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Memory Map Navigator 2002

21st October 2002

Review by Peter Kessler for Pocket GPS

If you enjoy walking in the countryside, but are never quite sure whether the path on the map is actually the one you're standing on, the Holy Grail has arrived.

Memory-Map Navigator puts Ordnance Survey maps on your Pocket PC screen and, when connected to a GPS, lets you follow routes with ease.

What's in the box?

The Memory-Map software comes in two parts, and you have to buy each separately: the Navigator software, and the maps. Memory-Map have split the UK up into twelve areas, and each area can be bought on a single CD.  The map on the CD is divided into dozens of 'tiles', and these can be downloaded en masse or individually to your PC. (The basic Navigator ships with a large-scale map of the UK, including an index of four thousand place names.)

Merging Tiles
One now-redundant annoyance with the basic software is that, if you are planning a walk that crosses from one tile to another, you can't see both tiles at the same time. Memory-Map have solved this by putting a free download on their web site called Merge Tiles. This allows you to combine any number of tiles into one SuperMap. But beware: I found that very large SuperMaps (such as those combining all the tiles on the CD) caused Navigator to crash on my PC, which is a Pentium 4 with 40 Gb of space. 


Fortunately, you'd rarely need such a large SuperMap, and combining two or three tiles causes no problems at all.  The maps are electronic versions of the Ordnance Survey 1:50,000 Landranger series.  While these are fine for walking, they aren't as good as the 1:25,000 'Explorer' series of OS Leisure maps which cover popular walking areas such as the Lake District.  Memory-Map plan to introduce these in the future but at the time of writing have no fixed date for release.

Planning a route
Planning routes is extremely easy. You simply plot a series of way points onto the map on your PC. You can zoom in and out to make way point positioning as accurate as possible. You can move the way points around, insert new ones in the middle, label them and delete them.  When you're happy with your route, you can 'Lock' it so that you don't accidentally shift a way point later on with a carefree sweep of the pointer and send yourself off a cliff.  Navigator tells you the distance between each way point and the total distance of your route.   Unfortunately it doesn't have any way of totting up only a part of the route, which would be very helpful.  For example, you might want to know how far your walk is up to a particular landmark.   It would also be useful to be able to break routes up into shorter sections, for example if you wanted to plan an escape route for when you realise you're not as fit as you were fifteen years ago.

Communicating with the Pocket PC
I use Memory-Map with a Compaq iPAQ 3850 equipped with a Navman GPS sleeve. Downloading the data from the PC is straight forward.  Navigator sends a pocket version of itself to your Pocket PC, and individual map tiles take up about five to eight MB each. To hold the data, I'd recommend the use of an SD card inserted into the iPAQ, not a Compact Flash card inserted into the Navman sleeve. This is because the drain on the iPAQ's battery is greatly increased by a Compact Flash card, and you're going to need to preserve as much power as possible if you want a full day's walking.


Once you've sent your map to the Pocket PC, you can download your route or routes.  The Pocket version of Navigator allows you to alter routes and even make new ones in the field.  It's a bit more fiddly than doing it on the PC, but still very simple and intuitive.




Reproduced from Ordnance Survey 1: 50,000 mapping Crown copyright. All rights reserved.


Reproduced from Ordnance Survey 1: 50,000 mapping Crown copyright. All rights reserved.

Using the GPS. 

Now the fun really starts.  With the Navman sleeve attached (and after the notoriously long TTFF) you appear on the map as a flashing red circle with a cross-hair.  As you move, an arrow emerges from the red circle, indicating your direction. The length of the arrow shows where you will be in ten minutes if you continue at that speed (a feature I find particularly pleasing although I don't know why).  Despite this, however, there is no facility for calculating how long a walk will take.  The screen can also display your altitude, which further helps to confirm your location when you're halfway up the highest mountain in Britain.  As you move, a red track appears behind you on the screen, like a snail's spoor. All you need to do is keep on the route you've planned, and you just can't go wrong. If you want to move the map around you just drag it with the pointer. Memory-Map's 'QuickChart' technology makes the map move fast with almost no re-drawing time.  In practice, on a 16-mile walk up Sca Fell Pike, I found Memory-Map an utterly liberating experience.  There's none of the old anxiety over whether that little path you passed five minutes ago might have been the right path after all.  Even better, it allows you to go off-track with confidence, such as taking a short cut.  At the end of your walk you can transfer your actual track back to your PC and keep it for the next time you make that particular trip.

Incidentally, Memory-Map Navigator won't work if any other GPS software is currently running, and that applies to Navman GPS as well as SmartPath or SmartSt Pro.

Bad weather
So now we come to vital accessories.  If you want to walk in the open air with a computer, it's got to be protected against the elements.  Fortunately there are a couple of purpose-made waterproof bags available
through Memory-Map's web site and elsewhere.  One allows cable access, the other doesn't.  I use the cheaper version and found it worked fine (and yes, we did get a bit of rain).

Recharging the battery
The other thing you need if you want to go on a long walk is some way of recharging the battery.  Of course, you don't need to keep your Pocket PC switched on all the time.  You could just use it to check your location
whenever you're unsure.  If so, the battery will last a full day.  But the joy of this product lies in being able to glance down whenever you want and see your location.  The answer is a zinc-air battery-pack from Instant Power (www.instantpower.co.uk).  These come in the form of a dedicated cable and disposable battery packs. The packs cost about 5 and according to the literature each one gives three complete charges.

The only trouble is that, in order to be absolutely secure from the elements, you'd need to buy the more expensive waterproof bag so you can connect the zinc-air charger without disturbing the seal. Even then,
you'd have difficulty keeping the charger dry, as it has to be exposed to the air in order to work.

Little-known feature

If you happen to spot an osprey's nest on your walk, Memory-Map Pocket Navigator has a neat feature to help you keep a precise record of it.  By pressing the 'Record' button on your iPAQ you can record a voice message which is allocated a precise map-grid reference by the software.  This could be especially useful if one of your party suffers an accident and you have to go for help.

At the start of November Memory-Map will be releasing an upgrade to Navigator which includes several improvements (embargoed until release date).

So to summarize:


  • For leisure walking it's perfect, and doesn't seem to have any competitors.

  • Easy to operate.

  • Great features.

  • Route-making and tracking are clear and accurate.

  • Map tiles can be connected into Supermaps.

  • Good range of useful accessories.


  • 1:25,000 scale maps would be better for walking.

  • Route-making would be improved by the ability to break routes into shorter sections.

  • No method of recharging the battery without exposing either the unit or the battery charger to rain.


Digital Scanning of Maps and Downloading of Digital Maps Disclaimer
All maps do hold a copyright notice to prohibit the copying of the maps.  Please check the terms and conditions of the copyright and your rights before digitally scanning any paper maps or downloading of any digital maps from websites.  Most mapping companies will grant you a license to make at least one copy of the map for personal use only, however please check first and if requested to do so, request permission from the copyright holder first before scanning or downloading the digital maps.


Ordnance Survey Copyright Restrictions
Permission to scan an Ordnance Survey paper map (which is less than 50 years old) for retention on a retrieval system must be requested in writing stating the purpose of scanning Ordnance Survey maps, scale of mapping to be used and total area to be scanned in cm squared at original scale. Permission will not be given if the customer can be supplied with an equivalent digital mapping product from Ordnance Survey.  A one off data royalty charge will also be applied, calculated using the number of mapping units scanned, and the customer must hold a Digital Licence with Ordnance Survey.


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