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Dash cam reviews: Catch the maniacs and meteors of daily driving

They record what's ahead. Sometimes they record what's behind. Most mark it with GPS (or what's the point?). This is exactly what you need on the mean streets of modern life.

Rob Schultz/IDG

Dash cams are already essential in many countries because of scam artists who try to create accidents so they can sue you. They’ve also proven useful for catching cars flying into buildings, or the occasional meteor, as happened in Thailand and in Russia a few years ago.

But while auto con artists aren’t as common here, recording your excursions is a reasonable precaution to take—especially if you’re driving professionally. 

Dash cam cheat sheet

Our quick-hit recommendations:

August 1, 2018: We’ve added our review of Thinkware's F800 Pro (available on Amazon). The successor to one of our top picks, it's just as good as before, but its new cloud features rain a bit on the parade. Here’s our full review.

 

Best front/rear dash cam 

Thinkware’s Dash Cam F800 (currently $300 or less on Amazon) is a high-end, dual-channel dash cam that offers easily the best night video we’ve seen. It revealed details that we missed with our own eyes while actually sitting in the car. For all the details, read our full review of the Thinkware Dash Cam F800.

Best budget front/rear dash cam

The CDR 895 D Drive HD is by far the cheapest dual-camera system we’re aware of (available on Amazon), even when you add $50 for the option GPS mount. Its controls and interface are top-notch, and day video from the 1080p/160-degree front camera is excellent. For all the details, read our full review of the Cobra CDR 895 D.

Best front dash cam

Vava’s Dash Cam is a very impressive product from a first-time vendor. It’s even competitively priced (available on Amazon, sans SD card). It offers at least two features that are unique in the dash cam world as far as we know: 360-degree rotation on its magnetic coupling, and enough battery on board to capture in parking mode for up to 72 hours.

Best budget front dash cam

The Zero Edge Z-Edge Z4 dash cam boasts high-quality day video captures, HDR, and available super-wide 2560x1080 resolution, all for an affordable price (currently $89.95 on Amazon). The major omission is GPS, but that’s common in this price range. Unlike many budget cameras that basically can’t see in the dark, the Z4 has pretty good night video, too.

Good deals on older dash cams

Bargain hunters, some older models we’ve reviewed are still available, often for discount prices: 

What to look for in a dash cam

  • Power: All use 12-volt, switched power via the auxiliary power outlet (also known as the cigarette lighter). All come with backup batteries or capacitors, but some have longer run times than others, which can be handy if you want to use it as an impromptu video recorder away from the car. 
  • Continuous looped recording, so you’ll never lose fresh data (Of course, older data will eventually be overwritten.)
  • Incident recording triggered by impact (G) sensors
  • Continued recording when power fails (that’s the battery thing...)
  • A decently wide field of view: You’ll see cameras with as little as 90 degrees’ field of view, but you’ll catch more of what’s around you if you go for 120 to 140 degrees. Some cameras offer 160 to 170 degrees. Note that the wider it is, the more fish-eye distortion there is, and more processing is involved to compensate.
  • Day and night video recording (night quality is a big variant)
  • MicroSD card storage. All worthy dash cams bundle a storage card. Some come with larger cards, and some budget models come without.
  • GPS: This feature could be the tipping point if you use your captured video to resolve a dispute. GPS watermarks your video with geographical coordinates, and you’ll also want to set the time via GPS (a few models don’t do this).
  • Dual-channel support: This is what you’ll need if you want to support both front and rear or interior cameras, though it’ll involve more cabling (and cost more overall). Only a few models we’ve tested have it: The Thinkware F770 (available on Amazon), for instance, though the rear camera costs an additional $80; and the Cobra CDR 895 D Drive HD (available on Amazon), which gets you into dual-channel video for a measly $200—rear camera included.

How we test dash cams

Few people are as well situated geographically as I am to test dash cams. Within two blocks there are major four- and six-lane thoroughfares, numerous bike lanes, joggers, dog walkers, oblivious ear-budded pedestrians, and a major bus nexus serving both public and private coaches. The opportunities for near-accident are endless.

For every dash cam, I mount it in my car, judging the ease and convenience of doing so. Tip: Many dash cams rely on adhesive for mounting to your windshield. Hot conditions can make it next to impossible to remove the film that protects the adhesive. Remove the film in a cool environment, or place it in the fridge for a minute or two before installing it.

