Wednesday, March 11, 2009

DeLorme Topo USA 7.0 Review Part II


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

Netlink is the name of DeLorme's map data delivery system. It is used to get map data from DeLorme. DeLorme currently offers an annual map data subscription that is a much better deal than the former pay-per-download system which was fairly expensive. Netlink is on half of what makes Topo USA 7.0 such a powerful tool for the bushwhacker. Netlink's operation is fairly simple. After clicking on the Netlink Tab, a connecting message will display during a short delay, and then you will be connected to the system. There is a central icon system, which I ignore. On the far left there are four buttons, Home, Map Library, Downloads,and Support. Concern yourself with Map Library and Support.

Clicking the Map Library button brings you to DeLorme's Map Library. Simple enough, right? You select the type of map data you would like to download via a drop-down menu. The options are currently USGS 24k topo quads, color and black and white DOQQ aerial images, Sat-10 low-res color aerial images, USGS Hi-Res 133 City aerial images, and NOAA nautical charts. At zoom level 11 or greater you can press the select button, and then select map squares to add to an order. Your selection will be pink. There are limits to how large your selections can be. The software will alert you when you've made to large a selection. This is somewhat tedious. Once you've made a selection, you add it to an order list via the "add to list" button. You will be asked to name your selection. Pick a unique name, as they cannot repeat. Number multiple sections so they don't repeat but have similar names. Then click view list to checkout. There is a checkout button, which when pressed brings up an "are you sure" type dialog. You say yes, then your order is submitted, and you get a confirmation. You order will be processed, and generally within a few minutes your order will be ready to download. Depending on server conditions and the type of data downloaded, there are sometimes delays. This whole process is fairly simple, and easy to carry out. My only complaint is that some of the extra checks on accidental ordering aren't really needed with the annual subscription, since you aren't spending money on each order.

To download your map data, you click on the downloads button we discussed earlier. You map data is under the tab "Your Data", and the number of ready downloads is shown on the tab. You click the arrow device, and the tab expands, and lists your pending downloads. If they are not grayed out, you can select them and download them.

Downloading maps is really easy, but selecting them and waiting for the downloads can be time-consuming. I'd like to see a little quicker method of selecting large areas, the ability to do other things while data is downloaded, and automatic downloads.

Once your maps have downloaded they become accessible in Topo USA 7.0. This makes Topo a powerful planning tool, because you have all the different map types right there, no juggling around. More on this later.

Handheld Export

The Handheld Export Tab allows you to export map data to your PN-series handheld GPS.
You select an area where you own specific map data, and it turns pink. This process is basically identical to what you do to select data for download, and there are size limits here, too. Once you have an area selected, the options tab lets you select what type of data you want, and at what zoom levels you want it to be visible on your PN-series device. You then name your selection (and again, unique names please), and click save. The file will be converted, or "cut", for use on your PN-series handheld.

The Real Benefits to Bushwhackers and Some Talk of Criticism

You occasionally hear people complain about the complexity of DeLorme's Topo USA software. While the software is nowhere near as complicated as say Photoshop, it is more complicated that a lot of software people use everyday. I would rate it as about as complicated as most word processing software, maybe a little less complicated. Pretty much anyone can use it, but you need to be willing to invest at least a half-hour to learning how it works, or you will be frustrated. Part of this frustration comes from the fact that the interface is different from what people are used to. The general rule with software is that as it becomes more powerful it becomes more complex and less intuitive to use. Topo USA is no exception, but it really isn't that hard to use. It is slightly harder to use than most other mapping software, but it does a little more, so it balances out.

Topo USA 7.0, if used properly, can be a boon to the bushwhack or photo-hiker like me.
First of all, the ability to download, manage, and view all sorts of different map data is basically unparalleled. If you want vecter topo data, you've got it. If you want USGS 24k topos for their greater level of terrain detail and for the notes and objects drawn on them that often make them so useful, if you download them, there they are. If you've downloaded them, you can switch to black and white aerial images to see land usage, or color images to see foliage type. If you are planning a boat trip, you've got nautical charts. Second, you can load those maps easily onto your handheld GPS!

We bushwhackers love our paper topos, so here's the kicker... You can get the lay of the land through all these data types combined with 2-D and 3-D views. You can study the area in greater detail than paper topo maps, Google Earth, or other online mapping systems, because you have so many options for data. You can mark all over your map without destroying it, unlike a paper topo. Unlike a paper topo, you have the quad next door seemlessly attached if you've downloaded it. Unlike a paper topo, you've got the ability to get fairly precise elevation data, without math in your head, for a specific spot, not just back calculating from a marked line. Listen, they'll never pry my paper maps from me, but Topo comes the closest to replacing them for me. Oh, and did I mention you can print maps yourself? Maps that you've drawn things on? Need a paper map for a hike, got one. Need a paper map to share with a friend, got one. Most mapping software does some gyration of this, but DeLorme's Topo USA 7.0 does it all in one package with multiple map types.

Highly recommended.

Back to DeLorme Topo USA 7.0 Review Part I

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