Alpine Blackbird review: Alpine Blackbird

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3 stars

CNET Editors' Rating

The Good The Alpine Blackbird features preloaded maps on its hard drive and includes a music player, an FM modulator, and a traffic receiver.

The Bad The Alpine Blackbird lacks text-to-speech functionality and requires a separate flash memory card to play music. The screen can be difficult to read in direct sunlight, and the internal battery has a woefully short life between charges.

The Bottom Line The Alpine Blackbird is a feature-rich vehicle GPS system and entertainment device all rolled into one sharp-looking package, but it hits a couple of roadblocks with its short battery life and sluggish route calculation.

6.7 Overall
  • Design 7.0
  • Features 8.0
  • Performance 5.0

Review summary

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.

Alpine Blackbird
The Alpine Blackbird features a 16-channel GPS receiver instead of the older 12-channel receivers.

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.

Alpine Blackbird
Alpine includes a carrying case with the Blackbird, as well as other accessories.
Alpine packages the Blackbird with a USB cable, a carrying case, a screen shammy, and a windshield mount. The mounting cradle contains a suction cup mechanism that attaches to the car's windshield and lets you adjust the unit for an optimal viewing angle. We had no problem attaching it to our car's windshield, and more important, it held the unit firmly in place. The cradle includes an additional GPS antenna connector, an amplified speaker, and a hardwired 12-volt cigarette-lighter power adapter and battery charger. If you want to integrate the Blackbird into an existing Alpine A/V head unit, you can purchase a $200 docking station that lets you stash the unit in the trunk or the glove compartment and view maps on the existing screen.

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