Wednesday, March 11, 2009

DeLorme Topo USA 7.0 Review Part I


Screenshots: Here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

DeLorme's Topo USA software has been around for a while. It predates the PN-series handheld GPS units, and is somewhat similar to Garmin's Mapsource, Google Earth, and other mapping software. The current version, DeLorme Topo USA 7.0, was released in 2007. I am certain that it was reviewed at that time, however I feel a review from the bushwhacker's perspective post PN-40 is a good idea, so here we are. Some parts of the review drifted more into a how-to, but I think that describing the process shows how simple most tasks really are.

The software is available separately, but it comes included with the DeLorme PN-series handheld GPS units. Separately it can be purchased as either an East or West regional version, or as a national version. The national version is included with the PN-40 handheld GPS unit.
This review will focus solely on the national version, as it is the version included with the PN-40. The national version comes on a single DVD. The DVD contains the 100k vector topographical maps, which are derived from USGS mapping data, and DeLorme's extensive POI database.

Basic Use

Installation is quick and simple.

The interface is a little different from what you are used to, as it lacks the traditional Windows/Mac menu system. Instead, there is a row of icons for various functions at the top where the menu would be, a series of directional and zoom controls on the right, and various function tabs on the bottom of the screen. Another oddity is that by default the software has a split map screen. This allows you to do thinks like look at the map at two different zoom levels, or to view vector topo data on one side, and aerial photography on the other side. I personally find it a little distracting, and stick to a single map pane, but others love this functionality.
Directional movement is accomplished either via the directional arrows on the top left corner, by using the directional arrows on your keyboard, or by moving the mouse cursor near the edge of the map pane, and clicking and dragging when the white hand appears. The map will center on a location that you click.

Zooming is accomplished either by clicking the pane's zoom buttons, by using the zoom tabs directly above the directional arrows, or by clicking on the map and moving the mouse diagonally to manipulated the zoom device that appears.
You can rotate the map using a control in the center of the directional arrow pad on the upper left.

You select the type of map data via a drop-down box in the upper right corner. Nearby controls also allow you to select a 2-dimensional or 3-dimensional view, and whether you want the 100k vecter topographical data overlaid on your raster map data (called a hybrid map by DeLorme).

All of this is covered in greater detail in the included help system.

The Tabs

The Map Files Tab allows you to manage the maps and data you own, and chose which ones you make availible for display. It is very straightfoward.

The Find Tab allows you to find a location. Easy enough, right?

The Print Tab facilitates the printing of maps. Easy, quick, and darned useful. One of my favorite features.

The Draw Tab is of particular usefulness for the bushwhacker. Using this tab you can draw all sorts of things onto your map, and then either print it, or upload it onto your PN-40. You can add a routable road, a waypoint, some sort of polygon (useful for property boundaries), a line, or a symbol. You'd expect most of this from mapping software, and none of it is really revolutionary. It is all simple to use.

The GPS Tab allows you to get GPS data from a GPS unit. Via the small exchange box on the left you can download tracks you create on your handheld GPS unit. Pretty standard stuff.
The Route Tab allows you to create a route. Some trails are routable via this tab, but most trails aren't even on the map, so your mileage may vary, literally.

The Profile Tab shows elevation profile for a recorded track or object. Very useful for planning a bushwhack, because you can draw a line or object via the Draw Tab and then view the elevation profile for the line you created, so you know what you are facing. You can also get the elevation profile for any road, rail, trail, or object that is visible on the vector topo data. Can also be used for reviewing your trip's elevation profile.

The 3-D Tab controls the 3-dimensional view, if enabled. The 3-dimensional view is useful in planning a trip, because it helps you visualize the terrain. Since the data it uses is only 100k, it isn't all that accurate, but it is still useful if the elevation changes are signficant.
The Info Tab gives you information about a selection. Pretty self-explanatory.

The Netlink and Handheld Export Tabs are discussed in greater detail next.

Next: DeLorme Topo USA 7.0 Review Part II

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