Most helpful positive review
13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
Great maps, poor backward compatibility
on September 9, 2006
UPDATE 1/1/08: I just got a Mac after always previously using Windows. Great news--when I installed this 4.0 software, not only did it work fine, but it also corrected the two most serious objections I previously had with it. I now have no problems importing waypoints from my Garmin GPSmap 60CSx, and the software is now compatible with all the states I own from the previous Version 3 software. I don't know whether this is unique to Mac or whether it now works just as well with Windows, but when I did the installation, it automatically went to the National Geographic web site and downloaded a software update. I still give it 4 stars because of some of the other non-standard user interface choices, but these are easy enough to get used to. I didn't change the rest of the review, so keep this update in mind as you read it.
National Geographic topo maps are great if your understand their strengths and limitations (I have the Nevada version but they all work the same). First, don't expect to import the actual maps into a GPS receiver. These maps are raster-scanned directly from USGS 7.5' topos; GPS receivers use vector-graphic maps that are only available from your receiver's manufacturer (and they are much less detailed than NG maps). But you should never expect your GPS receiver's display to completely replace a paper map anyway. It's too small to show much detail, and if your receiver fails, you'd be out of luck. NOTE: Magellan has just introduced the Triton series, which is the first product designed to import maps from Topo!. This is a great advancement, but I haven't yet evaluated it to see how well it works.
Since these are based on USGS maps, they have the same high quality including tons of detail, but since many USGS maps are more than 10 years old, you won't necessarily get up-to-date information. Since topographic features don't ordinarily change as frequently as man-made features, you're usually OK, but keep this in mind.
These maps allow you do a lot of other things with your GPS. You can create waypoints on the computer, either by placing a marker on the map or by entering in the latitudes and longitudes of your points, then transferring them to the GPS. This is much easier than manually entering the info through your GPS user interface. You can also download tracks from your GPS receiver onto the map to see where you've been. And you can draw intended journeys directly on the map screen, then measure the distance and elevation profile of the route. The elevation profile is a bit noisy, but you get a pretty good idea of how much elevation change you'll experience on a hike. The tool you use to draw the route on the screen could benefit from an improved user interface, but with a little practice you can get pretty good at it. If you make a mistake, hold down the right mouse button to erase the error. One thing I like is that you can print out a custom paper map, and if you print using your inkjet on NG's waterproof paper, you can get a custom color map that really is waterproof. This latest edition is designed to work with USB receivers like the Garmin GPSMap 60-series. This is a tremendous advantage compared to the previous edition. BUT please note that it isn't completely compatible with the new GPSMap60CSx. It doesn't import waypoint names properly, they end up being simple numbers starting at 001. For some reason this isn't a problem with the older GPSMap60Cs.
The main objection I have is that it isn't easily compatible with the previous edition. In my case, I had the prior edition for California, and expected the California CDs to work with the new software. But for some reason they don't. So I have to leave the old edition installed for the California maps and the new one for Nevada maps. Fortunately I can use the USB capability of the Nevada software to download the California waypoints and tracks from my 60CSx. I then have to save the .tpo file, launch the old edition software and pull up the California map, then import the .tpo file. Very inconvenient, but at least there is a way to make it work. I guess they would prefer I buy a new edition of the California maps.
The only other thing to note is that they still haven't completely adopted Windows user interface conventions. For example, there are no scroll bars on the side and bottom of the map to allow you to move the map on your screen. You have to move your cursor to the edge of the map, watch for the cursor to change to an arrow, and hold down the mouse button. The direction of scroll depends on exactly where on the screen your cursor is. Another observation is that there is no EDIT menu, so I can't easily cut and paste data into other applications. But these are relatively small concerns that you can quickly adapt to. All in all this is a very valuable tool that I highly recommend.