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Alpine IVA-W205 review: Alpine IVA-W205

All navigation functions of the IVA-W205 are controlled by the Blackbird PMD-B200 portable navigation device (which we will be reviewing separately), which fits into a dock behind the roll-down LCD display. The Blackbird serves as the "brains" of the IVA-W205's navigation system, with all the functions of the portable transferred to the in-dash touch screen. With the Blackbird docked, the IVA-W205's screen shows a blown up image of the maps and menus from the portable device, giving the in-dash system a less well-rendered, grainier visual quality than the smaller-screen portable. Nevertheless, the IVA-W205 retains the Blackbird's colorful maps and intuitive programming interface.

With the Blackbird PMD-B200 inserted, the IVA-W205 turns into a useful GPS navigation system with colorful maps and turn-by-turn guidance.

Entering destinations is straightforward thanks to a clean, touch-screen interface with well-laid-out menus. In both portable (Blackbird) and in-dash (IVA-W205) modes, the navigation system displays an impressively quick refresh rate and routes are calculated with a similarly quick response time. One of our favorite destination-setting functions of the Blackbird/ IVA-W205 is its point-of-interest search feature, which enables drivers to search for a POI business name by entering a keyword. Unlike Web-connected local search, the Alpine system compares the keyword only against a directory of names in its memory--it is not possible to get to McDonald's for example by entering "hamburger"--but this system will have its uses, especially for those looking for a specific store without going through the whole POI menu structure to find their destination. Another nice feature of the navigation system's destination entry is that users are given an option to search for POIs in the vicinity of a specified destination.

When under route guidance, the display shows colorful, uncluttered maps, which can be configured in 2D or 3D bird's-eye views. When approaching turns, half of the map displays a bright green transparent overlay with a bright yellow arrow, showing distance to and direction of next turn--a feature that we particularly like, as it makes it easy to see where you are going at a glance. The system does not feature text-to-speech functionality for calling out names of individual roads, which is something of a disappointment for a modern navigation device.

However, we do like the one-touch button on the touch screen that enables drivers to call up turn-by-turn voice directions on demand. On a test run, we were less than impressed with the navigation system's ability to get us to a destination west of downtown San Francisco using the quickest route: Instead of skirting the city center, the turn-by-turn directions suggested a route via Market Street and Kearny Street and through Union Square--perhaps the most congested part of the city in the middle of a weekday.

The IVA-W205 and Blackbird B200 come with an optional subscription-based traffic service provided by Navteq. Unlike traffic services from satellite radio providers such as XM, the Navteq traffic service puts less emphasis on traffic flow conditions and focuses more on accidents and other factors likely to impede you en route. Traffic information can be called up for the current navigation route, or can be listed according to proximity to the car's current location or by incident name (accident, blockage, construction, danger, debris, sports event, traffic jam, weather).

We found the traffic information to be surprisingly detailed--an info button on the screen gives drivers a description of the incident and an estimation of the length of time that the incident is likely to remain. Those wanting to option up the traffic service with the Blackbird unit docked in the IVA-W205 will have to invest in an extra RDS receiver to pick up the relevant data stream, while those who just want to use the Blackbird unit separately are spared this expense thanks to a traffic receiver integrated into the portable's 12-volt cigarette-lighter adapter.

With the Blackbird PMD-B200 inserted and an external microphone connected, the Alpine IVA-W205 can also be used as a very useful Bluetooth hands-free calling interface. With a phone paired (and the "Bluetooth In" setting on "Nav"), the system can be used to place and receive calls. As part of the pairing process, the IVA-W205 copies over all phone book and recent call activity information from the cell phone--a feature that we particularly like. To initiate a call, users can either dial a number on the on-screen keypad or select a name from their phone book by either searching by first letter or scrolling through their contacts.

The Blackbird also enables the IVA-W205 to operate as a Bluetooth hands-free calling interface with the ability to copy over cell phone address books.

In sum
The Alpine IVA-W205 is an innovative device, giving drivers a range of car tech options. In its standalone configuration as an in-car media player, it provides a good selection of supported media formats, an intuitive interface, and some advanced audio and visual EQ tweaking options. When connected to the Blackbird PMD-B200, the system is upgraded to a usable navigation system, albeit with less-than-stellar map resolution and a couple of usability glitches. With a price tag of around $800 for the in-dash IVA-W205 and around $750 for the Blackbird, this tag-team portable and in-car navigation system will compete with the comparably priced Panasonic Strada CN-NVD905U and Pioneer AVIC Z1 and the cheaper Eclipse AVN 2210p.

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