Alpine Blackbird portable nav unit
Or nightmares…read about why you should avoid the Alpine Blackbird below…
- It’s looks great up there above the MFD. The Blackbird has something most portable navs don’t have, style.
- Simple to setup and use.
- Great screen.
- Value – for what you pay, you get a lot of machine.
- Built-in FM modulator
- MP3/WMA player built-in
- The ability to connect directly to Alpine head units for much better music and Nav performance.
- Delay startup and disclaimer screen.
- Slow acquisition of GPS satellites.
- The driving cursor is slower to update in this unit than others.
- FM modulator is of very average quality.
- Not compatible with Macintosh music file systems.
- DRM encoding on music files render them unplayable on the Blackbird.
- Average or worse mapping.
- One dimensional display offers no display options.
- Touch screen design is too small to actually control, you almost need a stylus to accurately hit buttons.
- Recalculating the route can be painfully slow.
- Map data is bad or out of date and Alpine has no schedule for updates.
- Automatic light sensor which switches the unit from daylight view to nighttime view is far too sensitive and causes headaches as the unit switches back and forth every time the light level increases just a bit.
- The cradle for the Blackbird is worse than bad, it’s awful.
I think one of the biggest problems with most net reviews on equipment is that the review is written so early in the ownership cycle you really don’t get a good picture of what ownership is like, rather, you get a good idea what acquisition is like.
Overall, I really hated the Blackbird. I’m just vain enough about my Prius that I want accessories in it to look nice. The Blackbird does that. But the bottom line is, as a nav unit it’s terrible. The software is clunky and one dimensional. The interface is set up so that it is nearly impossible not to hit the wrong thing while using the touch screen. But most of all, it’s slow and inaccurate. The Blackbird tends to get lost which, as you might imagine in a nav unit, is unacceptable. It takes forever (around a minute or so) for the Blackbird to establish it’s location and locate the GPS satellites which is far slower than any other unit I’ve used (mostly Garmins). It’s especially slow when recalculating routes which, if you have any experience with nav units, happens a lot. So it tends to only make you more lost if you miss a turn.
And while I think the Blackbird is stylish (and it is) there are some bizarre questions in my mind. One of which is, why did this make this enormous, almost useless button fill one third of the front face. The multi-function, which is styled sort of like an iPod click wheel (but isn’t) really doesn’t do much. At least, it doesn’t do enough to merit the amount of real estate it takes. It seems like a superficial decoration to me. Camouflage.
In talking with an Alpine rep I learned my experience is not the only negative one. Apparently Time Magazine slammed it as well. And I think Time slammed it for good reason.
Another thing I learned is, according to the rep, Alpine will be charging significantly for updates. This is a unit that needs to be updated out of the box. The idea that another $100-$300 for an update disc is required for a new unit is repugnant.
And just for the record I used three different Blackbird units over a two month long period. None of them performed properly. At first I thought maybe I just got a bad unit. No, I actually got three bad units which leads me to believe that it’s just plain bad. I drove about 3,000 miles with the Blackbird in the car and while it did, at times, perform adequately, overall and in the main, the Blackbird failed time and time again for one reason or another.
Alpine makes some great gear but the Blackbird is not worthy of the name (either Alpine of Blackbird). It looks nice and has some interesting features but as a nav unit, it’s nowhere near as nice as several others at or below the price of the Blackbird. The Blackbird is poorly engineered, the software is far below average for portable nav units and, apparently, the defect rate is atrocious. The Blackbird is a failure. Avoid it at all costs.
Because it’s all about finding your way back…
(and yes, that’s my front door)