Sony was late to the GPS market, but is finally bringing its trademark style to satellite navigation, with the slimline, widescreen Nav-U NV-U92. This in-car unit promises simple pan-European guidance, real-time traffic updates and a hybrid navigation system that copes with urban canyons. It's available now for around £300, with the UK and Ireland-only NV-U82 version around £50 cheaper.
If there's one technology that Sony has mastered, it's the LCD display, and the U92 comes with one of the widest, sharpest and most colourful screens we've seen on a sat-nav. The 122mm (4.8-inch) screen is visible from across the largest dashboard, and even (admittedly sharp-sighted) back-seat passengers might be able to follow the clear 2D or 3D maps.
Route display is as smooth and clear as a TomTom, with sensible colour-coding of roads. Icons are kept to a sensible minimum: you can adjust sound, pull up menus and navigate to the nearest petrol stations at the stab of a finger.
The Sony's skinny housing (it's just 20mm thick) has some clever touches. At the back, a pop-out GPS antenna doubles as a dashboard rest, if you haven't got round to fitting the lovely 'soft gel' windscreen mount. This is designed to be speedily removable, without leaving tell-tale marks to lure thieves.
The speaker sounded a touch resonant to begin with, but soon settled down to deliver clear and timely Radio 4-esque female diction. The U92 also speaks destination road names out loud at junctions -- a real help compared to older sat-navs.
The provision of European maps covering 21 countries in the U92 should suffice for all but the most adventurous drivers (the cheaper U82 covers just the UK and Ireland).
An efficient search system uses full postcodes, albeit with an annoyingly non-Qwerty virtual keyboard. It was fast (two minutes) to acquire an initial signal, and held it well. An internal acceleration sensor keeps the sat-nav offering guidance, even when the GPS signal is lost through tunnels. Route calculation was very fast, and guidance was logical, if not especially imaginative. You also get Bluetooth syncing with your mobile for hands-free calling, and free TMC traffic updates (these are optional with the U82) and re-routing.
The Sony's huge screen means that the unit is hardly pocketable outside the car. It also adds weight and seriously affects the U92's modest (2.5-hour) battery life: this isn't a device for tourists wandering around on foot.
The widescreen shape looks fantastic on the dashboard but doesn't actually make the Sony much easier to use. If you could have rotated the U92 into a portrait position, it might have been more interesting, but as it is, you end up with a fair quantity of unused pixels on either side of your route. And for all the display's generous real estate, displayed data such as time, speed and place names are on the small side.
If you wander off the planned roads, route re-calculation is sluggish, although at least the U92 generally avoids issuing hasty or conflicting instructions. Actually, it's usually rather terse, remaining silent where a basic instruction would save worry, such as choosing lanes at a motorway split.
Gesture commands, with which you can request directions home just by writing a single pre-programmed shape on the screen, are little more than a gimmick.
If you're concentrating totally on navigation, the U92 is a great deal, boasting excellent GPS sensitivity, fast, reliable navigation and a screen that looks a million dollars. It isn't exactly cheap, but it does represent good value.
Edited by Jason Jenkins
Additional editing by Nick Hide