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Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Google Earth 3.0 review by PC Magazine

Google Earth 3.0 review by PC MagazineGoogle Earth 3.0
REVIEW DATE: 06.28.05
# Company: Google Inc.,
# Price: Free. Plus version: $20 per year

Total posts: 2
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By Richard V. Dragan

When the Keyhole satellite-imagery Web service debuted last year, we were impressed with the technology—so much so that we gave it our award for technical excellence. The folks at Google saw the potential too and used some of the company's IPO booty to snatch up Keyhole. The result is Google Earth 3.0: the same wide-ranging, detailed aerial images provided by Keyhole, combined with Google's excellent local search capabilities. And since the formerly $299 service is now free, we're even bigger fans. Whether you're traveling or just geographically curious, this new service presents map information using an intuitive, interactive virtual globe.

To get started, you download and install the 10MB Google Earth client, which provides access to the company's digital imagery servers. Type in an address and the on-screen view zooms in to it with a satellite's perspective in real time. (A 128-Kbps network connection is required.) You can use the convenient buttons to navigate in any direction, zoom in and out, and tilt the terrain for a true 3D effect.

Google Earth 3D Cities In this version, Google has beefed up its collection of satellite imagery for worldwide coverage and has added 3D views of about 40 American cities. Buildings are rendered in gray blocks only, but that's enough to give a perspective of each city's skyline.

As you scroll around and zoom in and out, the animation is seamless and simply a joy to experience. Services like TerraFly present satellite imagery, but they don't offer such smooth movement. (It remains to be seen whether Microsoft's announced MSN Virtual Earth will offer the same sort of animation when it debuts this summer.) The easy-to-use client app also features panels for displaying maps, as well as for searching and cataloging your favorite places. You can annotate any location using a placemark (akin to a bookmark), and even add a live URL link. You can save and share annotations as XML files, and also e-mail or print any image on the site. And as with the original Keyhole service, you can mark two locations on the map and the service will calculate the distance between them.

Beyond marking individual points of interest, Google Earth gives you over 100 available geographical and business overlays to choose from, ranging from restaurants and other businesses to weather, crime statistics, and geology. In a big city like New York, these annotations can quickly become overcrowded, but the service had no trouble pointing out Italian restaurants in Manhattan, for example.

For any point of interest or business, Google Earth lets you link to the Google Local search feature, as well as to Google Maps. By default, linked pages are displayed in the embedded browser showing detailed information about a restaurant or business. One nit here is that cross-referencing satellite imagery (in Google Earth) and a standard road map (in Google Maps) was a bit awkward. Putting additional detail into pop-up windows on the actual satellite map (an approach that is apparently in the works for MSN Virtual Earth) seems like a better idea to us. And for getting driving directions, we actually preferred the driving locations in Google Maps for clarity. The animated flyover option inside Google Earth give you a bird's-eye view of your route, but the animation can be disorienting, especially for city driving. Luckily, text-based directions are available in both Google Earth and Maps.

A Plus version of Google Earth ($20 per year) adds the ability to draw shapes on maps and to import data from common GPS devices. The business-oriented Pro version ($400 per year) increases resolution for printing and lets you save your fly-by tours as video files for animations. But the vast majority of users will be well served by the free version. Its ability to provide smooth virtual flyovers is the best we've seen to date, and the integration of Google's search technology makes it even more useful.

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