The Best Dash Cam

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Every time I get behind the wheel, I use the Zero Edge Technology Z-Edge Z3 to record everything happening in front of me. After considering dozens of dash cams for this guide, and ultimately selecting 10 for testing, the Z-Edge Z3 came out solidly on top. It hits the mark in terms of image quality, usability, and value, and it avoids unnecessary features such as GPS and Wi-Fi that are found in many pricier cameras. Instead, it focuses on great image quality and reliable, automatic operation each time you get in your car. Other cameras tick these boxes as well, but none hit them all quite as perfectly as the Z3 while also selling at a great price. In short, it’s the best for most people.

Last Updated: March 25, 2016
The Cobra CDR-855BT has the same great interface as its predecessor, the Cobra CDR-835, but it’s too expensive to win us over and become a pick. We’ve added it to the Competition section.
Expand Most Recent Updates
February 26, 2016: We added more information about Zero Edge, including how to get hold of the company and our vetting of it. We also added quotes from an expert we showed the footage to.
February 23, 2016: After considering dozens of dashcams, we selected as our new pick the Zero Edge Technology Z-Edge Z3, which focuses on great image quality and reliable, automatic operation at a much better price than the competition. If the Zero Edge is unavailable, we recommend the Vantrue OnDash R2, which produces great videos, but is much too expensive compared with the Z-Edge Z3. The Spy Tec G1W-CB is great because it uses a capacitor, bypassing temperature problems with batteries, and has good image quality, albeit at a lower resolution.
Zero Edge Z-Edge Z3
The affordable Z3 hits all the marks with great video quality in the wide 2560x1080-pixel format across a range of difficult outdoor light.

The camera features exceptional 2560×1080 resolution at 30 frames per second, the current maximum available in consumer dash cams and our preferred resolution. It also comes with a 32GB microSD card, a capacity that’s both big enough for many people’s needs and the largest among the few dash cams that include memory cards at all. While buying your own microSD will set you back about only $15, it’s one fewer thing to worry about and makes the package an even better bargain. The image quality reveals crisp detail across all lighting conditions, and the photos and video are so good that you’ll have no qualms about sharing the footage via social media if you want to share anything crops up in the camera’s generous 145° field of view. (Nearby meteor strike, anyone?) That field of view hits a sweet spot, where the coverage is neither too narrow and excludes the edges, nor so wide that it’s hard to get enough detail where it counts. The high resolution we prefer means wider FOVs are managed better, as you can zoom in as necessary when examining footage later.

Also Great

*At the time of publishing, the price was $150.

Vantrue OnDash R2 2K Ultra HD 2.7-Inch LCD Dashboard Camera
It’s ever so slightly better than our top pick, but its much higher price keeps it as a backup if you can’t find the Z3.

The Vantrue OnDash R2 slots into our runner-up position on cost rather than quality. It produces great videos, but it’s too expensive compared with the Z-Edge Z3—almost $50 more at the moment before factoring in the cost of the Zero Edge’s included microSD card, which the Vantrue lacks. Its images are just a hair too dark compared with the Z3, but they still blow most other dash cams out of the water, leading us to recommend this as a backup if its price drops or the Z3 sells out and you need a dash cam right away. The Vantrue was our top pick in testing until the Z3 arrived late in the process and displaced it.

Also Great
Spy Tec G1W-CB 1080P HD Car Dash Camera
Bypassing temperature problems with batteries, this model draws directly from a car’s power, while having great image quality, albeit at a lower resolution.

If you live where temperatures regularly cook your car, we recommend the Spy Tec G1W-CB. It has a number of drawbacks relative to our top pick—a lower-resolution, 1080p camera for one—but it uses a capacitor instead of a battery. Batteries perform poorly in extreme heat, delaying or preventing a camera’s boot-up or normal function. The capacitor draws its power directly from the car, but only while the car is running. As a less pricey alternative that should work when it’s too hot (and also, in some cases when it’s too cold) for a battery-operated dash cam to do its best, we find it meets the bar.

Table of contents

Why you should trust us

I’ve been an automotive and consumer-technology journalist for 15 years, contributing not only to The Wirecutter, but also Gear Patrol, Popular Science, Wired, Men’s Health, and many other outlets. Within the automotive realm, I’ve produced content covering both the technology side as well as driver behavior and vehicle safety. Additionally, I’m a photographer who frequently experiments with new camera technology, both still and video.

