Nextar is just the latest company to join the burgeoning category of portable navigation systems and, on paper, its Nextar Snap3 in-car GPS looks to be a steal. For about $200, you get a compact GPS device with text-to-speech functionality, integrated Bluetooth, and multimedia capabilities. We've seen comparable systems go for twice that price. Unfortunately, after taking it out for a test drive, we wouldn't spend a dime on the device. The Snap3 is sluggish and the system froze on us on one occasion. If you're looking for a portable navigation system with these features, it's worth paying a little more to get the Mio C520 or the Garmin Nuvi 660 and know that you'll get better performance.
The Nextar Snap3 has a simple design and compact frame at 3.9 inches wide by 3 inches tall by 0.6 inch deep, so you'll have no problem carting this petite portable navigation system between vehicles. The front features a 3.5-inch touch screen that's bright and readable in various lighting conditions. That said, the display doesn't quite have the sharpness or crispness of some of the other systems we've tested.
The main menu is easy to understand and use with clearly identified icons, though it could certainly use a boost in the aesthetics department. Once we dug into the Navigator program, we recognized the user interface and menu system as the same one found on the Rand McNally GPS Navigator. For the most part, you shouldn't have any problems figuring out how to enter addresses, plan trips, and the like, but we think choosing the various route and display options could be simpler. As is, you have to sort through various tabs, which can be overwhelming at first glance.
On the left side, there are volume up and down keys, a 3.5-millimeter headphone jack, and a play/stop button for the media player. Meanwhile, the right spine has an external antenna jack, a power button, and a lock key. The top of the unit has a stylus holder and a miniSD card expansion slot for loading up all your multimedia files. Last but not least, there's a mini USB port and a master power switch.
The Nextar Snap3 comes packaged with an AC adapter, a car charger, a soft carrying pouch, a vehicle mount (windshield and dash), and reference material.
The Nextar Snap3 comes preloaded with NAVTEQ maps of the United States and Canada and 1.6 million points of interest. The navigation features are pretty standard compared with other GPS devices on the market today. You can plan trips by entering specific addresses, intersections, or selecting locations from your Recent or Favorites lists. If you don't have a specific destination in mind, the Snap3 can simply track your route as you drive. There's also a Current Location item that will display your coordinates and block information, which is nice data to have in case you're meeting someone or need to road assistance.
The system can calculate routes by one of four methods: quickest route, shortest distance, major roads, or local roads, and you can instruct it to allow or avoid interstates, ferry ways, car pool lanes or toll roads. The Nextar Snap3 offers text- and voice-guided directions as well as text-to-speech functionality so you'll be able to hear actual street names. Also, maps are presented in 2D and 3D view with day and night color options. The map screen will also display information, such as current street name, your next maneuver (direction and distance to turn, street name), and distance to destination. Other navigation features on this device include automatic route recalculation, a detour function, a speed alert, and a route demo.
The Nextar Snap3 also features some extras outside of the navigation arena, including Bluetooth and multimedia. The former allows you to pair your Bluetooth-enabled phone with the Snap3 and use it as a hands-free speaker system. We were successfully able to pair the Samsung BlackJack II with the Snap3, but it took the GPS device a really long time to search for the smartphone. Unfortunately the phone's address book does not automatically synchronize with the Snap3. That said, we had no problems making or accepting calls with the device. You can also automatically dial out if there's a number associated with a POI.
The Snap3 supports MP3 music files and the media player is pretty basic. It will display ID3 tags, and you get repeat and shuffle modes. The portable navigation system also has an image viewer and a calculator.
For our road test, we took the Nextar Snap3 out in San Francisco, and from a cold start, it took the unit about 5 minutes to get a fix on our location under cloudy skies, while subsequent starts were erratic and varied anywhere from 3 minutes to just a few seconds. While driving around the city, the Snap3 did a fair job of tracking our location, but the system did freeze on us once. While trying to access another menu, the device froze on the map screen and we had to reset the system. Fortunately, we weren't in unfamiliar territory when this occurred, so we weren't too freaked out.
We also entered our standard trip from the city's Marina district to CNET's downtown headquarters. The Snap3 came back with directions in a satisfactory amount of time, and we found them to be accurate. The voice prompts were loud, and the text-to-speech didn't mangle up too many street names. We also missed several turns, and the system was quickly able to get us back on track.