Review : Meander

Draw routes and measure their distances.

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Product Manufacturer: Fastforward Software

Price: $19.95 US

The Good

  • Simple, intuitive interface. Accurately calculates distances. Ability to export and save routes. Available in French and English.

The Bad

  • Enhanced features do not work correctly yet. Export features do not work. Does not save added images with map. Inconsistent.
Meander, an inexpensive program created by Peacock Media, lets you to use your computer to what you would do normally with a highlighter and a ruler; draw routes on maps and measure distances. Computer route planning has several obvious advantages. For example, you can quickly and easily test different routes to find the best one, and you can measure distances more accurately with a mouse than with a ruler. Existing online resources, such as Google Maps and Yahoo Maps, already let you do this for free, so let's take a closer look to see what other features Meander offers.

Interface and route mapping

When you launch Meander, the first thing you see is the unique interface. It is not a mapping program and no maps are included. Instead, you see a translucent window that you must place on top of an image, such as a digital scan of map or a map generated by one of the online map services. You may want to clean off your desktop before using Meander, because scattered files can be distracting until you get used to using the program. You must set the scale on Meander to match your map scale first. After you resize your map image, you draw your route directly on top of Meander's translucent window. Drawing a route involves double-clicking at each turn to lay down a red line.

It may seem counter-intuitive to draw your route by hand when online services can generate one for you, but Meander is all about customization. You can draw your route wherever you'd like, such as up a one-way street, over a pedestrian bridge, and even across areas that lack streets completely.

Ilene opened a Google-generated map in Preview, than launched Meander. The map already had a route started, but wanted to customize it with side trips. She thought that this is the perfect program to plan a major car trip, but found a number of problems. (Note from Ilene: I had created an Oregon Trail map many moons ago for a road trip, and it was a time-consuming project. I think this program has the potential to save lots of time for those of us who still love car trips.)

Meander screen

Google Map Open in Meander

I had to go back to Google Maps for more complex routes in my map, because it let me quickly customize my route by clicking-and-dragging. When you go back to update a map on Google, you either have to save it as a graphic, or put Meander over your browser window. You have to shift back and forth between the graphic or browser window and Meander's window. In addition, when I accidentally clicked on the map, it creates a point that wants a start and end point and it starts to draw a line. I had to click Undo Last Point twice to remove it.

Changing the map's scale was my biggest hassle when using Meander. You cannot measure distances on your map until you input the correct scale. Not all maps have accurate scales, especially hiking trail maps, which essentially renders Meander's distance measuring utility useless. Also, you have to re-input your scale if you change the image's dimensions. This is an understandable flaw, but one that is easily avoided when you use an online mapping service with built-in scales.

Meander screen

Scanned Map with Measured Distances

Additional features

Meander offers features that may not be available online. You can add text labels, waypoints, distance markers, and images to your map. You can also keep a journal of your travels past and future. The program exports routes as a jpeg, for use in email, or in a web page. You also can save them for further revision or print them out to use on the go.

Ilene had problems with these features and admits she may have pushed the program beyond its limits. First, the export did not save the image files with the web page export. She had to manually add and rename the files to the webexport folder to make the web page work correctly. Second, the files lost the text labels, images, and sometimes the route when she tried to update a saved file. Third, the Journal will erase itself when you attempt to update it when you click in the text field. Fourth, when you save a file you must take a snapshot first. This two-step process is odd, but thankfully, an alert dialog warns you if you forget the first step. Ilene tested the program in Mac OS X 10.4, Tiger and Mac OS X 10.5, Leopard, on a PowerBook G4 and an Intel iMac and had the same poor results.

Meander screen

Meander Save Route Dialog

End of the Road

In essence, Meander is a basic photo-editing program with a section of code that calculates the scale distance of a line. The Notes in About Meander state: "Meander is a little application which can measure routes, shapes, or anything which you can see on your screen," but I think the program's utility is limited to off-road activities, such as hiking and biking. Laying out a route on-road is far easier using Google Maps, in which you can click and drag routes. The additional features not addressed in the Instructions or Notes could be very useful, once they work better. Ilene thinks this program has great potential, but is just not ready for distribution yet.

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