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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. And even if you’re not, you may unexpectedly appreciate using it to chronicle your vacation travels—or tap into your smart home, as we’ve just tested an Alexa-enabled dash cam, the Garmin Speak Plus.

Dash cam cheat sheet

Our quick-hit recommendations:

November 13, 2018: Our new best dual-channel dash cam is Nextbase’s 612GW (available on Amazon). It has a touchscreen and GPS integrated into the mount. It takes very good day and night video (up to 4K UHD!), has a battery that allows it to run for a few minutes away from the 12-volt, and even offloads via a phone app. The only negative is the low-light captures, which are some of the weaker we’ve seen recently. Read our review.

We also reviewed the Vava Dash Cam 2K (available on Amazon), a good budget dash cam for a phone-centric lifestyle. It’s one of the few that can keep an eye on things in your car for up to three days without a hardwiring kit. Read our review.

Best front/rear dash cam 

The 612GW (available on Amazon) made quite the impression with its touch display and extra-detailed 2160p video. It’s a fantastic dash cam overall, though the inferior low-light captures will be an issue for some. Read our review.

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. Read our full review

Runner-up

Garmin’s Speak Plus dash cam (available on Amazon) deserves mention because it’s the only dash cam (other than its predecessor, the Garmin Speak) that can be controlled using Amazon’s Alexa smart assistant. You can also, of course, ask Alexa to do other things around your home while you’re in the car. You’ll need to keep your smartphone handy to enjoy all the features, though. Read our full review

 

Best budget front dash cam

The Vantrue OnDash N1 Pro (available on Amazon) is our new favorite low-cost dash cam. It’s compact, light, relatively inexpensive, takes good video under all conditions, and has a real battery to keep running if the 12-volt fails. Because we recommend GPS for legal and travelog reasons, I’m going to talk about it as if the $22 optional GPS mount were part of the deal. If you’re smart, it will be. Read our full review

What to look for in a dash cam

  • 12-volt power: All dash cams use 12-volt power, and nearly all of them grab it from the auxiliary power outlet (also known as the cigarette lighter). One we know of, the Owl cleverly uses the OBD-II connector. Hardwiring kits are available if you want a constant 12-volt supply.
  • Battery power: A battery that will keep the camera recording after an accident is important if you want to be sure you record an entire incident when 12-volt power is lost. If run time is sufficient, it also allows you to record for a while with the car turned off. Supercapacitors, though they may sound like an improvement on batteries (in terms of recharge cycles and operating temperatures they are), don’t offer much recording after the fact, and increasingly—none at all. 
  • 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 so that you can be sure to capture all of an incident. This requires a battery or large supercapacitor. The camera should have a setting that allows you to set how long the camera runs off 12-volt before shutting down. 
  • 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 180 degree lenses. Note that the wider the field of view, 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. Pricier dash cams bundle a storage card. Some come with larger cards, and some budget models come without. There are often bundles available with the card. One camera, the Owl opts for hard-wired internal storage.
  • GPS: This feature could be the tipping point if you use your captured video to resolve a dispute. GPS should either watermark or embed your video with geographical coordinates,. GPS will also automatically set the time in better cameras.
  • Parking monitoring: This simply means running the camera where you’re not in the car. We have reviewed cameras (VaVa) that have a battery large enough to monitor the car (at a reduced video frame rate) with the 12-volt turned off. But most cameras require that you hardwire to a constant 12-volt source. 
  • Dual-channel support: This is what you’ll need if you want to run 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 in the last couple of years take good daytime video. However, night video is often plagued by murky shadows and headlight flare. That said, 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. A warmer color palette is also apparent in many newer cameras. Some cameras definitely stand out, but nearly all the dash cams I’ve seen will capture sufficient detail during 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

Small, easy to use, and with absolutely sterling day and night captures, this is one of, if not the best budget dash cams we've tested. It even has a real battery to capture events if the 12-volt is interrupted. Great stuff, but spend the extra $22 for the GPS mount. You'll thank us in the long run.

Pros

  • Small and easy to install and use
  • Great day and night video
  • Battery lets the dash cam capture video when the 12-volt dies

Cons

  • Buttons aren't the most intuitive we've seen

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

With Alexa, a dash cam, and a constant eye on the road, the Garmin Speak Plus has enough bells and whistles to justify its $200 price tag.

Pros

  • Audible prompts let you know when you swerve or tailgate.
  • Alexa integration lets you get directions and control smart home devices.
  • High-quality recording lets you keep an eye on the road.

Cons

  • Lengthy cable is difficult to hide.
  • The device doesn't work unless your smartphone is in the car.
  • Navigational cues are a little off.

This dash camera has a clever, compact, and handsome design, with lots of high-end features such as voice control and Wi-Fi connectivity. It also provides traffic light and speed trap alerts. The 180-degree wide-angle lens captures details to the side, but does suffer some fish-eye effect. Video stabilization could be better as well, but it's still a very nice camera overall.

Pros

  • Attractive, compact design
  • Red light, collision, and lane departure warnings
  • Voice control and Wi-Fi connectivity

Cons

  • Video stabilization needs some work
  • Noticeable fish-eye effect from the 180 degree lens

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

The Papago GoSafe S810 dual channel setup has 1080p front and 720p rear camera that take good day and night video. It's easy to use and set up. The only issue is that the supercapacitor won't run the camera long enough to capture any video, should the 12-volt fail. Good stuff aside from the one flaw.

Pros

  • Excellent day, night, and low-light video
  • Easy to install and use
  • Lots of bad-driver tech (safety warnings)

Cons

  • Pricey for a camera without GPS (GPS is optional)
  • External GPS module is a bit pricey compared to the competition

The c550's video captures are surprisingly good--both day and night. But the rear camera is primitive in quality and design, and the $13 GPS add-on doesn't watermark the video. Also, only the latest versions will record after 12-volt power is removed and then for only 10 seconds. Still, the price is tempting, and if you think of the unit as a single camera, it's competitive.

Pros

  • Good day and night video
  • Affordable
  • Easy to use

Cons

  • 480p rear camera is primitive compared to other dual-channel systems
  • GPS info from optional module doesn't watermark video
  • Doesn't record, or record long enough when 12-volt power is removed

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

This is a nicely designed dash cam with a clever magnetic mount and a very nice feature set. Garmin also knows dash cams—every setting and tweak required is in place, including integrated GPS. However, night video isn't up to current standards, and bumps aren't stabilized in video very well. There are significantly cheaper cameras with better video. Opt for the nearly identical, albeit pricier, Garmin Dash Cam 55, which offers significantly better captures.

Pros

  • Compact design and Wi-Fi connectivity
  • Good day video, given a smooth ride
  • Red light and bad driver alerts

Cons

  • Mediocre night video
  • Poor video stabilization is unsuitable for rough rides

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

The Aukey's DR01 product features great video captures, day and night. It also supports GPS via a $20 external module, though said module often took minutes to initialize and start watermarking the video. But the camera stops recording the second it loses power, a potential problem in accidents where 12-volt power is cut off.

Pros

  • Great day and night video
  • Very affordable
  • GPS via $20 optional module

Cons

  • Camera stops recording when external power is removed
  • GPS module is sometimes slow to initialize