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Microsoft Streets & Trips 2005 with GPS review: Microsoft Streets & Trips 2005 with GPS

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Streets & Trips 2005 with GPS locator could be helpful to lost travelers trying to navigate an unfamiliar city, but it is not a replacement for a full-fledged GPS navigation system with a dash-mounted LCD screen and voice navigation or one of the several available PDA solutions with voice prompts, such as CoPilot Live Pocket PC 5.0. Streets' lack of voice navigation is, in fact, its biggest shortcoming. Unless you have a passenger who can help you navigate while you drive, you'll want a GPS system that tells you when to turn, not one that makes you read onscreen directions. If alone in the car, you should pull over, launch Streets & Trips, find your position (represented by a car icon on a street map), enter the address of your destination, and memorize the directions the product gives you. Needless to say, that's asking too much, but we cannot recommend that you attempt to read the directions while driving, unless you're fond of whiplash and the sound of crunching metal.

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With the GPS trail feature activated, Streets & Trips 2005 displays the territory you've covered, as indicated by the blue line on the map.

Still, Streets & Trips with GPS is a good first step toward a portable navigation system that isn't hard-wired to your car. For example, it's something for older kids to use while navigating from the backseat. There's a lot to like here, including the GPS-trail feature that tracks your progress as you drive and detailed maps that rotate to follow your travel direction. We also like the annotation tools that let you mark up maps with arrows, text, pushpins, and other symbols--try that with online mapping sites. Another plus is the Reroute From Here tool that recalculates your route from your current location to a specific destination. This gives you the flexibility to alter your itinerary on the fly. And map updates with the latest road-construction warnings are easy to download.

As a route planning tool, Streets & Trips is very good. It produces better maps than Web-based route-finding products, and its printouts and driving directions are also better. But you can get these features with the software-only version of the product.

Overall, Microsoft's software support is excellent. Streets & Trips 2005 users get one year of free telephone support, an unusually generous perk for a consumer software program. Our support calls were answered promptly--wait times didn't exceed one minute during regular business hours--and our questions were answered accurately. Phone support is available from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m Monday through Friday and 6 a.m. to 3 p.m., on weekends PT. E-mail and online support are available 24/7. You must register your copy of Streets & Trips to send queries via e-mail, and Microsoft promises a 24-hour response time. For some reason, the Microsoft support site wouldn't allow us to register online (it said our product ID was invalid), but we were able to register via phone with no problem.

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