Microsoft AutoRoute 2005

The 2005 of version of AutoRoute boasts over 2.9 million miles of streets, 800,000 points of interest and full postcode coverage for not only the UK, but some of the rest of Europe as well. Ok, it is up-to-date and accurate (ish), but it does just look like a Microsoft application - that’s not essentially a bad thing, but it makes AutoRoute feel boring, especially compared to the modern collection of GPS routing software available.

The thing that AutoRoute does best is giving you directions to a place you don’t know. It doesn’t seem to recognise that two places in London might only be 10 miles apart, but it will take 2 hours to drive there. It had me into the city via the worst route, in 20 minutes. That might work at midnight on a Tuesday, but not at our selected 8am. Also, if you are going A to B in London, it likes to throw you on a big road and send you off, so to get to Harrow from Kingston it takes you into Fulham and back out on the A40, i.e. into the city, rather than scooting round the ‘burbs. As a regular driver of that route, I know it’s not the best. You have to fiddle with the road preferences to get you off the big roads and avoid the congestion.

Essentially, then, what use is it? Yes, you can draw up a map of a route to location X in somewheresville, but after that, it’s down to directions and a map to guide you. Of course, if you had GPS navigation on your car, you wouldn’t bother with AutoRoute in the first place, but AutoRoute is much faster, using all that PC power available. Talking of being in cars, Pocket Streets ships with AutoRoute which is ok, but no contest for proper guidance software. GPS integration is the big addition for 2005, but again, it’s almost pointless. It will tell you where you are, which, for many will be at home, but I guess that those travelling folk with laptops might like to know where they are, plot a route out of there and then drive it - but again, its only going to show you where to go, not talk you through it as you drive. But there needs to be something of a trade-off, seeing as AutoRoute will only set you back about £35, whereas dedicated navigation software starts from near £100.

Ok, so we decided to flex the muscles of AutoRoute, by plotting a route to several UK destinations, and then to the Hofbraühaus in Münich. Surprisingly, it didn’t bat an eyelid at this: 1598.6km, a journey time of 1 day, 7 hours and 23 minutes, of which 14 hours and 24 minutes are spent driving, the rest sleeping in France. Cleverly, it knows you have reached the channel tunnel, and tells you to check the timetable. It also gives you a fuel cost of £118.47, which you can set based on your average car consumption, but it’s only an estimate. As far as plotting routes go, you can also vary your preferences to avoid toll roads, use minor roads and you can even change these for different segments, so in our journey, you can change the Somerset to Münich part to use minor roads and ferries, and we found ourselves on the road to Harwich and getting the ferry to Holland. Somewhat renegade, to say the least. There were also spelling mistakes on some roads and hey, no M6 toll road.

Verdict

It's difficult to know where to place this product. It does exactly what it says on the packet. If you want to plot long journeys, with multiple stops, view the route on a big screen, it might be just the thing before you jump in the car, but it still lacks the real navigation option in-car that people really want and serious drivers will opt for. Pocket Streets is interesting, and again, with a GPS unit, it will tell you where you are, but not how to get where you are going. Again, for £35 you get an A-Z in your pocket (if you have the memory), but it doesn't do anything that decent GPS navigation software won't.

Overall, it has its shortcomings, it feels dated, but the actual maps are mostly up-to-date. Also check what you get, as this covered UK and Ireland, and good parts of Western Europe, but go beyond the border of Germany, and your into the wasteland. Think seriously about what you want your software to do, because this will find the route, but isn't a supplement for in-car navigation.



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