For this update to our 2014 dash cam guide, I surveyed about 50 cameras, then spent hours working with our narrowed-down selection to see how they performed. Incidentally, this has made me a believer in the technology’s use and usefulness—it’s now safe to say I’ll be using these things for the rest of my driving days, and am looking forward to tracking the technology as it continues to evolve.

Who this guide is for

You need a dash cam if you’re concerned about being the victim of an accident and want documentary footage that you could provide to an insurance company or the police, for a lawsuit, or at a criminal trial. You might be considering one because of a past collision, or you’ve been too close to too many before. You might also want to record footage as a matter of course to help others (if you spot something happening nearby), help improve road conditions by having graphic examples on hand, or want to monitor the driving habits of someone else with their knowledge (such as a teenager).

Dash cams became popular first in Russia, where insurance fraud is a widespread problem. Drivers installed cameras to show their side of the story when others claimed the driver was at fault. In the United States, the problem has typically been the opposite (though fraud happens, of course): You want to prove what someone else did in a situation to harm you or your car. Our survey of readers shows that’s your primary concern.

You want to prove what someone else did in a situation to harm you or your car. Our survey of readers shows that’s your primary concern.

But there are more entertaining and socially useful purposes, as well. You’ve almost certainly seen the YouTube footage of meteor strikes (again in Russia) and from police cars. You might enjoy passively filming something strange, amazing, or funny on the road, and want to share it for entertainment or even a taste of viral fame. Or, you might capture an incident you’re not directly involved in, and would feel compelled to turn over footage to those involved or the authorities.

Finally, as I discovered within literally one hour of installing a dash cam in my own car, you can also capture incidents that highlight road-safety problems. In the linked video, one driver stops at the end of a merge lane in order to cut across traffic to make a left at the next light, while another car stops dead at a green light and cuts across two lanes to try to make that same left-hand turn. A pickup truck had to swerve twice to avoid each vehicle, and a van and a semi-trailer were forced to apply emergency braking to avoid hitting the second driver—though the audio doesn’t reveal the braking. It’s an unsafe intersection, and I forwarded this video to the local township.

Because the primary job of dash cams is to protect their owners’ interest by documenting what happens in front of them in a wide-angle view, when they offer other features—everything from lane-departure warning to collision alerts to red-light camera warnings—they’re usually not that good at them. Most cameras can capture a still photo, and some of the ones we tested do that well. Most also have batteries that will allow limited use while detached from the car, but they work poorly as a camera you want to tote around: They don’t fit well in the hand, and the rechargeable batteries won’t provide long enough use for most purposes. Dash cams are simply meant to mount on your windshield, power up every time you start the car, and capture video endlessly while driving.

Before proceeding, a word on using the cameras as security watchdogs: They don’t particularly excel at this. In theory, most of the cameras can use optical motion detection or G-sensors to “wake up” and start recording if something happens to or around your vehicle. But the odds of them picking up useful information while facing in a single direction is low, and they also require persistent power to do this. That is, they must be on all the time, which in the long run could strain the system and shorten the device’s lifespan—in addition to potentially draining your battery.


The cameras were also evaluated on how discreet they are, though our eventual top pick—the Zero Edge in the center—had the largest screen. (Note: These are placed lower on the windshield than they’d be in actual use.) Photo: Eric Adams

How we picked

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First, we surveyed the market for the current, latest, and forthcoming cameras. Then, we limited that against criteria gathered from reader surveys and our own research. Short answer: It’s pretty much all for accident recording.

Most respondents were uninterested in extra features, like a built-in GPS, lane-departure warnings, handheld use, and Wi-Fi functionality, among other things. We also found that most readers very reasonably hoped to spend around $100 for the camera, though a quarter would go as high as $150. Our fundamental takeaway? Respondents wanted reliable, well-made cameras that require zero manipulation to record video automatically every time they turn on the car, after some initial configuration.

This let us rule out a number of cheap cameras—some of them unbelievably below $20—as they lack the resolution, video and build quality, and other basics we wanted, plus we were skeptical about warranty support at that price. More expensive cameras also abound, but most have far too many unnecessary add-ons, and none beat our ultimate selections in terms of pure video quality. Paying more than $175 just isn’t worth the extras you get.

