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Once you have entered your trip information, the K3 can calculate routes based on the shortest distance or quickest time. You can also instruct the system to use or avoid freeways, toll roads, and so forth. Sadly, there are no pedestrian or bicycle modes; the K3 is limited to car use only. On the bright side, the Alpine PND-K3 offers route simulation, a detour function, and automatic route recalculation.
The Alpine PND-K3 features text- and voice-guided directions in English, Spanish, or French. In addition, the unit has text-to-speech functionality so you'll hear actual street names instead of generic voice prompts. Maps are presented in 2D or 3D view, and while driving a specified route, the map screen will show you the distance to and direction of your next turn as well as the street name, your current driving speed, estimated time of arrival, and other useful information. For complicated intersections on the freeway, the K3 presents a split-screen mode where you get an overview map on one side and then a zoomed-in view of the intersection. It will also overlay an arrow on the lane that you should be in to make it completely clear.
Bluetooth is onboard, so you can pair the Alpine PND-K3 with your Bluetooth-enabled phone and use it as a hands-free speaker system. You can transfer your phone's address book and call history to the K3, but it's not necessarily automatic. We paired our review unit with the RIM BlackBerry Curve 8310, and the pairing process went smoothly. We just entered the security code as instructed and within a couple of minutes, the two devices were connected. However, to transfer our phone's contacts, we had to press an extra button. It wasn't automatic like the Garmin Nuvi 880, but really this was a small matter as the whole process was quick and went off without a hitch.
Last but not least, there's a built-in music player, which supports MP3 and WMV files. You can load songs via an SD card, and the expansion slot accepts up to 4GB cards. The players are fairly basic with just the basic functions--play, pause/stop, rewind, fast-forward, shuffle, and repeat--but it does support playlist creation.
We tested the Alpine KND-K3 in San Francisco and from a cold start, it took the unit about 5 minutes to get a fix on our location under cloudy skies but luckily, subsequent starts were much faster. The K3 did a fair job of tracking our moves as we drove around the city. We drove through the Broadway Tunnel and Financial District where satellite reception can get a bit dodgy and with the accelerometer and gyroscope technology, it was able to provide a more accurate idea of position when we exited both areas.
As we do with all GPS devices we test, we planned our driving course from the Marina District to CNET's downtown headquarters. The K3 was fairly quick to calculate a route. We did a quick check of the text-based directions, which was accurate, and set off on the road. Voice-guided directions were loud and clear, and the text-to-speech pronunciations were decent, though there were a couple of mispronunciations--not any worse than other systems. We missed several turns to test the route recalculation rate. Though the system provided new instructions quickly, we didn't always agree with the new route; on a couple of occasions, we knew of a more efficient way to our destination.
Finally, one issue we had with previous Alpine GPS devices is the short battery life, and unfortunately, the problem continues here. The K3 has a rated battery life of 2 hours, but we found that even after about an hour of use, we were getting a low battery alert. Granted, you'll probably have the car charger with you, but still in the chance that you don't, you're going to be in trouble.