I’m not one of your typical “car guys,” in fact, a nice door-to-door salesperson stopped by the other day trying to get me to buy some educational books and was trying to appeal to that side of me…needless to say, I didn’t buy anything. In any case, my dad is a car guy…I’ve gone to drag racing events with him, I’ve even been to the Indy 500 once (never going to do that again…), but still, I don’t like getting my hands dirty.
That’s not to say that I don’t love my car, or love to drive–because I do, and I don’t always do it in the most cop-friendly manner. And, I take care of it–keep it clean, don’t beat it up too much…I even recently named my car. All that aside, when it comes to changing my own oil or replacing my breaks, I’d rather take it to someone who I KNOW (in spite of the premium price) will do a better job than I would, and knows more about it. I’m just not fascinated enough with the nuts and bolts (pun intended) to learn it.
But I have for some time been fascinated by the various gadgets and gizmos you can use both in your car and with your car…and I don’t mean Apple Car Play or Android Auto (although those are great too)–I mean things like OBD2 trackers that hook up to your phone, radar detectors and dash cams. I’m probably most curious about these is the data they capture (not that I’m dying without it, mind you), but I’ve never been curious enough to pull the trigger.
Not to mention, anyone who is anyone loves a good near-miss internet video brought to you by dash cam footage, something AFV didn’t have all those years ago. And while I’m not necessarily hoping I can catch one of these own near-misses, it would be a nice benefit now that I have a dash cam.
The Cobra Drive HD Dash Cam is a small camera that is intended to mount to your windshield. The box is relatively cheap–no premium experience in opening–but the packaging is very simple, so that itself is a plus. Most prominent in the box is the camera itself, a nearly square unit that is 2.24 inches by 2.5 inches in size. It sports a 2″ 800×480 screen and has 4 buttons on the back. Along one side is a micro-USB port and mini-HDMI port, while the other side sports an analog connection for other accessories and a microSD card slot. The package also includes a 32GB microSD card (although the box says it’s only an 8GB card…NICE), a couple cables for playback and connection to your car (lighter power adapter as well), and a windshield mount that slides in along the top of the camera. There is also a power button on one of the top corners.
Installation was much easier than I thought it would be. Keep in mind that my aforementioned tendency to not “get my hands dirty” should indicate that running a 10′ USB cable from my rear view mirror to my center console power port with minimal cable exposure would be a difficult task. Unfortunately for me, I’m a bit type-A when it comes to cable management, but I found it rather easy to run along the headliner of my car, across the bottom of the dash and up to the center console in an acceptable manner. Obviously, your results may vary depending on your car. The mount attaches to your windshield (I mounted the camera slightly behind my rear-view mirror to minimize distraction) via an adhesive pad that seems to hold well; just make sure you clean the mounting area of your windshield first.
Once installed, it was time for the first drive. When you start car, provide the unit is connected to power at all times, the camera will power up and start recording. It records in 3-minute increments in a looping fashion, such that at the end of the day you’ll have many 3-minute video clips that offer 1296p resolution and full audio, should you choose (audio can be disabled with the press of a button on the unit). Regardless of video-only or audio + video, however, the files seem to take up roughly the same amount space, which seems strange, but it’s also worth noting that you can “mute” audio at any time during a recording. Based on the 32GB memory card included, and the fact that I have a 45-50 minute drive one-way to work each day, I imagine I’ll get roughly 2-4 days of video before the card is full and footage starts being overwritten.
There are a couple other function buttons on the back of the unit; I already mentioned the audio on/off button, but there is also a screen on/off button that doesn’t impact the recording–I found this useful for night-time driving to minimize glare in my car. One odd thing, though, is that while you can turn audio off and that setting is saved between drives (powering on and off the camera), turning the screen off is NOT a saved setting between drives. Another button allows you to take snapshots during recording, while the fourth button allows you to pause all recording.
There is a fifth button–a blue one along the top of the screen, called the “Emergency Recording Button,” although I’m not sure functionally what this does different from the regular recording function. The product also claims to have some driver alert capabilities, like alerting you when veering out of your lane, but I was unable to “trick” the camera that this was happening (in spite of some scary attempts), so I’m not sure if that actually works.
The device itself is capable of media playback; additionally, you can connect it to your computer via included USB cable, or remove the SD card and read that via a card reader.
In addition to the camera itself, there is a companion app by Cobra called “iRadar,” which intends to alert you to real-time threat info provided socially by the iRadar community (similar to Waze, in that sense). When the app is running and your phone is connected to the camera via bluetooth, it will also embed speed, GPS and G-Force data into the video for later review.
The app is missing two major components: the first is a substantial user base, the second is a navigation-capability. Because of this, the true “usefulness” of the app is going to be limited to embedded location data, as well as how many iRadar users there are in your vicinity. In the Cleveland/Akron Ohio area, I only saw a couple of alerts along my commutes over several days, and none of them were still accurate by the time I arrived. It’s also worth noting that you have to launch the app once the camera is powered on if you want GPS and speed data embedded in the video file; when your phone connects to the camera you hear a chime to indicate successful connection, however, just having your phone in your car isn’t enough to get the job done (it is worth noting, however, that once the phone is connected to your camera, you can simultaneously run your preferred GPS app while Cobra runs in the background).
The final component of this product is the free Cobra Drive HD Player, available via download from Cobra’s website, that allows you to read the video files from the camera. While most standard video players will play the videos just fine, Cobra’s player also reads and displays the GPS and speed data in a separate pane, as well as overlaying the routes on Google Maps. The software also allows some basic editing function, allowing for cropping and combining of video clips. Overall the player was a nice addition, although at times certain video files would continually cause the player to crash and weren’t playable within the software, while they worked fine in VLC and QuickTime.
At $150, this dash cam is arguably more than I’d want to pay–I think with a more developed social component, or possible integration with Waze, it would be worth more. A decent, highly-reviewed dash cam on Amazon will run you around $100, and you can get away with even less if you look for it. The biggest letdown, however, is not the lack of users–but the lack of functionality that the app provides; adding a navigation component would be a huge upgrade.
The unit as a camera is perfectly capable; it’s companion app needs better functionality and the video editing software was a nice addition…but at $150, it’s a bit pricey for me.