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Meander review

Verdict:

Review Date: 27 Mar 2008

Price when reviewed: (about £10)

Reviewed By: Giles Turnbull

Our Rating 2 stars out of 5

Meander is a tool for working with maps, particularly when calculating or marking routes on them.

You would be hard pressed to find something better qualified for the label 'niche product' because its appeal is always going to be limited. The question is: does it do its job well enough to make that tiny audience want to pay up?

Meander works as an overlay on top of maps you obtain from elsewhere. Indeed, the working window is titled Acetate to make it clear that it has to sit on top of the map of your choice.

Your maps might be PDFs stored on your hard disk, aerial photographs or, most likely, displayed in a browser by an online mapping service such as Google Maps, Multimap or Yahoo Maps among others.

In addition, before you can start using Meander, you'll need the map's scale. Not just the scale as expressed as a ratio like the 1:50,000 on a typical Ordnance Survey offering, but an actual measurement from your screen of a visible to-scale object. The best option is the source map's scale bar.

Once the Acetate window is positioned on top of the map, the scale line in the bottom-left corner is dragged to match as closely as possible the scale line shown on the map. This aspect is tricky and takes a bit of getting used to but, for online maps, it presents few problems. Next, after setting the scale, you can start drawing your route on top of the map and the distance travelled will be displayed (and updated in real time) in the toolbar.

The trouble is that the most popular online mapping services have basic distance-measuring built in anyway. Just use the directions feature in Google or Yahoo maps and you will be presented with detailed driving instructions and the total distance travelled. To be worth its price Meander has to offer more.

Thankfully it does. Once a route is marked out, maps can be embellished with text notes, waypoint markers and, in theory, distance markers - this latter feature consistently crashed the application in our tests, losing unsaved work every time.

Meander's most likely route to success lies in its name; it's not suited to planning long car journeys or complicated long-distance treks, but it might be quite useful for runners, walkers and those whose work often takes them outdoors and on foot. The drawing and measuring tools in Meander are best used on large-scale maps that display an area a few miles across, say; only then do its measurements and optional map embellishments make sense.

Elsewhere the built-in Journal is a strange and frankly bizarre little text window that appears to remain the same no matter which Meander document you're working with. We struggle to see what use it is.

Meander can export maps as images or re-purpose them for email and posting on the web. The latter option pulls together data from the map, any waypoints marked on it and the Journal text, aggregating them on a single web page.

Meander is a nice idea but this release is disappointing. And there's still work to be done on fixing bugs and improving some of the weaker features.

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