I put each dash cam through several days’ and nights’ worth of driving, recording video and judging the image quality. All the dash cams I’ve reviewed take very good daytime video. Night video is often plagued by murky shadows and headlight flare, though quality is improving rapidly with the introduction of new sensors. Take a close look at the night shots in each review. 

I try all the features: Buttons, display controls, apps. Aside from rear-view support and GPS, the most salient differences between the products are the interface controls and extra features, such as the lane departure and collision warnings that you get with some models. I try them...and I turn them off. In practice, they usually tell me I’m changing lanes, in heavy traffic, or have just been cut off. Additionally, the collision warnings generally come too late to do anything but distract you at exactly the wrong time. 

The most pertinent improvements as of late are HDR support (High Dynamic Range, for greater detail and contrast) and the aforementioned better night video processing. I definitely have my favorites, but all the products will capture sufficient detail for any daytime metal-on-metal encounters you’re unlucky enough to experience. Again, pay attention to the night video shots—that’s the big differentiator.

What’s next in dash cams

Dash cams have plenty of room to evolve. As nice as dual-channel is, there’s talk about true 360-degree video. Check out TechHive’s review of PowerDVD 16’s 3D playback to see how compelling that can be.

As I predicted at last writing, someone finally produced a dash cam that uploads to the cloud when an incident occurs—the Owl Car Cam. Additionally, it hard-wires by default to the OBD connector for easy-install, 24-hour surveillance. It has some foibles, but read the review—it's the wave of the future, at least for the high end.

All our dash cam reviews

See the list below for details on dash cams we’re reviewed that are currently available, and check back for reviews of new products in this ever-expanding category.

At a Glance

This dash cam's superior night vision is in a class of its own. Feature laden, its only real drawback is price--$300 alone, and over $400 with a rear camera. Some users may rue the lack of a display, but overall, the F800 is a contender for best dash cam in the universe.

Pros

  • Dual channels allow for the addition of a rear camera
  • Excellent night video, even with the headlights off
  • Mature feature set including many types of warnings

Cons

  • Expensive
  • Using hotspot instead of client Wi-Fi can reduce your phone's battery life

Thinkware's F770 is pricey, but the voice feedback, features, and day/night video are as good as it gets get, and it's dual-channel so you can record to the rear with the $80 add-on camera. It uses your Android/iOS device as a viewer and display, however, so if you're not phone-centric, look elsewhere.

Pros

  • Dual-channel, front/rear video capture
  • Voice feedback
  • Excellent daytime and nighttime video
  • Wi-Fi connection to your phone makes setup and other tasks super-easy

Cons

  • Pricey
  • Using your cell phone as a display adds another layer of complexity.

With excellent video, ground-breaking features, and clever design, first-time vendor VaVa has jumped to the top of the dash cam heap.

Pros

  • Excellent day and night video
  • Rotates 360 degrees with a 155 degree field of view
  • Bluetooth remote snapshot button
  • On-board 320mAh battery allows operation when the car is off

Cons

  • Suction mount only
  • A bit pricey

The F800 Pro's night captures are by far the best we've seen, both front and rear. But the system is too reliant on your cell phone for the new cloud connectivity and a few other features.

Pros

  • Industry-best night video captures
  • Dual-channel with optional rear camera

Cons

  • Overly reliant on your phone for advanced features
  • GPS, but no GPS watermark

The Z4 is a nice, basic dash cam with very good performance. It offers great daytime and adequate nighttime HDR video, good looks; and simplicity of operation. We liked the high-powered suction mount and battery-backed parking mode, and the 16GB of bundled storage is a perk worth getting. The only weakness is the lack of a GPS option,

Pros

  • High-resolution video up to 2560 x 1080
  • Stylish good looks
  • 16GB SDHC card included (at $90)

Cons

  • No GPS

The Blackvue DR750S-2CH offers excellent day and night video from both the front and rear cameras. The configuration and viewing app is top-notch, as is the GPS-savvy viewer for the PC. While it lacks extras like driver aids, it's otherwise one of the best dash cams we've reviewed, though unfortunately also one of the most expensive.

Pros

  • Great day and night video, both front and rear
  • Clever removable design
  • Wi-Fi connectivity, phone and PC apps

Cons

  • Pricey
  • Squeaky, hard-to-hear voice feedback

The DashCam may be compact, but it's packed with features, including 1440p video, voice command, and all the detection and alert functionality you could ask for--including an alert to keep you from snoozing at a stoplight. Add Wi-Fi connectivity and you've got one of the best dash cams we've tried. Our only concerns are the lack of a second channel for a rear view camera, and the unit's tendency to run a bit warm.

