For trip planning, it’s always been hard to beat Microsoft Streets and Trips. And that remains true of the latest version, Streets and Trips 2010, even though many of its new features are less than compelling.
If you’re not familiar with it, Streets and Trips turns your laptop or netbook into a full-fledged GPS-navigation and trip-planning device. As with previous versions, Streets and Trips 2010 ships in two packages: a software-only version for $40; and a combo of software plus GPS locator for $70. Streets and Trips will work with most GPS receivers that are NMEA 2.0-compatible, so if you have such a receiver from a previous version, all you need is the software.
Microsoft hasn’t broken much new ground with the latest version of Streets and Trips. You do get updated maps for the U.S. and Canada, along with some welcome additions to points-of-interest categories. The major additions to the product, however, consist of a new “Send to GPS” feature as well as the ability to export route information in the standard GPX format. These are nice additions, but their usefulness is limited.
There are two ways to send directly to a GPS. You can updated the device via MSN Direct. However, the device must support MSN Direct and have an active subscription; Microsoft’s supported device list indicates that only a few models from Garmin, Nextar, and Pioneer can take advantage of this feature. You also can upgrade some GPS devices with a USB cable, using a computer with a live Internet connection. This method does not require an MSN Direct subscription, but it is limited only to Garmin devices and requires that you download and install an ActiveX control.
The GPX export feature worked as expected, but not all GPS devices support this format. I was able to successfully export a route and import it as a “Favorite” into a test Garmin nüvi 770.
Trip planning, however, is where Streets and Trips really shines. You merely enter one or more addresses or names of places, and you’re off. You can arrange multiple trip segments in any order, or let Streets and Trips optimize the route if you have three or more waypoints. Based on route preferences that you can customize, Streets and Trips calculates your route, complete with turn-by-turn directions and a map overview. You can even input the size of your gas tank, gas mileage, and the status of your tank at the beginning of the trip, and Streets and Trips will include a prompt for refueling. If you enter the current cost of gas, the estimated fuel cost of your trip appears at the bottom of the directions list.
After you complete your route planning and generate your route, you have multiple options for the screen display. You can choose to view only the map, the map plus a list of directions, or the map plus directions and a navigation pane. If the GPS receiver is enabled and receiving enough satellites, the navigation pane shows you the distance to your next upcoming turn, along with the direction of the turn. Optionally, you can turn on the GPS pane to display your current speed, direction, latitude, longitude, altitude, and time. Also, a full-screen mode will recover the space taken up by the menu bar.
I installed Streets and Trips on a netbook, a device that’s significantly smaller than the laptop that I normally use. Even its small size, however, wasn’t petite enough to make using Streets and Trips a viable alternative to a windshield-mounted GPS; there’s just not enough space on the dashboard for a netbook. But for larger vehicles, perhaps an SUV with a console, or an RV, it could be an option.
In my tests, the netbook had to sit on the passenger seat, and that required me to take my eyes off of the road to see the distance-to-turn indicator. Streets and Trips does offer text-to-speech (TTS) capabilities (they were added in the 2009 version), so the software did announce upcoming turns, along with street names. But the USB extension cable supplied with the GPS receiver was only slightly longer than two feet, so the receiver frequently fell off the dashboard, and often lost satellite lock. A four-foot cable with a suction cup to hold it on the dashboard, such as was supplied with Streets and Trips 2009, would probably eliminate that problem.
The routes generated by Streets and Trips were very good, and were comparable to routes generated on dedicated GPS devices. The software provides multiple printing options including strip maps, turn-by-turn maps, and directions only. I’ve printed directions for an upcoming trip, and will take them with me–as a backup to my in-dash GPS.
Though I found the new features of Streets and Trips less than compelling, at $40, it’s worth upgrading just to get the latest maps. If you’re using Streets and Trips 2008 or older, the new version is definitely worth the upgrade for the text-to-speech feature–a must-have in my book for any navigation program or device.