Based on a mature product line, AutoRoute 2003’s user interface has no surprises for existing users and is easy to learn and use. To get AutoRoute to display the location of an address on-screen, you type in as complete an address as you can muster and AutoRoute displays it at the centre of its map window -- you can zoom in or out to view the required detail. Following the practice of paper maps, AutoRoute 2003 now displays explanations of its graphical symbols and map conventions in a scrolling panel at the left of the map. This lets you easily identify population densities, road types, railways, tunnels and features such as local and national boundaries, parks, forests, rivers, lakes and mountains.
To make map locations more easily identifiable, or to bookmark a location for future reference, you place a ‘pushpin’ onto the map -- just as you might do on a paper map. To plan a trip, AutoRoute needs two or more addresses or pushpin names to calculate a route, taking your relative preferences for travel on motorways, major and minor roads into consideration. The calculated route displays as a coloured line superimposed on the map, together with a comprehensive set of driving instructions plus estimated driving time, distance and cost displayed in a scrollable window. You can print the route map and its driving instructions, with the option to print the map as a set of turn-by-turn instructions or as a continuous strip with the corresponding driving instructions printed alongside. AutoRoute 2003 adds a Full Page print option that instead of just printing the map area displayed on-screen, incorporates surrounding areas to fill the entire page.
A new Snap-Routing feature in AutoRoute 2003 makes route planning less of a chore. Often you find that AutoRoute’s efforts just don’t square with reality -- a route that it calculates to be the most direct or the quickest takes you along some roads that you know will be congested and slow. In previous versions, to change a route you first clicked the road you wanted to travel on to identify it to AutoRoute. You then added the new location to a list of waypoints, deleted unwanted waypoints and told AutoRoute to recalculate the route. Using the new Snap-Routing feature, you specify the change more directly using the mouse to drag the offending route section onto the preferred road -- a much more diverting solution. This action then automatically updates the list of waypoints ready for recalculation.
To help you plan the detail of a leisure or business trip, AutoRoute comes with a database of more than 400,000 points of local information -- a claimed increase of 20 percent. You can opt to map the locations of local information by category, including hotels, airports, bus and train stations, cinemas, theatres, restaurants, libraries, museums, shopping and convention centres, ATMs, golf courses, pubs, petrol stations and tourist attractions. Clicking on any individual item then displays information such as address and phone number. Inevitably, some changes in local information occur too close to the finalisation of AutoRoute’s information database to be included. However, we were surprised to find some major changes left out. Specifically, the Post House hotel chain changed hands and was re-branded as Holiday Inns over a year ago, yet still appear in AutoRoute 2003 as Post Houses with incorrect contact details. Microsoft ought to consider providing regular Encarta-style updates to AutoRoute’s database to keep it up to date.
To satisfy the ‘techie’ traveller, AutoRoute can be connected to a GPS device to pinpoint the current location on-screen and track your movements. AutoRoute 2003 maps exported in Pocket Streets to a Pocket PC handheld are similarly GPS-enabled. The integration between AutoRoute 2003 and the Pocket PC is very good but, unfortunately, although pushpin locations are transferred to a Pocket Streets map, route and driving directions are not.