In a world where GPS devices are getting smaller and slimmer, it's surprising to come across something like the Alpine Blackbird. This is a device that looks like it would be more at home in an episode of Knight Rider than a modern, noughties energy-efficient supermini with its macho silver trim, chunky dimensions, twinkling blue LEDs, and huge, shiny round button next to the screen.
You half expect the thing to call you Michael in a camped-up car voice when you first fire it up and, to be honest, it's a disappointment to find that it doesn't. But you get the message: this is not the most pocketable sat-nav you'll ever come across or the most attractive to look at. The absolutely enormous windscreen mount it's supplied with doesn't help either - it'll only fit in the very largest of glove boxes.
Fortunately, there are upsides to this. First, it can boast extremely solid build quality and, stowed in the soft case that comes in the box, looks like it would cope pretty well with being stuffed in a bag. Second, the size makes the Blackbird extremely simple to operate. It has a large 3.6in QVGA screen, which makes pressing most of the important buttons on the touch screen easy, though some of the buttons - for the TMC info, for example - are a little more fiddly than they should be. And that enormous round silver button makes important operations like zooming in and out and switching between music to navigation modes simple.
To be fair, the features it boasts aren't out of the eighties either. The Hoff would be proud of the light sensor, which switches the display automatically in and out of night mode, and the blue LEDs off and on, depending on ambient light in the cabin. He might not get on with the female voice instructions, but they are accurate, timely, and clear, and with an external volume dial on the top right edge of the device, easy to adjust quickly. For those with large cars (or very short arms) there's also an infrared remote control in the box, though entering addresses with this isn't exactly easy.
The choice of views impresses too. Not only does the Blackbird have 2D and 3D navigation modes, but you can also choose turn-based instructions, where the map isn't displayed, just icons representing approaching turnings. The Blackbird also has a view that overlays a huge, semi-transparent turn icon over almost the entire map - an unusual approach that actually works rather well. It makes it really easy to see what type of turn is coming up and how far away it is and the transparency means the map doesn't feel as cramped as it could.