Best known for its car stereo products, Alpine Electronics' Blackbird represents the company's entry into the portable vehicle navigation arena, and it's not a bad first try. The Blackbird ($750) offers all the standard navigation tools found in other GPS devices--text- and voice-guided driving directions, an expansive points-of-interest database, and automatic rerouting--and even includes some extras, such as an integrated music player and a traffic tuner. Its sharp looks don't hurt either. Unfortunately, it's not all smooth sailing, as the Blackbird has a small hard drive and suffers from sluggish route calculation and short battery life, reducing its usefulness on foot and keeping it just behind the competition. The Alpine Blackbird is one sharp-looking device. Though it borrows the same basic shape as Magellan's RoadMate family of GPS devices, the Blackbird is thinner (1.06 inches) and lighter (8 ounces) than any RoadMate model. The unit's matte-black finish with silver trim adds a touch of elegance, as does the oversize brushed-aluminum iPod-like controls to the right of the screen. The circular control lets you toggle between GPS and music player mode, and it's used for zooming on maps. To the left of the navigation pad is the 320x240-pixel, 3.6-inch color touch screen. It's easy to read in all but the brightest sunlight, which causes it to wash out and lose some of its luster. The Blackbird's user interface is fairly straightforward and uses familiar icons to guide you through the various menu screens, where you can change display settings and guidance parameters, edit your address book, and view routes and waypoints.
Along the top edge of the unit are a power button, a headphone jack, a volume control, and a SD/MMC memory card slot. The bottom bezel contains a USB miniconnector for updating the mapping software via a PC, a port for connecting an external GPS antenna, and a connector for attaching the Blackbird to its mounting cradle or an optional docking station. A rechargeable lithium-ion battery slides out of the left side, and a flip-up antenna and an internal speaker are located on the back of the unit.