National Geographic World Atlas in the Palm of Your Hand

Geek Culture

The World Map view (Image: National Geographic)The World Map view (Image: National Geographic)

The World Map view (Image: National Geographic)

Sure, most smart phones will let you see maps of where you are and where you are going. But what if you want to also study maps of the world, of continents, of countries, in only a way that you can with an atlas? National Geographic World Atlas helps you do just that. You can study the satellite, political, executive and road maps of just about anywhere in the world. And it’s only $1.99.

When you first run the app, it asks you if you want a Quick Start Tutorial. It’s useful to look at the tutorial once, but is just a quick run through of the functionality of the program.

The program seems quite simple at first glance. It mostly allows you to look at maps. But the more you play with it, the more interesting and useful it becomes. For the more zoomed-in maps, it uses Bing to bring the entire world to your fingertips. You can zoom in by double tapping, finger-stretching or accessing the controls at the bottom of the screen. To zoom out, you can do the finger-shrinking or use the controls at the bottom of the screen. Beyond the usual map study and navigation, the program also offers Flags and Nation Facts, a Map Library, Current Location, Bookmarks, Placename Search and the ability to switch map types. In the Flag and Nation Facts section, you can learn many details about each country and then go directly to that country’s placement on the world map.

(Image: National Geographic)(Image: National Geographic)

(Image: National Geographic)

When you originally download the app, only the world map is downloaded. The rest of the maps are viewed over your internet connection. You can download all of the continent maps to use off-line. This uses up many multiple megabytes, but it is worth it for the increased speed and offline access. But to zoom into street maps and satellite views, you will need internet access. In a location without wi-fi on my iPod Touch, I wasn’t able to zoom in past a certain point.

When you touch the magnifying glass on the Index screen, you can search for any place name, and it will take you there. It doesn’t have a large database of locations bundled with the maps, however, so to find smaller sites, you will still need wi-fi. For example, without wi-fi, it can find London, England, but not Bath. Once the location is found, it puts a little yellow circle in the right place on the map. You can then zoom in and see more detail. You can also search for things like some mountains, rivers and lakes.

After you search for a place name, it will ask if you want to bookmark the location. If you select this option, a little pin will appear in the spot. It can tell you the latitude and longitude of the pin. You can then edit the color of the pin, unlock the pin’s location so you can move it around and add descriptions or photos of the location. For these features, this app would be more usable on an iPhone than on my iPod Touch, since you could easily add photos of locations when you are there. This would be perfect to chronicle your travels and place pins everywhere you go. You could use the handy Show My Location option under the Index to mark your location quickly.

(Image: National Geographic)(Image: National Geographic)

(Image: National Geographic)

One of the few frustrating parts of this program is that you can’t just zoom in on a location and place a pin. You have to search for the general spot, place the pin, and then maneuver it until it is in the chosen place. Also, since it uses Bing for the closer up maps, it uses the information Bing chooses. So, for example, the streets and locations in Japan are in Japanese, but Vienna, Austria, isn’t spelled Wien, Österreich.

The Major Cities of the World section is good for browsing and exploring the planet, but it doesn’t seem terribly efficient for finding specific places you’re looking for. Also, despite the fact that you can download individual continent maps, you always access the additional downloaded information by zooming in from the world map. You don’t access continents individually. You always see them as part of the whole world. This isn’t a problem, it can just be confusing.

All in all, National Geographic World Atlas is an excellent one for everything from world geography studies to road reference maps. It is available at the iTunes store for $1.99.

Wired: This handy app will take you anywhere you want to go on the planet, with an excellent amount of detail and zooming (except for places like Antarctica).

Tired: Would be handy to have the ability to get driving directions. I wish there were more options for how to bookmark a location.

Note: I was furnished with a free code to evaluate this app.

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