DeLorme Street Atlas USA 2006 is a very good mapping program for planning short or long-distance road trips anywhere in the United States. However, it's overkill for cross-town jaunts where a free Internet mapping service such as MapQuest or Google Local would suffice. Version 2006 brings some useful upgrades, including a top-of-the-screen toolbar that makes it easier to create routes, set options, and perform other basic tasks. It also has a beefed-up database with more than 268,000 new streets and roads. DeLorme Street Atlas USA 2006's street-level maps provide more detail, including additional restaurants and alleyways, than those in Microsoft Streets and Trips 2006, which is easier to navigate. DeLorme Street Atlas USA devotees should upgrade, and anyone plotting a Kerouac-style adventure (or even a family vacation) should give DeLorme Street Atlas USA a close look. Quibbles aside, DeLorme Street Atlas USA 2006 is a fine mapping program for serious road warriors. It's not as intuitive as Microsoft Streets and Trips 2006, but it displays a lot more restaurants and other points of interest.
Setup is easy and takes about 10 minutes. You have the option of running the DeLorme Street Atlas USA database from CD or loading it onto your hard drive. The latter option is the faster and smarter choice--CDs are slow and easy to lose--although the app gobbles up 645MB of hard disk space.
The new interface brings some welcome enhancements, most notably a top-of-the-screen toolbar that provides quick access to popular features, such as calculating a route, saving map files, and starting a GPS connection (optional). Like Microsoft Streets and Trips 2006, DeLorme Street Atlas USA has several GPS-specific tools, including voice directions.
The DeLorme Street Atlas USA database is quite comprehensive. Better than Microsoft Streets and Trips? Yes, for the most part, but not always. In downtown Boston, for instance, Street Atlas USA displayed dead-end streets and alleyways that Streets and Trips didn't show. But in the Denver metro area, DeLorme Street Atlas USA didn't show the newly completed Northwest Parkway, whereas Microsoft Streets and Trips did--proof that even with 268,000 new roads, you're bound to miss something. Not that online mapping services are any better, as CNET News.com's tests revealed.
DeLorme's new MapShare feature lets you post personalized maps on the Internet--a convenient way to provide directions to family reunions, business meetings, and other events. Unfortunately, it's a good idea that needs work. Our main gripe is that Street Atlas USA's online map isn't interactive. On a San Francisco-to-Los Angeles map, for instance, you can't zoom into a street-level view of Los Angeles. On the plus side, detailed driving directions are posted below the map.
DeLorme offers generous support options for Street Atlas USA 2006. Although the telephone technical support number is not toll-free (you'll have to pay toll charges), the call itself is. E-mail is also free, and DeLorme says it will answer queries within two business days. Online, DeLorme provides FAQs, tutorials, a user guide, and various troubleshooting tips for Street Atlas 2006.