I recently got married in Asheville, NC and unfortunately the venue (Grand Bohemian) does not allow self-parking, thus subjecting my S5 to the mercy of valet parking for the first time in its short life. A struggling time for me for sure; but praise baby Jesus, we now have the technology of dashcams to monitor our cars to ensure their safe custody when out of sight. This is the best defense against the dark arts (valet hooning) since APR introduced the “valet mode” option on their performance chips. Luckily the valets dug my car, and left it out in front of the valet stand for the 3 days I was there:
But let us not forget the real reason that most people buy dashcams – liability protection. Long before the Russians were busy hacking elections, the country was a nest of auto insurance fraud, which gave rise to so many Russians equipping their cars with dashcams. And then soon followed the flood of hilarious Russian dashcam videos, each more bizarre than the prior one. Today dashcams are now becoming quite prevalent in America, and hopefully after reading this review you will want to join the ranks of dashcam owners. Facebook needs more hilarious dashcam videos, so do your part for America.
Dashcams for Dummies
Dashcams come in all sorts of sizes/prices/zodiac signs, and the features are becoming pretty standardized in any given price bracket. There are lots of great dash cam buying guides out there such as this one, but in summary here are some of the main features you want to look for in a dashcam:
- Looping SD recording: They pretty much all have this feature.
- 1 channel or 2: Standard dashcam has 1 channel, meaning one camera. A 2 channel camera will a second camera for recording events behind the car (with a 2nd camera), or for recording what is happening inside the car (2nd camera is a separate unit or integrated in the main dashcam unit).
- HD video quality: Typically a standard feature in any camera that costs over $75.
- Sound recording: A nice option if you want to record what people are saying in your car (“Jesus, why does this idiot have so many Michael Bolton CDs in his car?”).
- GPS/Speed: The car’s GPS location and speed will be imprinted on the video.
- Cloud back up and accessibility: Only the higher end dashcams will have this feature.
- Built in screen vs no screen: Dashcams with built-in screens are usually quite bulky and require a lot of windshield real estate. The dashcams without screens just use your smart phone as the remote screen for viewing:
My Pick: BlackVue 650S
After some extensive research, I chose the BlackVue DR650S. I decided for a single channel camera unit rather than dual; the BlackVue 2 channel comes with a secondary camera that you can route and wire into your rear window. At this time, I didn’t think I need that, especially since my rear window is tinted pretty dark. I may upgrade to the dual channel model in the future, and move my single channel dashcam to my S2000 or 951. Overall this is a great dashcam, and I am very happy with it. The small size and extensive features make it a worthwhile upgrade over the many cheap sub-$75 bulky cams on the market. Don’t go cheap; I’ll judge you for it, and so will your girlfriend. And a message from Captain Obvious; shop around for the best deal. I picked up my dashcam on Amazon Prime for $230 – from the same seller who also sells it directly on their own website or $250+shipping.
BlackVue Pros & Best Features:
- Stealth Appearance: It blends right in with the rear view mirror, and most people won’t even notice that it is installed nor does it block any visibility for the driver out of the windshield.
- High Res Video Quality: The BlackVue has the standard 1080p quality, which is great, but with all dashcams, quality can be affected by the tinting band at the top of your windshield and curvature of your windshield. You will want to experiment with the dashcam mounting location for best results. Note the video quality in my video below; I have the camera mounted in the absolute highest position in the windshield so it is barely visible from the inside, and still the quality turned out quite well. The video below consists of a few 30 second clips of the camera quality. You will see some of the expected glare off the windshield/dash, and note the background music from my car stereo will give you an idea of the sound recording quality.
- Sound Recording: This is an entertaining feature that allows you to record conversations of people driving your car. Sometimes you want to hear what the valet says after he tells Ferris “You fellas have nothing to worry about, I’m a professional” (can be turned off to save memory).
- Blinking LED: To let driver know that they are being watched and that they better behave. There is also a second forward facing LED to let people outside your car know they are being recorded (both features can be turned off for stealth mode).
- Voice Announcements: When the car is turned on, it announces itself with “BlackVue for your driving safety”, which is good to warn valets that they are being recorded (can be turned off for stealth mode). I would rather it start up with a voice track of Samuel L. Jackson reading Ezekiel 25:17 from Pulp Fiction, but this will do.
- No Viewing Screen: I specifically wanted this feature so the camera would not be bulky and clutter up my windshield. Without the screen, it is a very discrete unit that fits above and forward of my rear-view mirror. To view videos, you just connect to the camera via password protected Wifi built in to the camera, then view the videos or live video feed on your phone.
- GPS: You can choose to imprint your vehicle speed and coordinates on the videos, and it can track your car so you can see where it may be when out of your possession (via cloud monitoring).
- Cloud Monitoring: If you have an in-car wifi connection to the internet, you can stream/view the camera from anywhere in the world. You can even talk to the person driving the car, such as scolding them for playing bro-country music in your car. To use this feature, you will need to leave a wifi hotspot in the car (you would hide it somewhere) so the camera has a way to stream to the cloud. I have an AT&T hotspot that I would turn and throw in the glovebox, and/or my particular Audi has a built-in hotspot as well. This is easy to do, but it will quickly eat up a lot of data on your wireless plan. You get 10GB free cloud storage with the camera, so you can flag videos to upload to the cloud when you are not able to download the videos from you SD card. You would only use this on rare occasions when you want to actively monitor what is going on in your car remotely. Like when my brother wants to borrow my car.
