Reviews: Software

Review of Space Machine's PocketMap Navigator

     Using a GPS with a PDA is completely unless you have the software to map your location for you. Software for mapping can be fairly simple, just showing you where you are on a map, or software can be extremely advanced. On the advanced side of things you have PocketMap Navigator by Space Machine. PocketMap Navigator includes not only the ability to plot yourself on a map, but also allows you to change your view of the current map, develop multi-stop routes, recalculate routes on the fly, and find points of interest that are near your current location. PocketMap Navigator is not only for PDA?s but also has a Windows component for mapping before you go on your trip. I'll talk about all that in just a minute, but simply put, PocketMap Navigator is the complete solution for using a GPS with your Pocket PC PDA. And before I get into the review, I must thank "thePDAmart" for supplying me with a copy of PocketMap Navigator for use with the Arkon Powered GPS Mount. Both are available in a special package from "thePDAmart website for great price.
    
PocketMap Navigator comes on three CD's for the United States due to the massive amount of information contained on the disks. In most cases, users do not need all this data. For me, I have not used anything other than the west coast disk, and more specifically, nothing other than some counties in Oregon and Washington. PocketMap Navigator does not require downloading whole states or cities, you just download the counties you need. But if you don?t know what counties you will need, PocketMap Navigator will take care of that as well based on your route.
The part of PocketMap Navigator that runs on your computer is primarily for downloading maps to your device. It will also plot routes for you with multiple stops and will allow you to download the route with the corresponding maps. The desktop application is one of the pitfalls of PocketMap Navigator. Simply put, it really is not quite as good as it could be. It can be confusing to use and has some functions that really limit route making. For instance, one part of the application is the Map Data download. Simple mode is kind of pointless as it shows you a map of the US but does not zoom when you want to narrow down which maps you need to download. In advanced mode it is much better as you can specify a city and state, and PocketMap Navigator will tell you which counties you need to download. Having the right maps is critical. There are some problems with PocketMap Navigator when you do not have the exact maps you need or if you have maps to specific for a route (for instance my device could not show me a route because it didn?t have the maps it needed). Another part of the application is the Highway Grid download. This part allows you to download highway grids so you don?t have to download all the counties on a longer trip where you are on the highway. Really, this has no use as you are probably building a route anyway and downloading the appropriate maps there. To build a route on the Windows applications, you use the Route Corridor creator. It is nice to have this functionality off the mobile device as well so you can create your route before you leave. You can create a multi-stop route and download the appropriate maps for the route. Finding addresses can sometimes be trouble some. PocketMap Navigator tries to give you a lot of different ways to find an address, but they tend to just be more confusing than helpful. It would be much easier if PocketMap Navigator simply allowed you to put in an address instead of having to input all the information in separate boxes and find the appropriate street/city/state in a drop-down. On the mobile device it is the same way and tends to be a hassle. It also sometimes does not recognize things like Street as apposed to ST or if you put the North before the street or after. Another draw back is that you ca not see the map for the route, only the directions. But what you can do is tell PocketMap Navigator that you would like to avoid a certain road and it will recalculate a new map. Similarly, you can tell it which kinds of roads you like to drive and which you do not (for instance I put in that I like driving on interstates and highways) and it will try and mold the map to where you like to drive.
    
But part of PocketMap Navigator you want to hear about is the mobile device side of things. PocketMap Navigator is only available for Pocket PC, and I use it on my Dell Axim X5. One of the coolest things about PocketMap Navigator is the ability to look at a map from another perspective than just the bird-eye view. You can tilt the map to be more from the perspective of what you would see as you drive. The view is what is ahead of you toward the horizon. This a really cool way to look at where you are going and is completely unlike what you could do with a conventional map.
    
