Review Price free/subscription
Maps for the whole of Europe are included and routing works generally very well, with sensible choices made. But I wasn't that impressed with the 3D map view, which updated rather slowly and wasn't very clear when it came to complicated junctions. The 2D view, fortunately, is much clearer.
The Blackbird also has TMC for traffic information built in, and though I'm yet to be convinced of the usefulness of this as a system, Alpine's implementation of it is one of the most elegant and effective I've seen. The reason for this is that the TMC aerial runs along the length of the lighter socket power cable, which means no unsightly wires straggling across your dashboard. It also works rather well, picking up TMC information reliably and without the intermittent now-you-see-it-but-most-of-the-time-you-don't performance of other TMC-compatible devices. And speaking of solid reception, the Blackbird's 16-channel GPS receiver and flip out aerial makes short work of locking onto a satellite signal.
This sets it apart from the competition, but what makes it unique is the potential integration with other products from the Alpine in-car entertainment range. As with other mid-range and high-end sat-nav boxes, it has the facility to play MP3 and WMA files from its SD/MMC card slot, but unlike other sat-nav devices, with the Blackbird it's not simply a case of feature-wang. The Blackbird is designed to be dockable with other Alpine head units (and AV 'hubs'), specifically the ones with large touch screens. Once you do this, the functions of the sat-nav device are transferred to the head unit, with a much larger screen and integration with your car speakers being the principal advantage. I wasn't able to test this feature (no expensive Alpine AV system in the family wagon, I'm afraid) but I can imagine it would be a bit like adding a factory option sat-nav for a fraction of the cost.
All very impressive, but while it may be cheaper than a factory fitted option compared to stand alone sat-nav boxes from the likes of TomTom and Mio, it's still on the expensive side. The Blackbird on its own retails for £300 and the docking station adds a faintly ludicrous £100 to this. And if that weren't enough to put you off, there are weaknesses elsewhere, specifically of the navigation kind.