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Microsoft's Quick and Simple Mapping

Microsoft's $100 Streets & Trips 2006 with GPS Locator is quite a bit simpler to use than the Delorme software. Once you become familiar with the icons in the toolbar, getting directions and finding services is relatively fast and easy. Click on 'Find Nearby Places', and a well-organized list of service and location categories (restaurants, ATMs, museums) pops up. Choose the ones that interest you, and you'll see a category-specific icon for each place on the map.

The procedure for adding or removing categories for display is a bit cumbersome, however. It's a bit annoying that you cannot simply type in "Starbucks" and have all local Starbucks shops appear on the map. Also, the data probably isn't as complete as that of online mapping services: I found a relatively new neighborhood Peet's Coffee using Google Local and Yahoo Local Maps, but the shop was missing in Streets & Trips 2006. On the plus side, searches seem lightning-fast.

Streets & Trips gives you a few interesting tools for planning your driving vacation. You can specify the times of day you wish to drive (which the software then uses in its calculations), obtain travel time and trip cost estimates (including gas), and get construction alerts along your planned route.

You can also save your trip details as a Web page--to toss up on your road-trip blog, for instance. But I found no way to save favorite locations or addresses, and the updated construction-info wizard that is supposed to pull the latest reports from the Web failed to note that the San Francisco/Oakland Bay Bridge exit near PC World's office has been closed for months.

The small GPS receiver's USB cable measures 6 feet, long enough to reach comfortably from the dash to a notebook in the front seat. Directions were generally good: In my test the software created the best route from point A to point B and back again. But the in-car navigation capability was disappointing, as poor voice prompts and the lack of automatic redirection after a wrong turn (a standard feature in most GPS navigation systems) put me off course.

Bottom line: This package is great if you want an easy-to-use mapping system in your PC, with a vacation's worth of routes and services. But as an in-car navigation system, Streets & Trips 2006 lacks key usability tools.

At a Glance
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