Much like the Alpine Blackbird, the Sony NV-U70 ($499.95) represents a first venture into the portable in-car navigation market from an established company, and though it's a solid and accurate GPS device, it doesn't offer anything the competition doesn't. In fact, it's missing some of the latest features showing up in today's systems, such as traffic services, text-to-speech functionality, and a music player. The NV-U70's no-frills simplicity and intuitive interface might be good for the first-time buyer, but if you want a little more bang for your buck, we'd recommend taking a look at the Lowrance iWay 350c instead.
The Sony NV-U70's design and form factor are perhaps its greatest assets. At 4.1 by 3.5 by 1.8 inches and 11 ounces, the device is light, compact, and ultraportable, so you can easily move it from car to car. As a bonus, Sony provides you with a nice soft pouch so that you can carry the device around and protect it from sustaining any major dings. And believe us, one glance at this sharp device and you'll want to do all you can to keep it looking that way. As with most Sony products, the NV-U70 sports an attractive design that's highlighted by a polished silver and charcoal-gray casing, minimal controls, and a 3.5-inch touch screen; it reminded us of a mini TV. The display shows 65,536 colors at a 320x240-pixel resolution and features an antiglare/antifingerprint coating, as well as a light sensor that automatically adjusts the brightness of the screen depending on the environment (day, night, and so forth). While both of these functions worked for the most part, we encountered some trouble when viewing the screen in bright sunlight.
As we mentioned earlier, the Sony NV-U70's controls are kept to a minimum. There are two buttons on top of the unit: one to power on/off the device and a voice/position button to repeat the last set of instructions. All other commands are entered via the responsive touch screen. On the right side, you have a mini USB port and a charger port, both of which are protected by an attached rubber cover. The Sony NV-U70 also comes with a two-way front-panel speaker system.
We're happy to see that Sony packages the NV-U70 with all the essential accessories, including an AC adapter, a car charger, a USB cable, a windshield mount, a mounting plate and screws, and a good helping of reference material. We used the adjustable windshield mount for our tests and had no problem attaching it to our car, but more importantly, it held the unit firmly in place. The mechanism for releasing the NV-U70 from the mount is a little sticky, though. Other optional accessories, such as a neoprene carrying case and an external antenna, are available for purchase.
The Sony NV-U70 uses a 12-channel GPS receiver and comes preloaded with detailed street-level maps of the 48 contiguous U.S. states, Hawaii, and a database of 1.6 million points of interest (POI). Maps of Alaska, Canada, and Puerto Rico are available on the included DVD-ROM, but you'll need to transfer those from your computer to the NV-U70 via the USB cable.
The NV-U70's interface is straightforward and simple to use. From the main menu, you can choose from five options--New Destination, Search Nearby, Route, Muting, and Settings--and if you want to return to the main page, you can hit the Back button or any point on the screen.
You can plot your course by address, POI, recent destinations, favorites, or a point on the map. You can also customize the unit so that it generates directions by the fastest or shortest route, and you can tell it to avoid interstates and tollways. Like all GPS devices today, the NV-U70 offers text- and voice-guided turn-by-turn directions, but it doesn't include the latest text-to-speech technology that speaks the name of the street. Instead, you'll receive generic directions, such as "Turn right in 100 feet."
Maps can be viewed in either 2D (in driving direction or oriented north) or 3D mode. Once the unit draws up a map, three icons show up at the top of your screen. They are unmarked, which created a bit of confusion at first, but we soon found out they are for hiding/showing View Mode (driving direction or north up), Select Destination, and all other icons. A battery icon in the upper right shows you how much juice you have left. The bottom of the screen presents useful information, such as your driving speed, time, current location, and direction. If you need to make a pit stop along the way, simply use the Search Nearby menu to find the closest POI from your current location. You can search from a wide range of establishments, including restaurants (sorted by type), ATMs, gas stations, shopping centers, hotels, garages, and more.
Don't let the Sony NV-U70's diminutive size fool you, as it's a solid and accurate performer. It took the unit about three minutes to acquire a 3D fix (four satellites) from a cold start, but subsequent starts were almost instantaneous. The NV-U70 accurately tracked our position as we traveled around San Francisco, and we lost signal only once in the heart of the financial district, where skyscrapers dominate the landscape. Driving directions were also on the money, and thanks to the two-way speaker system, we had absolutely no problem hearing the voice-guided directions.
Our only complaint would be that initial route calculations were a little poky, and there was a slight delay in response time when switching between screens. The Sony NV-U70's lithium-ion battery is rated for four hours of use.