The main menu screen of PocketMap Navigator is great as the buttons are huge and easy to press with your finger while you are in the car. There are four sections of the program, GPS (for setting up the GPS), Map (for building a route or viewing a map), Directions (for viewing directions for a route), and Guidance (for viewing your current position on a map). Also you can access a special database of destinations. This is a very useful part of PocketMap Navigator, allowing you to quickly set a destination either by Address, Intersection, Coordinates, or Points of Interest that appear in the PocketMap Navigator system. But it gets better as you can also access your favorite locations you added on the desktop application or in the mobile application, you can view recent locations you used, or you can pull addresses from contacts (though this sometimes is a problem in the case that you have an apartment number on the address).
     In the GPS section you can see how man satellites are in view, being tracked, and are active. Also specified is the latitude and longitude of your current (or last) position as well as the current altitude. When you are connected to satellites you can also see you current speed and the direction you are traveling. In order to connect a GPS unit you can either have PocketMap Navigator scan for a device or set where the GPS is in advanced mode. I used the Arkon Powered GPS Mount which connects via the sync port to the device and all I had to do was specify that it connects to Com Port 1 (and I only had to specify this the first time).
    
Map mode is where you can setup a route. Again, I worry that Map mode is confusing as I had a hard time using it. Some of the functions simply don?t work like you would think when setting origin and destination points. It is much easier to use the desktop application to setup a route than trying to do it on the device. Map mode is best if you just need to set a destination from your current location or want to look at a map or route in a different location than where you currently are. Directions mode is only available when you have a route loaded and will show you the written directions of the route. Like in the desktop application you can change the route and tell the device to make a new map which avoids certain roads.
    
The mode that you will use most is Guidance mode as it is the active map mode where you either can ?cruise? (see your current position without a route) or be guided by ?guidance? mode. In the cruise mode, you can view the map of where you either with the map oriented to your forward direction, north, or in the driving perspective mode. Also displayed on the screen in cruise mode is a compass along with your current speed. You can even set PocketMap Navigator to warn you if the speed is over the speed limit for that stretch of road. Below that the current street and city are displayed with the current block. All this comes in particularly handy when you are driving around a city. PocketMap Navigator also marks where you have been which is helpful if you need to review where you have been or to help you not drive in circles. Guidance mode works similar only instead of simply a map, a line shows the path PocketMap Navigator thinks you should follow. At the top of the screen the current/next direction is shown with easy to read symbols.
    
There are a number of really cool functions of PocketMap Navigator. A really helpful function is that PocketMap Navigator talks to you. It does welcome and thank you when you open and close the program which is REALLY annoying since you can not turn it off without turning off the navigation volume, but the navigation vocalization is helpful. PocketMap Navigator will tell you which way to will be turning when you are within a mile, then at 0.2 miles, and with then notify you when you are at the turn. This is great to keep your eyes on the road and is almost like having a navigator in the card. Also with the press of a button you can have the system repeat a direction of tell you the next direction. One that I always have to show off is the route recalculation function. Often I miss a turn or turn on a wrong street. Then my directions from the web are totally useless. But with PocketMap Navigator, directions are recalculated as soon as the system notices that you are on the wrong road or wrong part of the road instead of where you need to be. It thinks for a couple of seconds and then recalculates a new route for you, or if nothing else it shows you how to get back on course with the old route. The other really cool function is that there is both a mileage and time countdown when you are driving a route. It tells you both how many miles you have left to travel in the trip and how many minutes. But when more than that, it does the calculation for you and will show you when it think you will arrive at your destination. No more estimating when your friends call and ask how long, PocketMap Navigator has you covered.
    
Mapping is a great function for your PDA. The ability to recalculate routes is great for a PDA especially a powerful device like a Pocket PC. Being able to use a Pocket PC with my GPS in my car has been great in helping me get where I need to go and not getting lost along the way. PocketMap Navigator is an interregnal part of the solution. The functionally of PocketMap Navigator puts a large scale mapping solution right in your mobile device for use on the go with the information you will need at your fingertips. PocketMap Navigator is not cheap, priced at $90 for maps of the United States (or $75 if you buy it with the Arkon Powered GPS Mount with our friends at "thePDAmart), but if you are looking for one of the best GPS mapping programs, PocketMap Navigator is it.
 

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Feel free to email me about your own PDA, questions, comments, articles, rumors, and reviews.  I can be reached at dave@davespda.com.