You probably know the Alpine name and its reputation for quality auto sound, but did you know they are also tech leaders in vehicle nav systems (in the business for more than 10 years)?  Now, Alpine introduces the model PMD-B100 Blackbird Portable Navigation System ($750).

This is a gift that provides peace-of-mind safety while the recipient is on the road now and every day.

Here’s the story and my take . . .

Blackbird offers up turn-by-turn directions using GPS data from overhead satellites while anywhere in the US  (including Alaska and Hawaii) and Canada.  There are six millions points of interest loaded for the US and Canada so the user can find restaurants from fast food to fine dining, gas stations, lodging, museums and other fun spots, parks and recreation and much, much more.

It mounts in the vehicle with a sturdy windshield suction cradle and includes a built-in FM modulator (with 12 selectable frequencies) for play through the built-in car audio system and amplified speaker so you can choose to listen in the car or away from the vehicle using the unit’s built-in rechargeable battery.  There is an SD/MMC slot on the top of the unit. Load up your own card with MP3 music and play it through the Blackbird in or out of the car.  Both guidance and music can be played through your car radio.

Set-up was easy. This thing runs on the Microsoft Windows CE platform though the operating system is transparent to the user.  Map coverage is provided by NAVTEQ (as they do for many of the other GPS products on the market) with turn-by-turn voice directions to just about any address.  According to the Alpine Website, software updates can only be done using a Windows computer. Too bad for us Mac users!  An update was just released and I had to do it with my Windows PC to install it. When will these manufacturers (and Alpine’s NOT alone, so this is not directed just at them) learn that they MUST be platform agnostic, allowing consumers to use and enjoy their products regardless of the computer choices we make!  OK, my rant is done, for now.

Not only can the Blackbird be used in one car, but remember, it’s portable so it can be moved from car to car, and with an optional wired dock (PMD-DOK1), it can be fully controlled through one of Alpine’s touch screen based AV head units.   So, if you have an Alpine audio/video system in your ride, that’s a bonus.  The mapping, driving instructions, and traffic alerts can all be viewed on the in-dash AV unit so Blackbird can serve as the main nav brain.

Not in the car? Just hang on to it and use it while walking because of its internal battery. Or, detach it and use it for playing music while you picnic away from the car. Be creative!

Blackbird is also the only portable nav device with built-in radio data system (RDS) traffic tuner.  There is no additional hardware to buy, unlike other systems.    With RDS traffic service, Blackbird will alert drivers to planned and unplanned road incidents like road construction or accidents and show road congestion levels.  Drivers that subscribe to the service will also get weather information in the covered markets.  The RDS traffic service will be available in selected markets in June 2006 (separate service subscription required).

During use, I found the interface on the 3.6-inch touch-screen easy to follow, as were the directions.  Blackbird never failed to get me where I was going!

It’s a cool little unit that works hard, with features users want!

More information is at or call 1.800.ALPINE1.

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