Having a good grasp on the cell phone and smart phone markets, Nokia is trying something new and branching out into the world of portable navigation systems. However, we think the company better stick to its day job, as its first in-car GPS device is rather unspectacular. The Nokia 330 Auto Navigation system ($499) isn't horrible, per se. It offers all the navigation basics as well as some multimedia extras, and it got us to our destination, but not as smoothly as its competitors. The voice directions weren't as precise, and the user interface could be easier to use. As such, we'd recommend the similarly priced and more feature-rich Magellan Maestro 4040 or Garmin StreetPilot c550.
The Nokia 330 Auto Navigation system is rather ordinary-looking--not particularly flashy, but not unattractive. The unit is clad in classic black and silver and is compact and light enough (3.2 inches wide by 4.2 inches long by 1.2 inches thick; 7.2 ounces) for easy multicar use. However, unlike some of the latest portable nav systems, such as the Garmin Nuvi 200, the Nokia 330 has a flip-up GPS antenna, which adds a slight bump to the back of the unit.
On front of the device, you'll find a 3.5-inch touch screen. Maps were colorful and vibrant, and we could view the screen in various lighting conditions, including bright, sunny days. In addition, you can adjust the backlighting and switch between day and night map colors. The touch screen itself is responsive, and the onscreen keyboard for entering addresses is fairly spacious. One thing we did notice, however, is that there is only one field for an address, whereas most GPS devices we've seen have one for the house number, one for the street, the city, and so forth. With the Nokia 330, you just enter the whole thing on one line. It's not a bad thing; it just threw us off.
There is also a set of controls just to the right of the display that gives you one-touch access to the Home page, Navigate To screen, standby mode, and volume up and down. We always appreciate the inclusion of external volume controls, as it saves us from having to dig through menus to bring up that function. Plus, pressing the volume buttons also brings up a sun/moon icon so you quickly adjust the backlight of the screen.
The left side holds the SD expansion slot, 3.5mm headphone jack, and mini USB port, while there's an external antenna jack on the right spine. On the bottom edge, there's a power cord connector and hold switch. And finally, there's a reset button, a main power switch, and the system's speaker on the back side.
The Nokia 330 Auto Navigation unit comes packaged with a car charger, a vehicle mount (windshield and dash), a USB cable, an SD card preloaded with maps, a software DVD, and reference material. An AC adapter would have been nice for those times when you use the unit outside of the car and need to recharge. The windshield mount is sturdy, but we had a heck of hard time moving the adjustable arm to get the best viewing angle for the Nokia 330. On the one hand, the stiffness is great since you don't get a lot of movement even as you're driving over bumpy roads, but we seriously got a workout trying to move it.
The Nokia 330 Auto Navigation unit is equipped with a SiRFIII GSC3 GPS receiver and features Navteq maps of North America and Route 66 Navigate 7 software. The user interface is fairly intuitive, though not as streamlined or sophisticated as the Garmins or TomToms of the GPS world, and it can get a bit confusing once in map view (see more below). Navigation options are pretty standard. You can get directions by entering a specific address, selecting a point of interest, or picking a point on the map. For a quicker option, you can save your home and work addresses and just tap the appropriate icon on the screen, or select from a list of favorites or recently visited locations.
The system also supports multistop trips, and there's a healthy points-of-interest (POI) database for finding the nearest gas stations, banks, restaurants, shopping centers, and so on, along your route. The Nokia 330 can calculate routes by shortest distance or fastest time and includes a pedestrian mode. If you want to avoid freeways, toll roads, and ferry ways, there are options to cut these out of your trip. And for all the speed demons out there (present company included), there's a speed alert function to remind you to ease off the gas pedal a bit.
The unit offers turn-by-turn, text-, and voice-guided directions (you can choose from four languages), but it doesn't support text-to-speech functionality. This means the system won't speak actual street names. The Nokia 300 also supports automatic route recalculation.
Maps are available in 2D and 3D view with day and night colors, and you can change it so north is always at the top of your screen or the direction in which you are driving. Also presented in map view is the name of the street you're on, and the direction and distance to your next turn. A plus and minus icon on the map screen allows you to zoom in and out of the map. As we mentioned earlier, the map interface is slightly confusing. If you choose the Navigate To option, you seem to get a different user experience than if you use the Plan a Route option. For example, with the former, we couldn't find a way to get text-based directions, and tapping on a POI only brought us back to the main menu screen. However, if we chose Plan a Route, we could get a list of turn-by-turn instructions and POI contact information. After reading the Route 66 user guide, it seems that Navigate To is more for short trips or going back to your home or office from a location, whereas the latter is for longer journeys. Regardless, we think you should have the same capabilities available to you in either option.
Finally, the Nokia 330 Auto Navigation offers several multimedia capabilities. It has a built-in music and video player and a picture viewer with support for a number of formats, including MP3, WMA, WMV, MPEG4, AVI, and JPEG files. They're nice extras, but we've always been a bit skeptical of having this functionality on a GPS device, since we don't see many people using portable nav systems as a multimedia gadget.
We tested the Nokia 330 Auto Navigation in San Francisco, and from a cold start, the unit took about three minutes to get a GPS fix under cloudy skies, while subsequent starts were slightly faster. The system did a good job of pinpointing our location, and it even held on to a signal as we drove through the city's financial district, where tall buildings clutter the sky. However, it inexplicably lost a fix as we were driving through a residential neighborhood with a clear view of the sky. It was slightly troublesome since we didn't know where we were at the time.
We also used the Nokia 330 for a trip from the city to Sacramento. The system generated a route in less than a minute, and while the directions were accurate, the voice prompts weren't as specific as we like. For example, while traveling on the interstate, it would tell us to take an exit, but never specified which direction. There were a couple of occasions where an exit would fork right or straight ahead, and if we were solely relying on the voice directions, there was no way of knowing which way to go. We found this to be a huge drawback. We actually tested the Garmin Mobile 20 right after the Nokia unit, and had such a better experience as it specifically told us to take "right exit" and so forth. Fortunately, route recalculations on the Nokia 330 were quick so when we missed our exit, it was able to get us back on track.