Can we say goodbye to map-reading rows and missed turnings? Simon Calder test drives the new Philips Routefinder smart card
York is in Lancashire. To be more precise, there is a place called York on the west side of the Pennines. When you key your destination into the Philips Routefinder, that is the place that the machine first suggests. You have to scroll past Yorkletts in Kent before you arrive at the city that gave Yorkshire its name.

The Philips Routefinder is clever; but I wonder if it is clever enough. Here's the idea: all the route-planning knowledge that the AA has built up over the decades to give away to members or sell, has been compressed on to a single, and singularly smart, card. This arrives injected into a console smaller than the average Walkman, made in China but intended for the British market. Using the infant-sized keyboard, you tap in your starting place and destination. Once you have overcome the peculiar alphabetical logic that places small villages called York ahead of prominent cities of the same name, within 100 seconds (not the minute, as promised), you are presented with the ideal route: hit the button, and a succession of screens guide you from Land's End to John O'Groats, by way of Beachy Head if you so wish. The Routefinder is a marriage of some neat hardware and encyclopaedic software, and sets out to be the driver's friend.

The publicity leaflet shows a motorist happily arriving in Watford town centre, so I decided to follow in the tyre tracks from central London. The road to Watford led from Parliament Square through St James's Park to Buckingham Palace. But on Sundays, Her Majesty copes with incessant London traffic by banning it from her front garden. Juggling conflicting signals from policemen, tourists and traffic lights, you select the "Re- route" and are offered an instant diversion via Victoria - the station, not the statue in front of Buckingham Palace.

I am unconvinced that the solo motorist should be reading instructions from a two-square-inch screen while trying to drive through town or country, even though each time you switch the device on, it flashes a warning: "Watching the road is more important than watching this screen".

Anyway, back to Watford. The machine offered a reasonable route through Swiss Cottage, and asserted an arrival time of 12.16pm. Five minutes before this, I was hurrying along the M1, watching out for the junction with the A4008. Unfortunately it is labelled A41, as I concluded seconds after sailing past the correct slip road. The ensuing diversion around much of Hertfordshire decreased my good humour at the same rate as it increased the harm to the environment.

Just in case you were wondering, York (Lancs) is 72 miles and 106 minutes from York (Yorks).

For further information, dial 100 and ask for Freephone Routefinder.

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