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The Strada CN-NVD905U is Panasonic's first foray into the U.S. market for in-dash navigation systems, and it's not a bad start. The CN-NVD905U falls into the category of a small but growing number of all-in-one, hard drive-based navigation/multimedia systems. The double-DIN-size system features a bright 7-inch display, which shows maps and movies in crisp detail, and which doubles as a very useful touch screen interface.
With a 30GB hard drive, the system has many similarities with Pioneer's AVIC-Z1 (with which it now competes on price) and forthcoming Z2, although the Panasonic system lacks the media storage capabilities of the AVIC devices. The Strada CN-NVD905U's hard drive does give it lightning-fast navigation programmability and route-calculation times, and we like the clean, intuitive layout of the destination-entry menus. Digital audio playback is also straightforward, although navigating homemade disc libraries is not as straightforward as with the Eclipse AVN5510 that we reviewed recently.
The faceplate of the Panasonic Strada CN-NVD905U features a simple, stylish design. Three control buttons for Map, Source, and Menu provide the gateway to the Strada CN-NVD905U's wide range of features, most of which are controlled using touch screen menus. We like the layout of the top-level virtual menus, which are well-rendered, clearly labeled, and large enough to select while on the road. The customizable Destination button on the main menu screen is particularly conspicuous, and has to be one of the largest touch screen buttons we've ever seen.
On the road
Having hooked up the Strada CN-NVD905U to our 2007 Mazda CX-9 test vehicle, we took it out on the road to see how it fared in real-life navigation situations. Like most GPS systems, the Strada CN-NVD905U took about 15 minutes to get a fix on the minimum number of satellites needed to get its bearings. With our location data secured, we set about programming a destination. The Destination soft button on the Strada CN-NVD905U is enormous--a nice touch for programming on the fly. It also changes color depending on the time of day, and comes with a choice of three scenery photos to match your mood while driving.
But enough of the gimmickry, how does it work? Plugging in destinations by name is very straightforward via the system's onscreen A-Z keypad. Alternative means of entering destinations include: via the Strada CN-NVD905U's 12 million-entry points of interest (POI) database--either by spelling the name of the POI, or calling it up from a categories menu; by phone number; by picking a spot from the map; by selecting a prestored location from the address book; or by GPS coordinates. In a very user-friendly design feature, the Strada CN-NVD905U lets users select their three favorite destination-entry methods, which then appear as the default when the Destination button is pressed.
With each method of destination entry, the Strada CN-NVD905U's hard drive calculates a route with impressive speed. With a destination secured, the system gives the driver three route options: two options for the quickest route; and one for the shortest.
Other plus points for the Strada CN-NVD905U's navigation system include a one-touch scrolling and zooming function; 3D icons for individual landmarks in metropolitan areas; and user-friendly color-coding of streets. The Strada CN-NVD905U's Navteq-based maps are bright and well rendered, and the system features extra detail for 86 metropolitan areas across the United States, for which it shows individual building outlines and landmark icons.
In addition to being an AM/FM tuner, the Panasonic Strada CN-NVD90U can handle MP3 and WMA discs as well as regular CDDA discs. Surprisingly, the system will also play DVD-Audio discs--even displaying their browsable still picture (BSP) artwork--despite there being no indication of this capability in the instruction manual or in any of Panasonic's marketing materials. Conversely, users looking to make use of the Strada CN-NVD905U's SD-card slot to play music files will be disappointed, as the system uses SD cards only for map updates.
During playback of compressed digital audio format discs, the Strada CN-NVD905U can be configured to show full ID3-tag information for individual tracks (default screen), or to show a list of six tracks at a time. We would prefer it if the latter view were the default view (as with the Eclipse AVN5510), as it is a cumbersome process to navigate to the track list screen each time you want to navigate the disc library. In the default screen mode, the only way to search through the tracks or folders on a disc is with the Up and Down soft buttons (for folders) or the hard buttons on the faceplate bezel (for tracks).
For video playback, the Strada CN-NVD905U plays DVD videos, which play only when the car's parking brake is activated. The 7-inch display delivers crisp video reproduction, and we like the full Direct Touch functionality that the system offers, enabling users to navigate DVD menus by making selections onscreen rather than via a remote interface.
The Strada CN-NVD905U features a number of impressive audio-tweaking features to optimize output for individual car cabins. Its SRS Circle Sound decoder is a catchall for these, and its settings include: Focus, for adjusting the vertical "sweet spot" of the audio; TruBass, for setting the bass levels for front and rear speakers as well as for a separate subwoofer where applicable; and RearMix, for optimizing the mix of sound between the front and rear speakers. Additionally, the audio system features settings for Speaker Delay and Speaker Level can be used to adjust the output to the car's specific dimensions and to listeners' individual acoustic requirements respectively.
The Panasonic Strada CN-NVD905U does many things right for an in-car navigation/multimedia system. Its bright display, intuitive menus, and useful touch screen functionality recommend it to those looking for an easy-to-use and visually appealing system. While it differs from its competitors in style, however, it doesn't bring any novel features to the table, and in some respects is less equipped than comparably priced systems that have been on the market for a while.