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Directions on-the-go from MDM for Palm and Pocket PC
Posted Feb. 6, 2005 by Tanker Bob

Ever feel like that classic conversation in Stephen King’s Children of the Corn? The story starts with a couple driving on a highway past seemingly endless rows of corn. The wife asks “Where are we?” The husband replies "Nebraska", to which his wife replies (slightly cleaned up) "Yeah, but where are we?" You don’t necessarily have to own a GPS to answer that question. Mobile Digital Media has brought a nice software approach to your PDA—Directions on-the-go based on the Smart2Go engine.

Directions on-the-go reminds me of desktop programs like Microsoft's Maps and Streets. It runs off databases of streets and locations of interest. I tested with the Washington DC databases using a Palm Tungsten T3. As you can see from the screen shots, Directions doesn't support the T3’s full screen or 16-bit color modes.

 

screen shot

 

When launching the program, a map of the last area viewed comes up. From here you can: enter an address to locate; search for a location like a hotel, restaurant, historical site, etc.; or get directions from one point to another. On the upper right, you can add bookmarks and/or points of interest to the display (the list of types to display is configurable), or switch to a 3-D display.

 

screen shot

 

Entering start and endpoint for directions happens on dedicated dialogs. The user may also choose to pick a location on the map or call up a bookmark previously set. The street number occupies a separate line from the street name, which takes some getting used to.

 

screen shot

 

Once you enter the start and end points of your proposed journey, Directions computes the route. You can set it to find either the shortest or quickest route. The turn arrows and text instructions give the user a step-by-step path from start to finish. Since a picture is worth a thousand words, you can tap on the square icons on the upper right of each leg’s data to get a map presentation of the route.

 

screen shot

 

The map presentation provides the text direction for the current segment at the top. The map provides way point numbers corresponding to the text direction segment and an overlaid blue line indicating the route. You can page up/down through the route in this mode, and even zoom in to get more detail on the way point areas. The ama zing zoom feature, accessed via the semi-transparent vertical bar on the right side of the screen, goes all the way from the centerline on a street out to the entire map coverage area.

 

screen shot

 

The greater detail comes in handy in a place like DC where the streets and clover leafs are packed tighter than flounders in a matchbox. At this level of zoom and better, the maps proved accurate in the areas which I checked. I only found one misnamed street during testing, and that wasn't in DC itself. Oddly enough, the street's name was correct in the directions when I reversed the route.

 

screen shot

 

Searching for Locations in the database is best done by limiting the search criteria. My search for the White House turned up 39 possible locations with the search set to "All", but only four when properly limited! I displayed the result in 3-D mode in the screen shot. I highly recommend setting the filtering criteria to the type of location you wish to find. A really handy feature entails searching without specifying a location name but setting the search criteria as desired. Using this will allow you to find a list of hotels, restaurants, Metro stations, etc., sorted by distance from your current position on the map. Very slick!

Coverage in the city itself proved very good. You can easily and accurately find locations by address or type and get directions there. However, the city maps don’t extend very far outside the actual city limits. Metro DC extends well beyond the city’s borders, but Directions covered only a very small fraction of that surrounding area.

As with all such programs and services, including those on the Internet or on the desktop, one should do a sanity check before burning petrol or shoe leather. I asked Directions to calculate my daily route to work. Although I only live a couple of miles from my office and require just a few turns, Directions produced a complex route having many more segments than minutes in the drive. Just glancing at the map display revealed the easier route without all the turns. Directions worked quite well finding address locations, making visits to new places easier.

Directions only comes on a CD. Maps for major metropolitan areas come on the CD, including Los Angeles, Washington DC, Miami, Chicago, Boston, Denver, Baltimore, Detroit. A few more areas may be had from the Smart2Go web site. Other popular cities like Philadelphia aren't available yet. LA is split into three databases. Registering Directions on the Smart2Go web site with the link provided entitles users to 2 years of free map updates. Maps may be stored on your card to save RAM. The databases for Washington DC weighed in at about 3.2 MB including points of interest. Directions can also link to a GPS via Bluetooth or cable.

At $39.99 for the CD, Directions on-the-go provides a nice alternative to carrying around an expensive GPS or a collection of messy maps and can assist greatly in preplanning a trip. Having Directions on-the-go on your PDA can make visiting and getting around unfamiliar cities a breeze.

Pros:

Simple to use
Accurate maps
Fast route calculations
Nice map views and simple step-by-step directions
Easily finds the services/sites you seek closest to your map location

Cons:

No support for Hi Res+ on Palm version (more map on-screen would be better)
Maps don’t cover much of surrounding metro areas
Limited number of cities available

Palm
Pocket PC
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