>The ETAK SkyMap 2000 GPS  and Moving Map Display System<
Review by Joe Mehaffey and Jack Yeazel
(Draft 1,   1 December 1999 )

For those who have been looking for a CDROM vector map system with higher resolution and map accuracy with a remote control,  take a look at the US$200 ETAK SkyMap 2000 (SM2K) system. It is a system designed for automobile navigation with the use of a laptop computer and includes the ETAK PCMCIA -or- SERIAL GPS module, as well as a comprehensive map of the USA.  The map itself is the highest accuracy vector map we have reviewed.    The address-to-address router is also the best we have tested.  (Slightly better than SA7's router,  but both are VERY good.)  SkyMap 2000 is stored on three CDROMs which come as part of the kit.   However, a CDROM drive in your laptop computer is NOT required for operation. It is possible (and desirable) to load your frequently used maps to your hard drive using LapLink, LAN or similar. Approximately 50 megs of hard drive space will be required for the overview map plus a detailed map of the local area. The map system can be operated with map data on the CDROM but by downloading from the CDROM to your hard drive, a significant improvement of map re-draw speed is achieved. Note:  The laptop system should be a 486-75 or faster with minimum 8 megs of RAM, Windows 95 operating system (only), with at least 20 megs of free hard drive space.  The ETAK GPS draws about 155ma from the laptop for power.   (We only tested SM2K on our Dell 3500 with 64megs of RAM.  We suspect the performance will be pretty slow with a 486-75 and 8 or 16 megs of RAM.)

Older  SkyMap systems included an InfraRed control similar to a TV remote control unit. This unit is NOT included as a component in SM2K.

SkyMap 2000 (SM2K) offers a "find me a route from A to B" capability.   With SM2K,  you may establish a start, stop plus intermediate waypoints by use of the mouse on the very detailed maps.  In addtion,  you may use the FIND feature to pinpoint specific addresses and then "right click" to establish these "waypoints" as start/stop/intermediate route points.   We tried all sorts of test routes in the Atlanta area that are well known to us.  To our pleasant surprise,  no route selected for us was "bad".  All of the routes were substatntially the same as a person familar with the area might have chosen.  Sometimes we might choose to head directly for a freeway instead of taking a slightly shorter route chosen by SM2K,  but that was the sort of choice which would be arguable.   To use automated routing, the user places a "start" ICON on the road near the starting point and a "finish" ICON on the road near the end of the route. Then clicking "calc route" causes SM2K to produce the recommended path on the map.  User selected criteria for the automatic route generation are:  Shortest Route,  Shortest Route during Rush Hour,  Easiest/Minimum Turn Route.    Written directions are also produced.   These written directions were clear and accurate in the tests we ran.

The included 12 channel parallel (ETAK brand) GPS receiver includes an antenna module with a 9 pin serial connector on a "Y" cable with a "mini-DIN" mouse plug connected by a five foot cable. The  GPS module receives power from the mouse connector on a laptop.  According to the documentation,  a PCMCIA equipped GPS module is also available as was supplied with prior SkyMap products.  The MAXIMUM speed capability of the ETAK system is 300mph.  (This limits its use in commercial aircraft.) ETAK provides no specifications for acquisition time for the SkyMap GPS. We measured 70 seconds for cold start. For self locate where we set in our location as California and waited for it to find out we were really in Georgia the lock time was 4.5 minutes. These times are about average.   SK2K GPS would take up to  20 minutes to lock when you start out driving immediately upon starting the computer and before lock occurs.   Stopping for a few minutes would allow the GPS to lock.  The ETAK GPS was compared in simultaneous tests with several Garmin receivers. While the ETAK unit provided excellent results in open sky conditions, the receivers in the Garmin 12 channel parallel GPS units routinely showed lock on more SVs than did the ETAK receiver. We noticed that the ETAK receiver's "unlocked" indicators would come and go as you passed under underpasses at 50mph indicating that the SkyMap GPS receiver has no "dead reckoning" assist for momentary signal dropouts. Note: In tests on tree lined residential streets  (not many leaves left), lock with the ETAK was more prone to drop out of lock.  We suspect our observation of prior ETAK GPS units where often the unit would be unlocked for many blocks between momentary locks would still be true if leaf cover were on the trees. Others report spotty performance in high rise city areas. This type of performance is more typical of older scanning receivers such as the Garmin G-45 and the Magellan 4000 series.

The new VOICE COMMANDS work pretty well and are seemingly user independent.  Clear and slow enunciation of words works best.  Commands include:  SkyMap Listen, Skymap Ignore,  Zoom in,  Zoom Out,  Zoom In/Out (1-9 times),  More Detail,  Less Detail,  Scroll Up/Dn/Rt/Lft,  Center on GPS/Destination/Start, North Up,  Track UP,  What Time/Date/Street,  and lots more.  There are so many that you need a "cheat sheet" for the commands.  (SHOW COMMANDS/HIDE COMMANDS would be nice voice commands to have.)  Even so,  we found these voice commands quite useful and generally functional talking to my laptop in a slightly loud voice while running along at 70mph.    For all these commands,  icons or drop down menus can be used.  NOT ALL necessary commands are in the voice list.

