capsule review

DeLorme Street Atlas USA 2009 Mapping Software

At a Glance
  • Delorme Street Atlas USA 2009

    PCWorld Rating

    This package offers desktop mapping tools at a bargain price, but it's no substitute for a good GPS.

DeLorme's PC-based Street Atlas used to be my go-to application for detailed and accurate travel directions. But then came Mapquest, Google Maps, and easy-to-use portable GPS devices for my car. Street Atlas didn't become irrelevant, but certainly it was no longer essential. Following my test-drive of the 2009 version, the word that came immediately to my mind was disappointing.

Street Atlas has been a flexible and powerful mapping program for some time. For the modest price of $40, you receive detailed street maps of the United States and Canada, millions of points of interest, and the ability to see real-time location information (when you attach a GPS receiver to your PC). Nothing novel there--you get much of the same with Mapquest or any good car-centric GPS product. Premiering in the 2009 edition, according to DeLorme, are thousands of new streets and updated street information, improved GPS navigation information, and support for Ultra-Mobile PCs. All of that does little more than keep Street Atlas's capabilities level with those of a typical GPS unit, however.

The advantage that Street Atlas holds over most competitors is its ability to do more than just display a map. For armchair cartographers, Street Atlas offers tools that go well beyond what you'll find in online mapping services and GPS receivers: map annotation, extended trip planners, and transfer of tracks, routes, and waypoints to and from selected GPS devices (Garmin being the most extensively supported GPS maker).

The disappointment starts with the interface. Though it's quick and adaptable, the getting-to-know-you phase can be painful. You need to spend some time with the manual. It took me a while, for example, to find out how to turn on the useful control panel--a feature I've relied on heavily in past releases.

The GPS turn-by-turn navigation was also interesting, to be charitable. (DeLorme sent its tiny LT-40 USB GPS receiver with my Street Atlas software--the $70 package is a bargain.) The thousands of updated streets did not include my neighborhood, in the small town of Truckee, California. Truckee is well traveled and well established, but a number of streets--none of them new--are missing from the DeLorme maps. Street Atlas's turn-by-turn directions for my daily trip between work and home included rarely used dirt roads and an intersection that does not exist. When I used Mapquest and Google Maps to chart the same route, both steered me in the right direction (though not in real time).

Street Atlas lets you download satellite and aerial images and display them on your PC-based map. The downloads aren't free, but you receive a $40 coupon when you purchase Street Atlas. Though it's an attractive concept, the images I looked at did not have the detail or clarity of those you'll find for free on Google Earth.

I would pass up Street Atlas for real-time navigation--especially in the car. Spend a few hundred dollars for a good car-centric GPS device. For at-your-desk trip planning or a bit of fun with map making, however, Street Atlas's $40 price tag is a cheap investment.

--Tracey Capen

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At a Glance
  • PCWorld Rating

    This package offers desktop mapping tools at a bargain price, but it's no substitute for a good GPS.

    Pros

    • Fine selection of map-annotation tools
    • Bargain price

    Cons

    • Maps not always up-to-date
    • Some routes contained errors
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