As the entry-level model in the Sony NAV-U line of portable GPS devices, the NV-U44 has a fairly basic feature set. There's no Bluetooth hands-free. There's no traffic information. There's no multimedia playback. For your $249 dollars, the only feature that you get beyond basic navigation is a photo viewer.
However, for many consumers the basics are all that is needed. In this respect, the NV-U44 does a pretty good job of creating a good navigation experience without breaking the bank.
After opening the NV-U44's plastic blister pack, you'll find a car cradle with suction cup, a 12-volt power adapter, a USB cable, a dash mounting adhesive puck, various instruction papers, and the NV-U44 itself, in one of three colors: black, silver, or red.
The device itself is fairly small, measuring about 3.75 inches by 4.3 inches, and able to fit rather easily in the palm of one's hand. The 2.1-inch depth makes the device very pocketable. The rounded edges and understated design make the NV-U44 one of the more attractive of the GPS devices in its price point.
The 3.5-inch screen is easy to view in daylight and has a sharpish resolution of 320x240. While the screen's antiglare coating prevents all but the greasiest fingerprints from showing up, the glossy bezel picks up fingerprints and smudges easily. The NV-U44 has a very different aesthetic from the larger members of the NAV-U lineup, but the general configuration is similar. Two buttons are located on the left side of the screen, one to call up the menu and another for voice/pos. On the left side of the device is a slot for the Memory Stick Pro Duo. On the top is the power button, and on the bottom are the reset button and the USB port used for charging the device and connecting to a computer. There is no lock switch, because the power button requires such a deliberate press and hold to actuate.
The NV-U44 mounts to the windshield--or any smooth, nonporous surface--with a suction cup that locks into place with a lever. For dashboard mounting, Sony has included an adhesive puck, which can be stuck on the dash to provide a smooth surface for the suction cup.
The menus and menu structure of the NV-U44 is familiar because it's the same operating system as the rest of the NAV-U lineup. The interface scales nicely to this much smaller screen, with virtual buttons that are easy to hit and crisp text and graphics. There are a few odd spots to the shared interface. For example, the only application is the Photo viewer, which makes the Application tab look empty with wasted space. Overall, however, the truncated list of options does make for an experience more focused on navigation, than the larger models in the NAV-U line.
The NV-U44 features a Sony Memory Stick Pro Duo slot on its left side and is able to display photo slide shows if JPEG images are present on an inserted Memory Stick.
Sony has implemented its Gesture Command System on the NV-U44, which allows quick navigation using simple finger movements. For example, drawing an inverted "V" shape, which resembles the roofline of a house, causes the NV-U44 to set the destination to Home and begin navigation. The problem with the gestures is that they aren't well documented. There's only a casual mention of the feature in the instruction manual, and Sony's Web site wasn't much help, either. After much searching, we were able to find but five commands: the previously mentioned "Home" command, clockwise and counter-clockwise circles for "zoom in" and "zoom out," and an L-shape and a reversed L-shape for user preset one and two.
The device also allows the storage of two quick links in the "Find a Place" menu for easy retrieval of POIs that are often chosen. The quick links can be defined by name, category, or both. For example, I could store "Gas Station" as a quick link to pull up all gas stations nearby, "Shell" to pull up all POIs that begin with the word "Shell," or "Gas Station: Shell" to pull up all Shell Gas Station nearby. This is a neat feature if you have a favorite restaurant or belong to a gas-buying rewards program.