SkyMap offers the feature of locating a specific metropolitan area address for you. An address (including optional house number) along with city, state and zip code is input. The program can then place a "map tack" on the specific location.  A comparison with Street Atlas 7 shows that the database contains more recently added streets. However,  in some cases,  (eg.  Ginger Spice Lane,  Woodstock Ga.)  SK2K "knows" where the physical address is,  but the MAP has no streets shown for that area.  Generally we would say that:  a) For MAP ACCURACY (as to where the streets and addresses are actually  placed on the ground),  ETAK maps are excellent.  b) For MAP COMPLETENESS,  ETAK and StreetAtlas 7 seem about equal in the Atlanta area.  (Likely,  other areas will show different results.)   Prior problems of not being able to FIND an address unless you knew exactly how ETAK chose to spell a street name have been corrected in SK2K.

Skymap offers the feature of locating nearby tourist attractions.  Categories such as food, shopping, transportation (gas, airports, etc.), culture (museums, galleries, etc.), finance, parks and zoos, lodging, and general points of interest. This feature works well and appeared to have a large inventory of businesses and points of interest. The table provides approximately 500,000 entries. The map can get quite cluttered if several categories are selected.

Skymap offers the ability to print out maps, copy maps to the W95 clipboard, and export maps as bitmap files.

When using SkyMap 2000 with the GPS module, you may select displays with "heading up" or "north up".   A system option will automatically center your current location on the map. The "auto centering" turns off when the map is moved manually.   (Unfortunately,  it also shuts off most of the time when my Dell 3500 laptop screen times out as a result of the power save mode.   This is MOST unhandy as it takes a couple of mouse clicks to get it back in gear again.  Voice command does not help you here.)  A GPS information panel optionally shows the SVs in view and the current lock status. A heading display shows only eight unique directions.


SkyMap 2000 is a well written program with about the best MAP ACCURACY  -and- automatic ADDRESS-to-ADDRESS router we have seen. Almost all of the roads we looked for were present and accurately located.   The very few roads we found missing in newer developments (3 years old or older) had the addresses located even if a couple had not picked up the roads on the map.  The base map obviously was rooted in the Census Bureau's Tiger Maps as there were a number of misnamed streets and roads which we have learned were misnamed in the original Tiger Map series. Interestingly,  I sent in a long list of map corrections when we reviewed the original SkyMap program a couple of years ago.  NONE of these corrections made it to the SkyMap 2000 map.    The SM2K map has many additions and corrections and appears generally more complete, accurate and up to date as compared with SkyMap Pro. The vector map segments are all reasonable length producing good quality maps generally conforming to actual road locations. (Note: In a few non-metro areas, we noted SA7 had many more streets on the map than did SkyMap.   Examples: Sea Island and Jekyll Island Georgia.  Again,  we noted this and similar map problems  to ETAK 2 years ago and nothing has changed.  We suggest that ETAK concentrates on keeping Metropolitan Areas up to date and there,  they do a nice job.)

The GPS module  (Rockwell powered) operated well but did not have exceptional sensitivity compared with  Garmin  and Magellan units. The ETAK GPS receiver performance under tree cover was significantly inferior to the 12 channel Garmin samples. The SkyMap program exhibited no operational problems and was well documented.   ETAK tells us that the ETAK GPS module outputs a binary format that is NOT compatible with any other mapping program.  Also,  the SM2K program cannot be used with the NMEA output of standard GPS receivers.   The 300mph max speed limitation may be a problem for some potential users.

Other Features:
Traffic Management features are available in SM2K.  With an internet connection,  you can contact ETAK's metro traffic reports for many areas and receive weather reports as well.  Special simplified maps can be downloaded into PalmPilots.  As of December 1999,  ETAK is offering a US$50 rebate against the $200 suggested price for the SkyMap 3000 with GPS system.

What we missed in the ETAK SkyMap system:

1) SkyMap offers no compatibility with GPS units other than the ETAK PCMCIA  and/or Etak SERIAL GPS module.
2) You cannot just type in a starting and an ending address for routing.  You must FIND each address (or locate it with the map cursor) and assign it as either a start or stop.  This is a relatively involved process as compared to just writing in the two addresses.
3) The user interface instructs you not to use a mouse while you are driving.  Then ETAK provides you with a pretty effective (and extensive)  VOICE COMMAND system.  Then they omit certain key commands which DEMAND that you use the mouse.  Some of the "missed" commands: "show commands",  "hide commands",  "select route",  "Enter Start Address",  Enter Stop Address.
4) In one of our computers (a Dell 3500),  the AUDIO OUTPUT stopped working after a few days.  ETAK says a few customers have complained about this problem and they are working on a fix.

In summary, SkyMap is a high quality Laptop Computer GPS mapping system with the best quality vector maps we have reviewed. The Address-to-Address routing is excellent as well.  The GPS was quite competent but not quite up to par in sensitivity and ability to stay locked in tree cover with the better 12 channel units. SkyMap software was high quality with no bugs or anomalies found.   The problems we found were centered in the "clumsy to use" user interface.   An improvement in the voice interface  would eliminate many of our objections.

If any errors or omissions are noted in this review, please let us know.

Joe Mehaffey
Jack Yeazel