Don’t get lost
You do have to download and execute a Java applet before you can use Mapminder, but this is a small inconvenience given the features on offer. Its Navteq maps, powered by Telmap, are just as detailed as the Tele Atlas ones that Google uses, but Mapminder offers more functionality than Google Maps. Its maps too are draggable and dynamic, although surprisingly they’re slower to redraw than Google’s. Being a locally executed Java applet, I’d have expected them to be quicker if anything, but whether on my hybrid satellite/dial-up 16Mb connection or a standard 1MB ADSL line they remain noticeably slower. This really doesn’t make any difference in use,. though, as they redraw quite quickly: it’s the navigation that’s most important and that’s where Mapminder excels.
Select the Zoom-out icon, then just click on the map, which zooms out centred on where you clicked – same for zooming in. Activate the Measurement icon and then left-click from your starting point and you’ll see the distance to wherever you place the cursor displayed dynamically as you go. Mapminder also has a search function that’s infinitely better than Google Maps (which I’m still in shock about to be honest). Using the same ‘Retford Railway Station’ example that tripped Google up so badly, Mapminder passed with flying colours – typing in ‘Retford railway’ instantly produced just two hits, the first being the station itself and the other being the Railway Inn pub on the outskirts of Retford. There are 26 million business and residential addresses searchable by postcode address or business name, and even entertainment venue listings. You might think that was enough, but Mapminder goes further to provide value for money by including UK-wide ‘lifestyle listings’ for cinema, live performances, nightlife and tourism, plus details of more than 120,000 places of interest.
Add to that 2,500 rated and reviewed eating places from Harden’s Restaurant Guide and 5,000 places to drink from The Good Pub Guide, plus classified listings from the Local Data Company covering some 60,000 shops and services across the UK. These all show up whenever you explore a map, both as a tree-view list sorted by category and as icons on the map itself. You decide which places of interest you want on a map, and the maximum number for any category that should feature on a segment. These maps can then be saved and instantly recalled from a drop-down menu, printed or sent by email with a single click. Within any map you can bookmark favourite venues using a ‘quick links’ function, and the remarkably useful My listings tool provides alerts for what’s on in and around any given mapped area.
Already you can start to see just how mature this system is, not only compared to Google, but also to the likes of Streetmap and MultiMap. It can also do the route mapping thing if you don’t have satellite navigation, and it’s not too badly implemented, using a fast algorithm that routes to and from any location in the session history (or bookmarked maps) with a single click, while a ‘point on map’ option caters for those unsure of the exact address they’re going to. What I really like about the Mapminder route planner – which beats even the poshest car satellite navigation – is the fact that there’s a ‘walk’ option as well as the usual shortest/fastest motoring routes. Since directions are entirely different for walkers, this has become something of an essential utility for me, especially handy for finding my way from some backwater city car park to the office where my client is waiting.