First introduced at CES 2008, the Sony NV-U83T is the company's flagship portable navigation system. With a focus on safety, the NV-U83T features a number of nice and unique features, including pressure, gyro, and acceleration sensors to provide for more accurate positioning even when driving through tunnels and in between tall buildings and 3D renderings of complicated intersections. Plus, it boasts a large 4.8-inch screen with a Gesture Command function that lets you perform certain tasks with just the swipe of your finger. Throw in the integrated Bluetooth and text-to-speech functionality, and you seemingly have good in-car GPS for pretty fair price of $399.99. However, you've got to have the performance to back it up, and the Sony NV-U83T just doesn't bring it, lagging behind the completion from start to finish.
At 5.6 inches wide by 3.4 inches tall by 0.8 inch deep, the Sony NV-U83T is larger than recent portable navigation systems but with good reason. The NV-U83T features an extralarge 4.8-inch touch screen (compared with the more standard 4.3-inch models of late), and with its 480x272 pixel resolution and 16:9 aspect ratio, maps are nice and easy to read on the unit. The display is also readable in various lighting conditions.
For the most part, the touch screen is responsive, though address entry isn't a seamless process on the NV-U83T (see Performance section for more). To make device operation easier and safer, Sony does include a unique feature called Gesture Commands that enables you to perform certain functions by "drawing" symbols on the touch screen with your finger. For example, drawing an inverted V (like a rooftop) will automatically route you home from your current location, or you can change the scale of the map by making a clockwise or counterclockwise circle. Other commands include calling home and routing to two predefined favorite locations.
Sony's software is fairly intuitive, and we were able to operate most of the device's functions without opening the user's manual. There are three tabs you can cycle through: Navigate, Application, and Settings. The only area that's a bit kludgey is the Settings menu, since there are so many options to scroll through. To the left of the display, there are also two touch-sensitive controls: a main menu shortcut and one that will repeat voice directions and give you your current location.
On the bottom of the NV-U83T, you will find a 3.5mm headphone jack, a Memory Stick Duo slot, an Open/Release button for the vehicle mount, a mini USB port, a DC power connector, and a reset button. Meanwhile, there's a lone power button on top of the unit.
The Sony NV-U83T comes packaged with a car charger, a TMC antenna, a USB cable, a vehicle mount (windshield and dash), and reference material. The mounting apparatus is worth a mention. Instead of a suction cup, there's a sticky disc (think of those little Wacky Wall Walkers you used to get in cereal boxes) that you can attach to the windshield or dash, and it's fortified by a locking mechanism. To attach the unit to the mount, you have to press the Open/Release button on the bottom of the NV-U83T, which pops up the battery compartment and allows you to fit it to the cradle. It did a good job of securely holding the system in place during our road tests. Also, be aware that the TMC antenna jack is located on the cradle, and not the unit itself.
The Sony NV-U83T is equipped with a SiRFStarIII GPS chip and features an accelerometer-based technology called Position Plus that will give you a better approximation of your current location even if you go through a tunnel or lose reception along your route. The system comes preloaded with maps of North America and 5 million points of interest (POI) on the device's 2GB Flash memory. There are multiple ways to plan a trip; you can enter a specific address, an intersection, or search for points of interest. There's also a My Places menu where you can choose a location from your address book, recent destinations list, or four predefined Favorites. The NV-U83T also supports multidestination trips, and the system can calculate routes with or without toll roads, ferry ways, and so forth. Other navigation features include route simulation, automatic route recalculation, and the option to add traffic updates. A TMC antenna is included with the package, and you get a 90-trial free trial with purchase, but afterwards you'll have to subscribe to the traffic service.
Like some other in-car GPS we've seen, such as the Navigon 2100, the NV-U83T has branded POI icons for major businesses, such as Chevron, Rite Aid, and Econo Lodge. Of course, you get all the major POI categories, including lodging, gas, and banks, and more specialized interests, such as wineries, stadiums, and museums. In addition, you can search for restaurants by cuisine type. We scanned the system's POI database and were impressed at how current it was, with fewer out-of-date entries than other GPS devices.
The NV-U83T offers text- and voice-guided directions in English, Spanish, or French. In addition, the unit has text-to-speech functionality so you'll hear actual street names instead of generic voice prompts. Maps are presented in 2D or 3D view with automatic day/night mode, and there are options to change the map colors, road width, and icon and font sizes, which is a nice extra. You can set map orientation to face the direction in which you are driving, or North. On a specific route, the NV-U83T will provide a split-screen view for upcoming turns. On the right side, you'll get the overall map view while the left side will show the distance to and direction of your next turn. For particularly complicated intersections, such as highways and freeways, you'll even get 3D rendering so you have a better idea of what exit to take.
The Sony NV-U83T also has integrated Bluetooth, so you can pair it with your Bluetooth-enabled cell phone and use it as a hands-free speaker system. Once connected, you can either use the touch screen to accept or reject calls. You can also add four numbers to a speed dial function, and if a number is listed with a POI, there's an option to dial out directly. The only downside is that your phone's address book and call history won't automatically synchronize with the unit.
As we mentioned earlier, the address entry and pretrip planning process required more work and time than other systems. Unlike some other GPS devices, the NV-U83T doesn't have predictive entry, meaning that as you start inputting letters for a city, state, or street, it doesn't automatically cull likely search results. Instead, you have to type out the whole word and even then, it takes the system a while to come up with the results.
For our road tests, we took to the streets of San Francisco. From a cold start and under clear skies, it took about 5 minutes for the NV-U83T to get a fix on our location, while subsequent starts were erratic, taking anywhere from a few seconds to a solid 10 minutes. On one occasion, we were nearly halfway home before the receiver finally got a fix; thankfully, we knew where we were going. Once locked on, however, the unit did a good job of accurately tracking our position, and the Position Plus technology did give us a more accurate reading as we went through a couple of tunnels.
As usual, we also entered our standard trip from the Marina District of the city to CNET's downtown headquarters. Even though the process of entering addresses was laborious, the NV-U83T was fairly quick to return with directions. We checked the prescribed route and didn't necessarily agree with it, knowing that there was a more efficient route. Still, we followed the directions but missed a few turns to test the route recalculation rate. While pretty fast, the new instructions were baffling as it took us on a more roundabout track. On the bright side, the voice prompts were loud and clear, and the system did a good job with street pronunciations. The Gesture Commands feature also worked well.
We had no problems pairing the NV-U83T with the RIM BlackBerry Pearl 8110 and were able to make calls almost immediately, though audio quality wasn't pristine with just a bit of static. The Sony NV-U83T battery is rated for up to two hours of continuous use.