Odd companies have been vying for a piece of the GPS pie for quite some time (Goodyear, for instance), and now Nokia enters the market with its Nokia 500 Auto Navigation. A quick glance at the bizarrely large unit will tell you that something is amiss, however. What you're really noticing is that it looks outdated, and that's because it is. Finland-based Nokia launched the product in Europe a year ago and is just bringing it to the States now. A year is a long time in the GPS market, and so while the Nokia 500 has some fine features, it is less than cutting-edge, and unfortunately, that's not reflected in the price.
The Nokia 500 has a 4.3-inch widescreen display, and at 0.9 inches, it's thicker than other recent GPS navigators. But the real bulk comes from the horn-shaped window mount. Not only is it large, but it comes in two pieces and needs to be assembled with a screwdriver. That's something we haven't seen before--and hope not to see again.
While most GPS makers are opting out of physical buttons in favor of an all-touch interface, the Nokia 500 has a few. A power button sits on top, surrounded by ports for an optional wired GPS receiver and headphones (you'll likely never use either). On the bottom is a Menu button, which calls up a clever five-button interface along the bottom of the screen. Use it to switch functions quickly. Volume buttons sit on either side of the Menu button.
Plotting a Route
Choosing a destination on the Nokia 500 is simple if you have an address, but not so much if you're using the database. The 1.7 million-POI database felt out-of-date: It couldn't find local Modell's or Target stores, for example--locations that have been around for years.
The settings menus can be a little challenging to navigate, but be diligent and you'll find that the Nokia 500 offers three U.S. voices, one of which pronounces street names. It sounded acceptable on our tests. Navigating is simple, although the maps are blandly colored. Bold-colored maps are generally more eye-catching and easier to take in at a glance. Rerouting was always quick, at just 3 seconds.
The Nokia 500's functionality goes beyond navigation. It also contains an audio player, photo viewer, and video player and works with Bluetooth phones. The included 2GB storage card contains about 760MB of free space. You can substitute up to a 16GB card, but you'll need to load the maps from an included DVD. We had no problem loading media on the storage card and running it with the onboard software. The device can play AAC, MP3, WMA, and eAAC+ music files, 3GP, MPEG-4, and WMV videos, and JPEG, BMP, GIF, and PNG photos. You can shuffle or repeat songs, and the video player will display at full screen.
The FM transmitter was a big problem. It's weak and could play music over our car stereo only when the Nokia 500 was held directly against the radio. Even then, it was staticky. When the device was mounted to the windshield, we got no signal at all. That's too bad, because music, such as our Tenacious D tracks, sound awful played through its tiny rear speaker. However, connecting to a Bluetooth-equipped phone took only seconds, and the Nokia 500 easily imported stored contacts.
Nokia 500 Verdict
While the Nokia 500 is a decent multimedia GPS, Nokia needs to do a much better job with the basics--such as design and POIs--if it's going to keep up with the competition. While it's being offered at some retail outlets for as little as $349, competitors such as the $399 Dash Express (which has a better traffic option) and the $499 Magellan Maestro 5310 (which offers a larger screen for the same list price as the Nokia 500) are far ahead of this model.