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PalmPak Travel Card: Rand McNally Road Atlas Review
By Kevin Crossman
Rand McNally and Palm jointly market the Rand McNally Road Atlas. It is available for any Palm OS device with an expansion card slot for SD/MMC and at least 1 MB of free memory. Currently, that means the m125, m500, m505, or HandEra 330. MSRP is $40 and it runs in color or grayscale.
The card contains over 640 thousand miles of interstates and major roads in 48 states. You can search interstate highway exit information for restaurants, gas stations, lodging, ATMs, and points of interest - including thousands of attractions, national parks, and places to shop. There are also city-to-city driving directions for 12,000 cities and the product allows you to calculate mileage and driving time.
This application created a splash in November when it was named the winner of Best Mobile/Handheld Software Application at Comdex. The idea of replacing a giant paper product with a postage-stamp sized memory card is appealing. The product is easy to use and delivers very well on its features.
The maps look great in color. You can zoom from 1 mile/inch all the way to 129 miles/inch. It should be noted, however, that zooms above 8 miles/inch do not provide very useful detail due to the Palm's low-res screen.
The Interstate Exit function is extremely interesting. By selecting any exit (shown as a green arrow icon) on an Interstate highway you can obtain information on gas, food, lodging, ATMs, and points of interest. Only name brands are noted by name (e.g. McDonald's, Motel 6), otherwise there is just a listing of "miscellaneous" for independent "Mom and Pop" hotels, restaurants, and gas stations.
If you regularly visit certain map locations you may save your maps for viewing at a later time.
The city to city driving directions and mileage calculation work well. The search function works well, too, showing you services within a certain radius of a location, or searching by name. The search function is somewhat limited in that it searches only on the first words of a point of interest, rather than any word in the name.
There are vast array or shopping centers and other attractions (shown as an orange icon) but at times the listings are less than complete. For example, the San Jose Children's Discovery Museum is listed but the Winchester Mystery House is not (this is one of San Jose's most famous landmarks and tourist attractions).
The program comes with some hefty RAM requirements. Rand McNally recommends 1 MB of free RAM as a minimum with 2 MB optimally. Part of the RAM requirements are due to the slow map draws unless you copy the contents of the state you're viewing to RAM. This improves performance to better-than-acceptable levels. The program used about 1,200k of RAM when I saved the California map. Maps can easily be saved and deleted from memory.
The product ships with compatibility with GPS systems. Unfortunately, I am not aware of any currently available GPS units which attach to any of the Universal Connector Palm Handhelds. However, Navman is supposed to be releasing one soon.
Most of the limitations of this product are inherent by the Palm device screen and size. What it offers is an extremely portable version of the Road Atlas, handy when traveling or even just for fun. I found this product to be a great example of how to use SD/MCC technology well. I loved it but, of course, your mileage my vary.
This product will be demonstrated by Kevin Crossman at the January 3rd meeting of the Silicon Valley Palm Users Group, http://www.svpug.com. Kevin Crossman is not affiliated with Palm or Rand McNally.
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