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Rand McNally Road Atlas

Mon Aug 22, 2005 - 2:00 PM EDT - By James Hromadka


First, let's make this clear: Road Atlas is not a street-level mapping program. It is useful for general directions between two cities and for finding certain information (gas, food, lodging, etc). If you zoom in too far, you get a plug for Rand McNally's Street Finder program. Road Atlas covers more than 640,000 miles of highways and can display the page number for the paper version to provide additional reference information.


The first time you run the program, there's a nice warning about safe driving while using the program. After the legal notice, Treo 650 users will immediately notice the low resolution of the application. This gives its map graphics a jagged look that really detracts from the interface. The program also installs to the Treo, taking up <500KB of space.

The top-level screen is a map of the continental U.S. Tap in a general area and a box comes up asking for which state in that area you want to see. Tapping Texas brought up 6 choices, so your tap doesn't have to be that accurate.

After you select a state, a dialogue box comes up so you can specify the city. You can type the first letter of the city and scroll the cities, but you have to tap to select a specific city.

In the main map screen, there is a side menu for Find, Directions, and View. Find lets you do a search for a point-of-interest (POI), city, or Exit number. Directions gives you a route between two cities, and View lets you save the position on screen for later use. The odd-looking squiggly line at the bottom left is for a Mileage Chart that displays the distance between certain major cities.

The right-side of the screen has a zoom slider, a control to draw a zoom box for a specific area, a link to the US map, and an eye icon for specifying which items to show on the screen. Houston has 2-3 gas stations at almost every exit, so there are a lot of icons on that screen.

Tapping an icon lets you bring up information. An attraction will have address and contact info, while an exit will have tabs for Gas/Food/Lodging/ATM/Other at the location.


Every year, my family goes on a trip to Destin, Florida. We drive every year, so I was curious to see how well Road Atlas would map the trip from Highlands, Texas to Destin, Florida. Most of the trip is on IH-10, but there is a part in Louisiana where you want to take IH-12 or take the long way through New Orleans.

After entering the start/end cities, the program takes a minute or two to calculate the route. Road Atlas provides you with very basic directions. I was disappointed that it did not even indicate the Exit number to take. The directions were accurate and took the correct way through Louisiana. Road Atlas also indicates the mileage info, which is 562 miles at 10 hrs 25 min. The only time I have taken that long to get to Florida is when I rode with my grandmothers.

There are not many options to change in Road Atlas (Options | Preferences), but the one to change for sure is the Drive Time. The highest default speed for Limited Access Highways is 55 mph. If you drove that in Texas you would get shot, so I set that to 70 mph. There are settings for other types of roads as well, and all of them needed an upward adjustment.

After adjusting the time, I tried to get directions for my trip again, and the Treo reset itself. After the reset, any city I selected reset the Treo. Trying to get new directions reset the device also. The only way I was able to use the program again was by loading a saved view. I imagine otherwise I would have had to delete the program's remnants from the Treo and try again.

I noticed that the first reset was after the Treo dimmed, so I ran the directions again and tapped periodically on the screen to keep it from dimming. The search worked successfully, and my drive time dropped to 7 hrs 34 min, which is impossible.

My average drive time is 9 hours, and that's going 80MPH on the freeways. It would have been nice if Road Atlas would have also included the average speed. A simple trip to Excel reveals the average speeds for the two calculated trips at about 54MPH and 74MPH respectively. My personal average speed is 62.5MPH, which sounds about right.

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