by Kevin O’Brien
Streets and Trips 2008 is the latest version of the popular navigation software package from the developers at Microsoft. It was updated with a newer GPS receiver, and for the first time, MSN Direct capabilities for live traffic, accident, and gas price data. This new integration of live data service will hopefully allow users to not only pre-route trips, but let them know to change paths if adverse conditions are shown ahead.
Features of the new Microsoft Streets and Trips 2008:
- Updated maps for the United States and Canada.
- NEW: Use the new perspective map view to get a view more like you would see through your windshield.
- NEW: Automatic re-routing helps you get back on track, even when you miss a turn.
- Customizable trip planning options.
- Enhanced: Find 1.6 million points of interest – hotels, restaurants, ATMs and more without the need to be online
- Includes the new MSN Direct Receiver that enables traffic and gas updates without an Internet connection
- Includes an ultra-compact GPS device with SiRFstar III technology and a USB cable that can be used either with or without the MSN Direct Receiver.
- Includes one year subscription to MSN Direct for traffic updates and gas prices without an Internet Connection. Get traffic reports and gas prices through an FM signal using the included MSN Direct Receiver, your laptop PC running Streets & Trips and MSN Direct for traffic and gas updates. No Internet connection needed!*
- Includes everything in Microsoft Streets & Trips 2008.
- Travel weight: 6.8oz
- Cable Length: 76"
- USB Receiver size: 3.46" x 2.83" x 1.08"
First thing users will notice is the new location based services receiver, which acts as a cradle for the super small GPS receiver. Coming in at almost six times the size of the "ultra-compact" GPS receiver, it does add a bit of bulk to the spot reserved on your dashboard. Once you get past its size, it does appear to be very well built, and pretty durable. It survived a drop to the street on one visit to my car, and never skipped a beat.
(view large image)
Included in the box is the installation disc, USB cord, adapter cord (use without MSN Direct receiver), GPS module, and MSN Direct Receiver. The inclusion of the adapter cord instead of another full USB cable was a bit of a letdown, since as you can see below the other cable is bulky to begin with, and the adapter just makes it more so.
Getting the software installed did not provide any hiccups. You are prompted to install the software right after you insert the disc, and then it walks you through the installation. Once the software is installed, you assemble the GPS/MSN Direct receiver, and connect it to your computer. Upon starting the Streets and Trips software for the first time you will be prompted to activate the product, or wait 60 days. If you don’t activate the product, the location based services part will not work. After activation it will want to detect the receiver, which you will then have to activate as well. For this you go to http://streets.msndirect.com, and make a new account with your receiver serial number. Once this goes through, it will take a while for your receiver to get its approval from over the airways. Mine took just under an hour the first time, so be patient.
Once it is activated, the connected services pane will have the "Zoom to Region" button bolded. Click this and it will show the overall view of the region that you are receiving information about. The main region I tested this in was Milwaukee, WI. This was an area that supported the gas price and traffic incident information, as well as live traffic data. Below is the type of screen you would be seeing for a given area.
A view of the "traffic incident" information. (view large image)
Anything from tracking your current location, viewing local gas prices, or routing a trip across the country is incredibly easy. Tracking your current location is as simple as having the GPS unit plugged into your laptop, and then starting GPS tracking under the tools menu. Once enabled, it will pop up a GPS status window with technical information, and plot your point on the map. To view local gas prices, bring up the Connected Services pane, and click on the information box next to the "lower gas prices" icon, and it will display the information on all the lowest gas prices in your area on the map.
Screenshot highlighting the lowest gas prices in an area. (view large image)
Planning a trip was as simple as bringing up the route planner and entering in a start address and end address. To narrow down the search I typed in the address with the ZIP code on the end (1202 N Green Bay Road, 53406). With both addresses entered in, you click "get directions" and it plots a route in seconds. The route includes all step by step instructions, as well as information on present road contraction that you will encounter on the way.
One addition to the MS Streets and Trip software for 2008 is the new perspective map view, which makes it easier to follow a map as you area driving. In the perspective mode it gives the driver a view similar to that if you were looking at the map ahead of you, compared to a bird’s eye view. Below is an example of the standard view, compared to the new perspective view.
Perspective view. (view large image)
Normal view. (view large image)
The newer SiRF III based GPS receiver is very sensitive, bringing in a lock to seven or eight satellites from inside brick buildings. In a car you could have it under your car seat and it would still bring in a good enough signal to route you through traffic. I was really surprised the first time I was setting up the software in my office, and the GPS receiver sitting on my desk already had its full lock. Power consumption of the GPS module plugged into the MSN Direct receiver averaged between 3-4 watts on my laptop. While the module itself could have been drawing much less, that was the power required for my Lenovo T60 to activate its USB port, and power the entire receiver unit.
The MSN Direct receiver worked well most of the time, but inside some buildings it had reception issues picking up the FM radio signal for a given area. Usually if it was by a window it would connect without problem, but driving it never had a connectivity issue. Live traffic data was my biggest draw towards the MSN Direct receiver, so I paid most attention to what it could display. In some areas traffic data was not available through MSN Direct, even if it would work through MS Live Maps, or Google Maps. In other areas where it did bring in traffic data, it was not complete, as shown in the Milwaukee, WI region. The MSN direct unit brought in a spotty traffic detail, while the MS Live Maps webpage showed everything. With some of the MSN Direct services fairly new in operation, hopefully the live traffic stream improves.
Live traffic information including average traffic speeds. (view large image)
Microsoft Streets and Trips 2008 is a solid update to the past software, with some nice enhancements of both software and hardware. The new Location Based services add in good live data to help make travel more enjoyable (and cheaper), and the highly sensitive GPS receiver helps the driver track their location even under dense cover. My only hope is the live traffic data through FM becomes more complete for certain regions, if the same data exists through other mapping programs.
- Live data without an internet connection
- GPS receiver has a lock to eight satellites from inside buildings
- Software is easy to use
- Live data is not complete in some regions