This is now my second Sony satnav unit, having previously owned the next model down from this (NV-U92). My old satnav was stolen, however as they say that is another story. Having been somewhat impressed by the performance of my U92, I was more than happy when the insurance offered to replace it with the U93. I have to say that in comparison, apart from the U93 being compatible with Windows Vista (The U92 only being compatible with XP) I have seen no real difference between the two.
It has to be said that in terms of styling and design, The Sony range of Satnav do look the part! In terms of where the unit can be mounted, they are vastly more flexible than other brands on the market. The units are quite robust and are built to withstand the inevitable knocks and scrapes. There are however as with most things the odd few flaws in design for which I will elaborate further.
Sony are renown for the quality of their display screens, be it either in a laptop or TV screen. Sony's range of Satnavs are no exception to this. The first thing that strikes you with the Sony units is the very impressive display screen. Being 4.8" wide screen, it is very clear and easy to view. However despite the larger display, the actual unit does not in any way look over-sized or cumbersome.
Unlike Satnav units I have used in the past, the U93 does have a very wide viewing angle both horizontally and vertically. The big advantage of this being that it is not necessary to fiddle around adjusting the angle of the unit in order to see the display correctly.
Regardless of how bright the sun gets, the Satnav remains perfectly clear and visible at all times.
There are two different modes for brightness control, the first being manual in which a variety of different settings can be used ranging from night driving to driving in bright sunlight. Alternatively, there is a built in sensor at the top of the unit that will automatically adjust the screen brightness in accordance with the surrounding ambient light.
Lets face it, regardless of how many whistles and bells a Satnav may have, if it doesn't get you to where you want to be, it's about as much use as the proverbial "chocolate fireguard".
Sony use Navtec mapping on their units, which frankly means nothing to me or the average Joe. In the real world what it provides is highly accurate navigation. My job entails delivering to both private and business addresses throughout the UK. To date with the exception of brand new properties that are still in the stages of construction, I have yet to experience my Satnav taking me to within 100 yards of where I need to be.
Entering a destination point can be done in one of two ways. Either entering a post code (The U93 does have Full post code search rather than 6 or 7 digit searches offered by some) or by entering the full address by road name, town etc. Unlike Tom tom units where it is possible to enter the post code followed by the house number, with Sony it is post code entry or full address entry only. Having said that, with the accuracy of mapping, as stated, a post code search always without fail takes me to within 100 yards of the property I require.
In addition to single destination, there is the ability to input a complete route with several destination points. Upon reaching each point, the unit will ask you if you want to continue to the next, or alternatively it will do this automatically for you. Once you have entered your route, it is very simple to change the order around of where you want to go first.
Guidance instructions given by the Satnav are very clear and simple to follow. Particularly in heavy traffic, this makes life very much easier without having to try and work out where the unit is trying to send you. Voice instructions are very clear and audible with the inclusion of road number instruction.
Rather than just telling you to take the 3rd left at an island, the U93 will say turn 3rd left onto the the "A123". This can be very useful when the local council in their wisdom have decided to replace the island with a set of traffic lights. A quick glance at the road side signs puts you on the right track without having to look at the Satnav display to see which road you should be taking. Voice instructions are given well in advance and repeated on approaching the junction. On motorways voice intrusions to exit are given up to 2 miles in advance giving you plenty of time to get over to the left hand lane. In addition on motorway interchanges, further voice guidance is given advising you to keep in the left or right lanes, very useful if you don't want to end up on either the wrong motorway or even toll road.
The U93 is equipped with TMC. This basically keeps you up to date with any congestion on the route ahead of you. It should be noted however that although not made very obvious in the sales blurb, this is not a free service! However, unlike most manufacturers it does not cost an arm and a leg. Most Satnavs require a constant subscription to be able to receive these updates. With Sony however it is a one off payment of £20. This buys you a licence that will enable you to receive traffic updates until 2035, long after the satnav will probably still be in use. In addition to actual congestion, information is also provided for roadworks along the route.
Personally I have mixed reservations as to the reliability of the traffic updates. Frequently I have got to a supposedly congested road only to find that it is not as bad as reported. Having used a variety of makes, I must say that this is not exclusive to Sony, but also equally applies to the likes of Tom tom.
The U93 offers two types of responses to reported delays or congestion. The first being to automatically divert around the problem without any further user input. As stated above though, the traffic updates are far from being reliable meaning that automatic diversion could end up adding time and distance to the route unnecessarily. On the other hand you can choose to manually accept or ignore congestion avoidance. If you do decide to avoid the congestion, re-routing on the U93 is good and is very quick at calculating an alternative route.
Any Satnav is basically only as good as the information supplied to it. The U93 tracks up to 12 satellites at any one time to provide a vary accurate positioning system. Once up and running your location on the map display is kept in "real time" with no delays or lagging. At times the unit can take 2-3 minutes when first turned on to obtain its position, however once obtained it does remain stable.
By use of some clever wizardry, pressure and speed sensors, the unit has the ability to maintain (or at least have a good guess) where it is even if the GPS signal is lost. This feature comes into its own when entering long tunnels as it quite cleverly maintains its current position on the map until you are out the other end, rather than just freezing.
Point to Note!!
