Sony satisfies

When Sony launched the nav-u at CES in Las Vegas this January, the company spokespeople were talking about technology synergies – for instance, “we’ve leveraged our audio and video expertise to make the nav-u system a feature-rich and easy to use device for a better customer experience”.
That certainly makes sense. And to some extent the Sony nav-u delivers … though we’re not convinced by that “feature-rich” claim.

The nav-u (ugly name, pretty product) is an in-car system featuring an intuitive icon-based touch screen that helps drivers map a destination, locate points of interest and reroute around traffic jams. It offers optimised route planning and voice-prompted turn-by-turn guidance. It’s on sale now in both North America and Europe; in Europe, seamless travel between 27 countries is available in 15 languages.

The mapping for Sony’s new portable navigation device comes from NAVTEQ, which regards itself with justification as “a leading global provider of digital map data for vehicle navigation and location-based solutions”. NAVTEQ, which has just completed mapping for the whole of Western Europe, gets accurate routing from a data collection process that actually involves people physically driving and re-driving on the roads.

“We are excited to launch this new product and trust in NAVTEQ,” said a Sony person. “NAVTEQ is recognised for the excellent quality of its map data and the company’s acknowledged expertise in navigation”
“Sony brings proven electronics experience and established distribution capabilities to the portable navigation arena,” observed Winston Guillory, senior VP for Consumer and Business Applications at NAVTEQ. “As a world-renowned technology company, Sony understands the importance of high quality components – like NAVTEQ maps – as a differentiator.”

That’s a good point: NAVTEQ maps are generally bulletproof. On the other hand, they are widely used. So is the nav-u worth buying (and worth selling)? In practice the nav-u is a relatively conservative product by comparison with offerings from the likes of NavMan and TomTom. Sony says the nav-u is the first of a series and by Christmas there should be more feature-filled models in the line. But for now there’s no realtime traffic features, no MP3 player, no Bluetooth or IR connectivity.

What you do get is a product that does exactly what it says on the tin. It works well, it looks good, and it is easy to use. It’s compact and elegantly designed. The display is excellent, a brilliant 3.5in touchscreen with exceptional clarity and crispness. Text is exceptionally readable, and features like forests and rivers appear clearly on the map as you drive. There’s a built-in sensor that automatically adjusts brightness levels and screen colours according to the ambient light, the kind of thing that all in-car satnav units should have (some do, many don’t).

The speaker is also very good, not only loud enough but also sufficiently clear to compete with high-speed driving while being serenaded by the Arctic Monkeys.

The user interface is simple and effective: two taps is all is takes for most core functions. And of course the Sony name is reasonably regarded as badge of excellence, which is why the nav-u carries a premium price.

In general, it just about deserves it … though there are a couple of funnies. For one, it doesn’t automatically power-off when the car’s ignition is off. That’s ok, until you forget to switch off the nav-u too and find yourself with a flat battery in the morning. Another quirk is the way road names don’t figure on the 3D driver’s perspective view; some people find this facility really useful even when they aren’t actively seeking turn-by-turn directions. Otherwise it’s a little gem: uncomplicated, effective and solid.

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