Earthcomber: Your smart phone marks the spot

A mobile map with WAP and download versions gives directions and locates hot happenings.

Earthcomber (Credit: CNET Networks)

I do not take directions lightly, primarily because if I did, I'd never get anywhere. For the woefully orientation-challenged (and easily frustrated) like me, legible maps and accurate instructions are crucial. Even more so is being able to access them from a PDA or smart phone when you're lost.

Thankfully, there's a proliferation of reliable mapping and GPS-locating software for mobile handsets, but today I'll focus on one that contains both downloadable and Web-based (WAP) components.

Earthcomber
Pros: Broad cross-platform support; numerous map services
Cons: US content only; content partnerships somewhat limiting; possible carrier fee
Download: Windows Mobile or Palm
WAP address for BlackBerrys and smart phones: http://mobile.earthcomber.com

Download version
Earthcomber began as a downloadable map application for Palm and Windows Mobile operating systems. The interactive map is this program's heart, allowing you to zoom in and out, maneuver around the geography, and synchronize your position with a GPS device. A listings guide pinpoints places of interest on the map--movies, events, shopping, hikes, it's your choice. Tapping a listing from the map calls up a phone number, address, and a well-integrated short-cut for getting directions. The only thing you don't get (and want) is the complementing URL link.

Web version
This past Tuesday, Earthcomber's introduced a WAP version compatible with any J2ME-enabled device, including BlackBerrys. Though intended to be faster and lighter than the downloadable application, my Treo 650's Blazer browser was a tad slow to switch my location and begin a search. I did appreciate, however, the seven ways to change locations.

I was impressed with Earthcomber's listing options and directions format, though I noticed that it didn't catch all neighborhood listings ("looklists"), such as the Thai restaurant down the street. It did, however, pull up Citysearch.com reviews for 20 other Thai restaurants. I liked being able to tap a listing's phone number to initiate a call. Again, I would like to see Web links integrated into the listing info, especially when using Earthcomber with my browser. Unlike the device application, online maps aren't interactive, and you'll need to squint or rely on the directions feature for fuller detail.

Mobile charges
While the Earthcomber application and WAP are free for users (Earthcomber's revenue comes from corporate content partnerships), service carriers may charge for air time and data transfers. Before calling it quits on paper and PC maps, check your plan. A monthly data transfer and/or Wi-Fi subscription could make the most financial sense and keep Earthcomber as a useful, affordable lifesaver.

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