The GPS receiver on the U93 is built into the unit and simply flips up from the back. It should be noted however that likewise with a lot of other brands of Satnav, it is not possible to attach an external GPS receiver to the unit. This only becomes a problem if you have a heated quick clear front windscreen on your car. The heating element embedded into the glass can severely restrict the built in antennas ability to lock on to a signal. If you do have this feature on your car (fitted to a lot of new models) it worth checking out if additional GPS receivers can be attached regardless of what brand of Satnav you decide upon.
Bluetooth Hands Free
This is a very useful addition in terms of safety, that is to say it would be if it was actually practical to use. The thought behind this is very good. The Bluetooth capability allows you to transfer your complete address book from your mobile phone to the Satnav. By using a Bluetooth link, the Satnav acts as a hands free unit for your mobile, including the ability to dial numbers easily from your address book. However, in reality this is an enormous let down and appears to have all the hallmarks of a feature that was added as an after thought. The sound quality of the other persons voice is acceptable. However the quality of the built in mic is dreadful with the person at the other end having great difficulty hearing you. In addition to this the actual Bluetooth receiver is equally abysmal and frequently drops the connection with your mobile. Both of these issues make this a complete waste of time as a practical feature. I have to say that this is a real shame as the idea behind it is exceptionally good, what a pity it doesn't really work!Satnav
The mounting device for these units are exceptionally well designed. With the traditional Satnav mount, you need a flat smooth surface, meaning that it basically goes on the windscreen and nowhere else. In a break from the traditional suction cup mount, Sony have used a soft sticky gel like substance This offers a superior advantage over the competition. The Sony mount can be positioned in a variety of places whether it it is smooth or not. In essence the unit can even be mounted on the textured surface of the dashboard without moving or falling off. The other overwhelming feature of the gel is that it doesn't leave the familiar tell tale circular marks on the windscreen advertising to the "Smash & Grab merchant" that you probably have a Satnav hidden in the glove box.
The only real drawback to the gel is that due to its sticky nature, bits of grit etc, do get stuck to it very easily. It can be awkward to remove bits from it without picking away at the gel. However, cleaning is carried out very simply by wiping it over with a wet cloth. If anyone is familiar with the old sticky lint rollers for removing bits of fluff from clothes, the suction mount is very similar.
A useful tip to anyone who buys one of these, is keep the black plastic cover used for protection during shipping and replace it when the mount is not in use.
Despite how brilliantly I would rate this as a Satnav, the battery life really is its Achilles heel. In a word it is "Dreadful!"
During sunny days with the screen at its maximum brightness,if you are lucky the battery will last at best 35 - 50 minutes. It is the sort of performance you would expect if buying a pack of twenty batteries from Poundland. I can only assume that this has been a compromise at the expense of having a larger brighter screen whilst retaining a fairly slimline unit. To make things worse, there does not appear to be a way around this as Sony do not offer any other higher capacity alternative.
Personally for every day use this does not affect me as the unit is always on charge and connected via the lighter socket. However, if you use your car lighter socket for other things such as charging mobile phones, this would be a very serious point to consider.
Another slight negative point is that none of the Sony units are supplied with a mains adaptor, this can be a pain when you first get your Satnav out of the box as new, as you have to leave it charging in the car before setting everything up. However, there is an easy way around this as the U93 uses exactly the same mains charger as the Sony PSP which are available from the likes of e-bay for around £3-4, or the local games shop for around £5-8.
A useful gadget via the POI (Points of Interest) facility is the ability to find local services that are close to you. These include fuel, pharmacies, hospitals, restaurants, fast food outlets etc etc. Particularly with fuel, the Satnav will provide a detour to the nearest garage at the touch of a button without the need to go through complex menu's. A useful search feature of POI's is that when searching for things like pharmacies or hospitals, not only is the location displayed, but also a contact telephone number.
Sony have incorporated "Gesture Commands" onto the satnav. In theory this allows you to draw a pattern on the touch screen to access various functions. In reality this is little more than a gimmick and is more fiddly than going through the usual menu screens. There is also the ability to set up voice commands on the unit. However, likewise with the Bluetooth performance, this is very much more of a gimmick than being of any practical use.
Map updates are available for the units via Sony Europe's website in the form of a DVD. It has to be said however that this is far from being a cheap option. The price of ordering map updates from Sony is very near the purchase price of the Satnav itself!
Speed camera updates are also available from Sony's site and are very easy to download and transfer to the Satnav unit. I have found these to be very accurate so far in terms of both permanent and temporary locations, for example average speed camera's set up on motorways during roadworks. Speed camera updates are provided free for the first twelve months. However there is no information from Sony as to how much this will cost after the free period has expired
Ease Of Use
In a word "Simple"
Compared to other Satnavs I have used, both setting up and using the U93 is very easy. Anyone with concerns about using newer technology needn't have. Everything on the unit is clearly laid out and the menu screens are very easy to follow. Despite the little gizmo's included, for every day use as Satnav the U93 is a breeze to operate.
As a Satnav, the U93 is one of the best units I have ever come across. Its ability to get you from A to B is second to none including the market leading Tom tom. It gets you to where you want to be accurately every time, I have yet to have it direct me to the middle of a field unlike some of the other makes out there. The mapping and guidance is nothing short of being very clear and superb. It does seem an awful shame that despite the brilliance of the navigation side, it is so dreadfully let down by such a simple thing as its battery life.
In conclusion, if all you want is a good navigation tool and the power supply is not an issue, than this really is in a league of it's own and highly recommendable.
If on the other hand you are more interested in gadgets and gizmo's, look elsewhere, particularly with the hands free option. Although it's on there, in the reality your going to be very disappointed.