We've reviewed a couple of in-car GPS devices from Alpine Electronics, including the Alpine Blackbird and the Alpine Blackbird II, and we haven't come away particularly impressed. While offering a decent feature set, the performance was subpar and definitely not worth the eye-popping price tag.
The company's latest model, the Alpine PND-K3 is an improvement, featuring an improved user interface and better performance. The portable navigation device also now has text-to-speech functionality and advanced lane guidance. Unfortunately, the downfall of the K3 might be its price tag. While less than the Blackbird models, at $550, it's still expensive, particularly when you compare it to the competition. The TomTom GO 930 costs $50 less and offers everything the K3 has, plus voice recognition. Similarly, the Garmin Nuvi 265WT has comparable features and great performance, and is $200 cheaper than the K3. While you might be able to find the Alpine PND-K3 for less than the suggested retail price, we still think you'll get a better value from the other two GPS.
The Alpine PND-K3 looks like most portable navigation devices with a compact, rectangular frame. The unit measures 4.8 inches wide by 2.9 inches high by 0.7 inch deep and weighs 6.3 ounces and has a nice, solid construction, making it good for multi-vehicle use. The charcoal gray-and-black chassis is attractive enough, but you can also customize the menus with different colors to match the interior of your car or just to your personality (more on this in a bit).
The K3 features a 4.3-inch touch screen with a 480x272 pixel resolution. Text and maps looked vibrant and sharp on the display, and you can adjust the screen's brightness and backlight time. Going back to the customization we referenced earlier, you can choose from a number of color schemes for menus and maps, such as ruby, aqua, or emerald. It's nothing revolutionary, but it's a nice personalization option.
Alpine also decided to ditch the user interface found on the Blackbird models, and start from scratch and build a new user interface from the ground up. The result is both flashy and functional. The start screen has four main options--Go to, Play, Home, Info--and you can also access the Settings menu and go directly to the map. We enjoyed the smooth, animated transitions when navigating through the menu options. The onscreen keyboard is also easy to use and spacious; like some other PNDs, the K3 will bring up possible search results as soon as you input a couple of a letters. Our only complaint with the whole user experience is there's no easy way to get back to the Main Menu from some of the submenus (e.g., the point-of-interest database). There's a shortcut to the map but otherwise, you have to back out several layers to get back to the main page.
There's a power button, an SD expansion slot, and a 3.5mm headphone jack on the left side, and much to our delight, there are external volume controls on top of the device for easy access. You'll find a reset button and a mini USB port on the bottom of the system.
The Alpine PND-K3 comes packaged with a car charger, an AC adapter, a USB cable, a vehicle mount (dashboard and windshield), and reference material. The vehicle mount requires some assembly, but it's not too complicated. There's a lever lock on the accessory to ensure a secure seal with your windshield, and it held the unit securely in place during our test drives.
The Alpine PND-K3 is equipped with a 20-channel GPS receiver and features advanced accuracy vehicle positioning technology (basically a built-in accelerometer and gyroscope) to give you a better approximation of your current location even if you go through a tunnel or lose reception along your route. The K3 comes preloaded with Navteq maps of the United States, Canada, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The trip planning process is similar to other PNDs; you can enter a specific address, intersection, or coordinates; choose a point of interest (POI); select from a list of previously visited locations; or navigate to a programmed home address. The K3 supports multidestination trips, allowing you to add numerous waypoints along your route.
The GPS comes with a database with 6 million POIs, and you can have up to eight categories displayed on the map. The catalog includes all the major POI, such as banks, gas stations, lodging, and restaurants (divided by cuisine type). There are more specialized interests as well, including wineries, marinas, and parks.