or pocketpc. Grey scale and color maps can be exported directly to the palm or Pocketpc and viewed using a supplied map viewer. These are just like the maps you see on the screen and can be panned and zoomed. You can even export a route you are planning and the points of interest database. This makes the maps very portable. The Palm interface does support a GPS interface but the pocketpc version does not. There is no tracklog for the palm version and although you can create markers they cannot be exported back to the main streetfinder program. If you export a route then the maps will be keyed to the route and you can even have automatic panning to match the current directions shown for the route. The database can be searched and you can search your palm address book if the map covers the address you want. For a review of the palm interface in Rand McNally check my Palm review page

For another review of this product check GPS Nuts

Comments? Mail to: Dale DePriest

revisions

originally posted to sci.geo.satellite-nav on 19 Jan 1998 by Dale DePriest and updated on 25 Jan 2000 for the web page version. It was revised in November 2001 to cover the 2001 edition and again in May 2003 to cover the newest version.