Many of the POIs stored on the device feature brand icons that can be selectively displayed on the map, which is again good for finding the nearest gas station or hotel, but can easily clutter the screen if too many icons are selected.
Route planning is also available, which allows the programming of multiple destinations and the storing of custom routes. This is useful for setting a group of locations for daily errands or, more creatively, programming in points for a tour of a new city. Checkpoint entry is fast, thanks to the fact that the NV-U44 doesn't calculate the route until all checkpoints have been entered.
There is also an address book, which allows the addition of favorite destinations across multiple groups. You can also back your address book up to Memory Stick or import address book items from a friend.
Beginning with a cold start, the device took about 10 minutes to get a satellite lock, which is a bit longer than we'd have liked. Subsequent starts were quicker, taking less than a minute on average.
The NV-U44 uses the same Navteq software package to power its maps and routing and the same Sony GUI as the rest of the NAV-U family of devices. Despite having the smallest screen of the bunch, destination entry was just as smooth as the much larger NV-U94T with quick predictive text entry that suggested street names and points-of-interest as you type. Of course, the same criticisms exist for the NV-U44 as its larger brethren. We still think that the search is a bit jumpy, often switching screens just as we reached for the next letter, causing us to accidentally choose one of the presented options. After a few fumbling attempts, we found that our typing speed actually slowed down a bit, as we hesitated to hit the next button for fear that it'd have changed at the last moment.
Once we'd gotten a satellite lock and entered a destination, the NV-U44 did a good job of staying on track when there is a clear view of the sky. Upon entering the densely packed tall building of downtown San Francisco or long tunnels, the signal dropped out for a moment or so, but the device quickly reacquired a lock when the skies cleared up.
The detailed view split screen of the larger NAV-U devices is also present on the NV-U44, though the much smaller screen means that the split is no longer 50/50. Instead, the detailed view takes up most of the screen while the broad view is compressed to almost a sliver on the right side. Separating the views is a meter that counts down the distance to the turn, which we found very useful. When approaching a complex freeway exit, lane guidance appears on the bottom of the screen and in the detailed view, notifying the driver of what lanes are valid and what direction he should be headed.
Text-to-speech is a great feature that we're only recently starting to see on entry-level models. This feature reads street names aloud, which means that you--the driver--can spend more time with your eyes on the road and less time reading the screen. The NV-U44's internal speaker is plenty loud and instructions and prompts are very easy to hear over road noise.
The Sony NV-U44 is a solidly performing entry-level GPS navigator. The few features that it has are very focused on basic, no-frills navigation. That being said, the NV-U44 offers good performance, on par with its two most obvious rivals, the Garmin Nuvi 255W and the TomTom One 130S. All three devices have the same MSRP ($249) and all feature text-to-speech functionality. What the Sony offers over the competition is the dual view with lane guidance, which proves invaluable for users in cities with complex highway systems.