- SD Card Looping: The cam comes with a 16GB card, but can handle up to 128GB SD cards so you have keep hours and hours of videos available. If you want to create backups, you just take out the card and transfer the videos to a folder on your computer (microSD to USB adapter included).
- Speed Alerts: I am not sure if I would use this, but the dashcam will alert the driver if the car goes over a certain speed. I guess if I am going to valet the car again (not likely), I would set the alert for 40mph as they shouldn’t need to go that fast just to park the car.
- Rotating Mount: When I am driving the car, I typically would want to record what is happening in front of the car for safety/liability reasons, but the BlackVue is easy to rotate 180 degrees on the fly so you can video record what is going on inside the car. This is the feature you see used most often by Uber drivers recording those drunk and vomitus passengers who are doing their best imitation of Charlie Sheen in the back seat.
- Parking Mode: Here is where it can get complicated. If set up to be wired to an always-on power source, it will continue to record when the car is off, and flag a video if the car senses an impact or hard motion. This will require additional wiring of power monitoring components that will monitor the car’s battery and turn off the dashcam if the battery charge gets too low. If you have ever purchased a replacement battery for a newer German car, you know how expensive and complicated it is to replace the battery and “marry” it to the car, so you will want to skip this as the additional battery drain/charging won’t be ideal for battery life. There is another Parking Mode solution offered by Blackvue that involves adding a dedicated battery pack to your car to power the dashcam while the car is off. For $160, the Blackvue Power Magic Battery Pack B-112 will provide up to 12 hours of continued power to your dashcam for parking mode with a 1 hour charge time. A decent universal solution that you can use for any dashcam or car accessory, but I decided that the math just doesn’t work out for my needs. With a battery pack that only lasts 12 hours, and your typical commute or drive is 30 minutes, it will never be fully charged and not fully protect you when you park your car at work for 8 hours, or overnight for 12 hours. This could be handy for selective parking mode – having it fully charged and only using parking mode when you park in a vulnerable spot. And then there is the issue with having a big bulky battery pack to install in your car’s interior. A better solution would be that the dashcam had a remote back up battery that only turned on if the parking sensor is triggered (are you listening BlackVue?).
BlackVue Cons & Gripes:
- Hardwiring: Since the Blackvue uses a standard car power outlet cord you can’t hardwire it out of the box, but with the additional power outlet installed, it is essentially hardwired, and you can remove it pretty easily if need be. This is not a big downside, but a little annoying – more on how to hardwire this below. This could be a benefit if you wanted to swap the cam between cars on a regular basis.
- Proprietary cord: while the rest of the world has moved their phones/nav/radar detectors to a USB cord, the Blackvue cord is unique on the end of the camera body, and a bulky annoyingly large car port charger on the other end. No ability to hard wire this damn thing without installing a hidden extra car outlet under your dash somewhere.
- Wifi: Damn you BlackVue. Setting up the app and dashcam via the internal wifi is a PITA, but once you do it and understand how it works, it gets a little better. BlackVue should have made it a Bluetooth connection to your phone rather than wifi. For example, to access the menu/features, you connect your phone to the BlackVue wifi. Once you are finished, you must disconnect from the wifi, and tell your phone to FORGET the wifi, or your phone will want to connect on the wifi each time you start your car. Since the BlackVue is not an internet connected wifi, your phone will not have access to the internet if it connects to the BlackVue wifi. This cumbersome mess could have easily been avoided if they just made it a Bluetooth connection. Luckily you won’t need to do this often, but makes accessing the menu/videos annoying and unnecessarily complicated. One way around this is to set the wifi to always be off, then you will just have to manually turn the wifi on via the dashcam side button if you want to connect to it.
- MicroSD Card Size: The included 16GB microSD card is a little small, and will only give you about 2-3 hours of recorded time. That should be adequate for general driving around, but if you want extra security, buy a larger card. If you choose a dual channel cam, you will need a larger card as the dashcam will be recording larger dual video files.
- Instructions, we don’t need no stinkin’ instructions: The included instructions and quick set up guide are sparse at best. You will have to download the full manual from their website to set up all the features. Even then it will take some time to become familiar with the settings and features.
Dashcam Installation & Hardwire:
Pretty easy. Annoyingly, the cam comes with a standard auto outlet cord, which means you can’t hardwire it to your car. This is not a deal breaker, as I bought an add-a-fuse circuit and a power outlet and it was easy to wire up under the dash. Takes 20 minutes to install if you are familiar with basic wiring of auto accessories.
Final Thoughts on Buying a Dashcam
One thing to consider; are you trying to “bust” someone abusing your car, or are you trying to prevent them from abusing your car? I would suggest turning on the voice announcement option each time you are about to hand over the keys to the valet/brother/future-x-girlfriend, as the power-up announcement voice will let them know that they are being recorded. Hopefully that will deter them from hooning your car or going full-on Sean Spicer all over your interior.
Only a few times have I pulled the SD card to view recorded videos, because rarely, if ever, does someone drive my car other than me. Earlier this year, my car was at the dealer for a software update (Audi South Orlando – great dealer BTW), and I watched some of the recorded video of the time it was in their hands. It was interesting, if not a little awkwardly voyeuristic, to listen to techs chatting about their day, but also cool to hear them on the video talking about the “nice mods” on my car.