Product Test: Map Books

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Map Books

We may have become used to switching on our satnavs or using apps on our phones, but if they break or run out of power, a traditional map book can help plan a route and get you to your destination. James Scoltock tests three of the best

Product Test - Map Books - AA Road Atlas 2018AA Road Atlas Britain 2018

£14.99

Produced by the AA, which perhaps gives it a level of kudos others can’t match, the 2018 version breaks the country down into 185 pages of maps. This is combined with 100 city, town and port plans to try and make navigating more complex urban areas easier.

With a scale of 1:200,000, or 3.16 miles to 1 inch, there is enough detail to help get around without having to squint at each page to try and figure out where you are, where major markers are along the route and of course your final destination.

Each page has been titled with its geographical location so you can turn to the one you need more easily.

As it’s spiral bound, which any map like this really needs to be, it’s easy to flick through and find the map you need.

There are drawbacks to the map pages, especially if your destination happens to land near the spine of the publication, because places can become obscured and roads appear to not line up.

That aside there is a great deal of extra information included. The atlas also highlights wide and narrow minor roads, National Trust, English and World Heritage sites and hard-to-find places.

The 100 city, town, port and airport plans are detailed and should help you navigate even the most disastrously planned conurbations, and the 31,500-strong entry index with airports, top tourist sites and motorway services listed should help find everything you need.

Perhaps in the next iteration, the AA will include a greater number of motorway maps; this version has individual maps for the M25 and M6 toll road so you know where every junction is, and would be even more useful if it was expanded.

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A-Z Great Britain Road Atlas 2018

£12.95

The A-Z map of Great Britain is a full-colour, spiral-bound road atlas that’s smallest of the map books tested, which makes it easier to store.

It gives 170 pages of detailed road mapping at a mainland map scale of 3.5 miles to 1 inch, 11 pages of main route mapping covering Greater London, Birmingham and Manchester, route planning maps, mileage chart with average journey times, and information on motorway junctions with limited interchanges. There are also 80 city and town centre street plans, 16 port and airport plans, Channel Tunnel terminus maps, index to cities, towns, villages, hamlets and major destinations and an index to selected places of interest with postcodes for satnav use.

That’s where this map differs from the others, it’s meant to be used as a companion to satnavs.

The biggest example of this is the city and town centre maps. They’re all clear and easy to read, but unlike in the AA road atlas, there is no list of street names and a relating map grid.

Taking Norwich as an example, the scaling on the main map pages means the city sits on the spine of the book which almost hides it completely. However, turning to the more detailed Norwich city map isn’t as helpful as it could be because there’s no index of streets to refer to. That could mean a lot of lost drivers.

But there is a great deal of information that could prove useful while you’re trying to find your way around, including motorway junction details, service areas, selected safety camera locations with maximum speed limits, fuel stations, selected truckstop locations, national and county boundaries, and a wide range of tourist and ancillary information.

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Collins Britain Essential Road Atlas - Image 1
Collins Britain Essential Road Atlas

£12.99

The Collins publication uses a scale of 3.2 miles to 1 inch (1:200,000) for England, Wales and Southern Scotland and 4.2 miles to 1 inch (1:266,000) in Northern Scotland.

The atlas includes a route planning section including maps at a scale of 22 miles to 1 inch, motorway services information and, as in the other map books, a distance-calculator chart.

There are 26 urban area approach maps at a larger scale, which clearly show the best routes through and into the busiest built-up-areas. This is a stand-out idea that works well.

There are also a further 64 street maps focused on town centres, showing places of interest, car park locations and one-way streets. Some of these, including Liverpool, Manchester and Central London, are spread over two pages, making it easier to plot a route. Like the AA map, but not the A-Z, all the street maps are fully indexed which should make finding your destination pretty simple.

There are separate maps with junction information for the M25 and the motorways surrounding Birmingham.

The map book also includes fixed speed camera sites with average-speed camera locations clearly highlighted, and all speed cameras show the speed limit. This information is provided by PocketGPSWorld.com.

But it isn’t just road network information that is provided, Collins also includes more than 30 categories of places of interest, including castles, theme parks, sports venues, universities, mountain bike trails and surfing beaches, and the top 1,000 most visited places of interest are indexed with full postcodes to aid satnav integration.

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VERDICT: and the winner is…

The minute we start a journey we might tap the destination details into a satnav or an app on our phones, but that doesn’t mean there’s no place for a traditional map book. There’s still something to be said for thumbing through the pages of a road atlas.

But rather than being the primary navigation tool they are now a back-up if our electronic devices fail, or used as a companion to make sure we get to where we’re going.

With that in mind the Collins Britain Essential Road Atlas finds the best balance between being detailed enough to be used a standalone product if push comes to shove, and lends itself to working with your satnav on a day-to-day basis.

The detailed maps of major towns and cities and the easy indexing of roads for them means you shouldn’t ever get lost, while the main mapping pages are clear, showing just the right amount of detail.

Add to this the safety camera with speed limit information, and the 1,000 places of interest in the book’s index with full postcodes and it could almost become indispensable.

The AA Road Atlas comes a close second, with so much information included in its pages, but it feels like it’s clinging on to times of old and ignoring that we all have access to navigation systems through our phones. Even a small thing such as including postcodes for attractions could help to make it
a little more relevant.

The A-Z map book’s big let downs are the lack of indexing on its city and town maps and the physical size of the publication which can impede the main map pages. It’s jarring and could mean people taking the wrong turning, neither of which you want.

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