Pros

  • Excellent smart features including stoplight-snoozing alert
  • Extremely compact
  • Voice command is convenient and addictive

Cons

  • Runs warmer than we'd like

Even adding the $50 optional GPS mount the CDR895 is a good deal, with dual-channel versatility, great daytime video and passable nighttime video.

Pros

  • Two-camera, front/rear system
  • Good daytime video
  • Small and very light

Cons

  • GPS is a pricey $50 extra-cost item
  • Darkish night captures.

This is a premium-level product and you get a lot of features for the money, but it also seems really easy to steal.

Pros

  • Large touch display
  • Navigation data is very convenient
  • Integrated GPS
  • Accommodates Garmin's Wi-Fi backup camera

Cons

  • Large size and conspicuous mounting could make it a tempting steal
  • You can't record from the backup camera

Two years on from the 895HD, the Drive HD DASH 2316D offers only minor improvements, and none concern the video, which is weak by today's ever-rising standards. The iRadar app is useful, but GPS is only an option. To our mind, the cheaper 895HD (if you can find it) is still the better deal.

Pros

  • Inexpensive for a dual-camera system
  • Easy to use
  • Meshes with and plays Cobra iRadar app alerts

Cons

  • No HDR and weak night video
  • Cluttered cabling system

Although the night video is weak, this $50 camera is as good as what you'd get for $100 just a couple of years ago. A great entry-level product to see if a dash cam is for you and more than serviceable for day use.

Pros

  • Handsome design and packaging
  • Very affordable
  • Detailed 1080 daytime video

Cons

  • Poor detail in dark areas of night video
  • No GPS

If you're more interested in keeping track of what's going on inside your vehicle than what's behind, the DrivePro 520, with its integrated interior camera, could be just what the doctor ordered. Uber and Lyft drivers take notice.

Pros

  • Integrated rear-facing interior camera
  • Good-quality day and night video

Cons

  • Integrated interior camera can't track behind the vehicle
  • Getting both sticky and suction mounts costs extra

This is the best dash cam for catching events in the periphery. The interface is subpar, but the features are top-notch.

The integrated GPS and wide field of view makes this affordable dashcam an attractive deal, despite a few design deficiencies.

Pros

  • Easy to use
  • HD video
  • 118-degree field of view

Cons

  • Difficult mounting bracket
  • Tiny display

The V1 looks inexpensive at $100 until you realize it'll cost you another $30 to get the GPS everyone should have. Exceptionally steady daytime capture is the best feature of this bare-bones model.

Pros

  • Affordable
  • Good daytime and adequate nighttime captures

Cons

  • Doesn't include Micro SD card
  • GPS is a $30 add-on

Garmin's Dash Cam 35 has consistently good video day and night, and it handles the basics well. Whether you're willing to pay a little more for the established Garmin brand is up to you.

Pros

  • Affordable GPS-enabled camera
  • Very good daytime and nighttime video

Cons

  • Buttons are a bit stiff

The Viofo A119 is a real bargain, with surprisingly good video for the price, and a boatload of features. GPS is just a $10 add-on. The trade-offs: no SDHC card included, and the device is not removable.

Pros

  • Inexpensive
  • Very good daytime and nighttime video
  • Collsion and lane-departure warnings

Cons

  • No SDHC card included
  • Device is not removable

Though Wi-Fi and Android/iOS apps are handy, Cobra would've been better served by integrating GPS into this otherwise capable unit.

Pros

  • Wi-Fi transfer and control
  • Super HD video
  • Wide, 113-degree field of view
  • Android and iOS apps

Cons

  • Expensive
  • No GPS

The Yada shows you don't have to spend a fortune to get an effective dash cam, but it has a few significant limitations.

Pros

  • Affordable
  • Good daytime video
  • Doubles as a web cam

Cons

  • No GPS
  • Poor night video

Garmin's DriveAssist 50LMT stands out for ease of use, and its lifetime navigation data is a nice bonus. It's too bad the nighttime video quality wasn't up to snuff.

Pros

  • Large display is easy to view and use
  • Great 1080p daytime video
  • Bonus: Lifetime, high-quality navigation data
  • Driving assistance features: Collision warning, lane departure, speed limit

Cons

  • Nighttime video quality was disappointingly subpar
  • Single-channel only