Product review: Sony Nav-U

27 Nov 2007

Forget the waiting lists for the Nintendo Wii games console this Christmas, the biggest box shifter in Irish technology shops this year will more than likely be satellite navigation (sat nav) devices.

These devices, which mostly tend to adorn the dashboards of cars and trucks, have become cheaper and allegedly easier to use.

Upon unwrapping the gift of a sat nav device on Christmas Day, men of a certain vintage will happily take to the road to find a shop selling cigarettes, chocolates and extra batteries just to try it out.

It may add to the sophistication of their trip, just don’t expect them back in time for dessert.

The Sony Nav-U represents the electronics giant’s take on sat nav as it tackles a market already dominated by players like Garmin, Tom Tom, Route 66 and lately Nokia.

Most of these devices from the various players that you would find in electronics stores are very similar in size and performance. The Sony device’s unique selling point is that it has a wider screen than the others at around 4.8 inches compared with the usual 3.6 inches. This is good when you’re trying to pinpoint a location over a large area using the mapping system.

Another factor I found useful about the Nav-U was its auto-dimmer facility. The device was able to check the light quality and switch automatically from day to night mode as the sun went down.

I road-tested the device on a 40-mile round-trip to Drogheda at the weekend. Programming the journey was intuitive enough but the device failed me when it didn’t locate the town I was looking to get to. I wanted to get to Donore, near Drogheda, but it gave me a town of the same name in Kilkenny.

A few more such tests and I discovered that the Irish mapping information on the device is incomplete and in some cases out of date. Towns I would search for on the device wouldn’t turn up on the screen except when I actually drove through them.

Another negative was the voice guidance system. For some reason I couldn’t get it to work. When I fiddled with the volume control someone sounding very like Hattie Jacques (the matron from the Carry On films) would start up. However, as I went on various programmed routes all I got was radio silence.

In this regard the manual wasn’t helpful. All it told me was to check the volume. The volume was fine, just Ms Jacques was absent. Oh matron!

Also, getting out of the mapping and back onto the main menu was more complicated than I’d expected.

I’m sure that if I spend enough time I’ll eventually master the Nav-U. But it shouldn’t be that tricky.

The salient points about the Nav-U are its style – slim and sleek and it looks like a little TV on your dash – and the quality of its display and touch screen. But I’m still stumped on the sound issue.

The device has a recommended retail price of €372 and is available from all Sony dealers nationwide.

By John Kennedy