About a month ago, we reviewed the Alpine IVA-W205, an innovative aftermarket in-dash unit that works as a multimedia player and a navigation system. The latter function is provided by docking the Alpine PMD-B200 (aka Alpine BlackBird II) portable navigation system into the IVA-W205, but the cool thing is that the PMD-B200 can be used independently as a standalone GPS unit. This is the subject of this review.
As a follow-up to the original Alpine BlackBird, the PMD-B200 brings Bluetooth and faster performance, and continues to offer the essential navigation tools and traffic services. However, during our road tests, we were displeased by the convoluted route recalculations and the lack of text-to-speech functionality. This was particularly hard to swallow when we discovered the BlackBird II comes with a hefty price tag of $750. If you're going to spend that much money, you'll be better served by one of the higher-end Garmin Nuvi models.
Compared with some of today's portable navigation systems, the Alpine PMD-B200 is definitely on the bigger side. The unit measures 4.8 inches wide by 2.9 inches high by 0.7 inch deep and 6.3 ounces, which pretty much limits its use to just in-car navigation. The good news is that Alpine has integrated the GPS receiver into the system, so you don't have to worry about any flip-up antennas. Plus, the system is still compact enough to transport between vehicles, and as we noted before, you can dock it into the Alpine IVA-W205.
The Alpine PMD-B200 boasts a spacious 4.3-inch touch screen with a 480x272-pixel resolution. The display is one of the best we've seen in recent memory as maps and text looked extra sharp and vibrant. It was also responsive to all our commands, and we could read it in various lighting conditions, including bright sunlight. Unfortunately, the maps themselves are rather lackluster and the user interface isn't quite as eye-catching, but the latter is really a minor complaint. It's more important that the system is intuitive and easy to use. The onscreen keyboard is a bit cramped, and there's no stylus to help with more accurate text input. The good news is that the PMD-B200 has predictive text, so as you enter addresses, it will gray out any numbers or letters that don't match in the database.
To the right of the display, you'll find a control pad that gives you shortcuts to the different apps and functions. Pressing the toggle up or down zooms in and out of maps. The left side provides a shortcut to the navigation app while the right launches the music player. Finally, the center button calls up the Bluetooth function. The top bezel holds the SD expansion slot, the power button, a 3.5mm headphone jack, and a volume rocker. On the bottom, there's a reset button, the cradle connector, an external antenna jack, and a mini USB port.
The Alpine PMD-B200 comes packaged with an AC adapter, a vehicle mount (windshield and dash) with a built-in traffic receiver and car charger, a soft carrying pouch, a USB cable, an external microphone, and reference material.
The Alpine PMD-B200 is equipped with a 20-channel GPS receiver and comes preloaded with Navteq maps of North America, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. You get the usual array of navigation features, including turn-by-turn text- and voice-guided driving directions, automatic rerouting, a trip computer, and route demo. There's also a 6 million points-of-interest (POI) database, so you can search for places by name or category and sort them by name, city, or distance from your current location.
There are a number of ways to start planning a trip. You can enter a specific address, intersection, input coordinates, choose from recently visited places, and so forth. In addition, the BlackBird II will calculate directions in one of three methods: shortest route, quickest route/maximize freeway, and quickest route/minimize freeway. If you don't like a certain part of the prescribed itinerary, there is a detour function. Also, the traffic receiver that's built into the vehicle mount allows you to get information from Navteq's traffic service. If there are any incidents, you'll be alerted to them via several onscreen icons and you'll be given the option to route around any accidents or congestion.