Forget Dad's old road atlas and wobbly dashboard compass. Etak's SkyMap Pro ($260) turns your notebook PC into a high-powered navigator that tracks your position in real time.
SkyMap uses a 12-channel Global Positioning System (GPS) device to pinpoint your position and destination on detailed road maps that cover all 50 states.
And I do mean detailed: At a map's highest magnification, you can click on any point to see its address and latitude and longitude. You can selectively display points of interest such as restaurants, hotels and service stations.
Want to call ahead to reserve a room or a table? You can get a phone number by clicking on any hotel or restaurant icon.
Setup is painless. After you've installed the software, insert the GPS card into your computer's PCMCIA slot and attach the antenna to the dashboard. The device receives data from satellites and calculates your position, heading, speed and elevation. The easy-to-read maps pan seamlessly and redraw quickly.
Usually right on the money
Because of national security restrictions on civilian GPS, the position can be off by as much as 100 meters, but it's usually right on the money.
The package includes some great features:
The address book allows you to import lists from contact-management programs and pinpoints the addresses on the map. Web and e-mail addresses are converted to clickable links.
A wireless remote control lets you control important functions from the driver's seat: pan the map, show points of interest, add current location to address book.
You can search for points of interest within a given distance of your location. Very handy when you need to find a restaurant -- or a restroom -- in a hurry.
If your PC has a sound card and speakers, you can activate a voice feature that alerts you to speed changes, heading and distance to destinations.
The routing manager, which you use to figure out how to get from point A to point B, is well integrated with the map and the address book. You can specify a starting point, end point and up to nine intermediate points by clicking on the map or consulting the address book.
Some elements need work:
You can't specify preferences in the routing manager, such as "take the scenic route" or "avoid expressways." Nor can you calculate estimated driving time or fuel use.
Turn-by-turn trip directions often show a street's highway number instead of its local name. For example, Robert Street in downtown St. Paul is listed as Hwy. 52. The corresponding map shows only the local name, making it hard to follow the directions.
Most maps appear accurate and complete, but, inevitably, there are omissions and inaccuracies. One major housing development in Eagan, at least four years old, doesn't appear on the Twin Cities map. And my favorite neighborhood fishing hole, Carlson Lake, is misidentified as Quigley Lake.
The GPS-derived elevation is supposed to be accurate within 150 meters. Seemed more like 300, in my experience.