We also shied away from cameras for which we couldn’t trace the sourcing or manufacturer. For instance, a camera ostensibly from Philips—the renowned Dutch electronics manufacturer—kept turning up in our searches. But listings to purchase this camera appeared mostly on sites in Singapore, and it was likely a case of the manufacturer legitimately licensing the Philips brand for sale in Asia. While technically it was a “Philips” product, it’s not one made under the direct supervision of the brand-name company.

Overall, we used authoritative reviews, conversations with experts, interactions with retailers, and access to company representatives to validate the provenance of any given camera before testing. This included dash cam reviews at key sites: Dashboard Camera Reviews, Techmoan, Car Cam Central, and Dash Cam Talk. We also examined Amazon reviews, which provide signals about a product rather than any definitive answer. For instance, products that have a spate of reviews may have benefited from giveaway programs or paid for reviews. (Amazon has a program to disclose these, and some reviewers voluntarily and properly note it as well.) We also find mismatches between what’s described in a review and the product on which page it appears, especially with newly released items.

Finally, we considered new entries to the market, in particular those from widely recognized mainstream manufacturers. Garmin, Magellan, Polaroid, and Cobra all make dashboard cameras now, and we evaluated their products equally among the roster of cameras from the legitimate Asian manufacturers.

Dash cams have a core set of features and specifications that let them perform their primary task. And newer dash cams have raised the bar over our picks in the previous version of this guide. After surveying the field, we set baseline requirements for several areas.

Our new ideal is 2560×1080—a 21:9 ratio compared with 1080p’s 16:9.

While we kept the same 1080p (1920×1080 pixel) baseline for cameras we tested, our new ideal is 2560×1080—a 21:9 (technically 2:37:1, or 64:27) ratio compared with 1080p’s 16:9. This additional resolution captures more of the real estate in front of your vehicle when paired with an appropriate lens and offers useful details when you zoom in. (Even at this higher resolution, it’s extremely difficult to capture license plates legibly unless both your vehicle and the one you’re looking at are both stock-still and relatively close, such as at stoplights.)

We looked for lenses with a broad field of view (FOV). The models we tested ranged from 120° to 170°. Not surprisingly, there’s a sweet spot, and our chosen model, the Z-Edge Z3, hits it with a 145° FOV. Any lower and you’ll lose real estate, while larger FOVs risk distortion and a loss of detail.

Capturing detail at high resolution with little distortion doesn’t help if the camera’s image sensor and processor can’t capture details crisply and clearly at a great distance, or across a variety of lighting and weather conditions. It turns out that you don’t have to pay a premium for the best video quality. We discarded a number of models that met other feature specs, but had significantly inferior video quality.

There are two primary ways to mount a dash cam to a car’s windshield: suction and adhesive. Adhesive mounts permit more discreet placement, so the camera doesn’t intrude as much into your view, and it’s not as noticeable from the outside. But it also requires precision placement when you install it, since you can’t adjust it without a lot of hassle or getting new adhesive material once you stick it on. Many are difficult to remove, as well, requiring a razor blade and patience.

We favor a suction mount, even though it descends lower from the mounting point, because it has two key advantages: You can aim it (and adjust it) easily, and you can remove it quickly if you want to take it down for any reason. (For instance, perhaps you’re parking overnight in a dicey area, or you want to take it on a business trip to use in a rental car, or you move it between several of your own vehicles.) Whatever the mount type, you want it to have a high build quality and remain firmly in place once positioned, so that it’s not easily jostled if you or passengers accidentally nudge it.

Every camera we tested records automatically while a car’s ignition is turned on; recording stops when the ignition is turned off. The cameras all “loop” their recording, as well, so when the memory card fills up, it starts erasing the oldest files. Users can set the camera to record in 1-, 3-, or 5-minute clips, and most cameras have a save button that, when pressed, protects the current segment against deletion. We looked for dash cams that also have an accelerometer to trigger protecting footage when a change-of-velocity threshold indicates an accident or other sudden stop.

Dash cams require power, and many have internal batteries. We find models that have Micro-USB or Mini-USB jacks and an internal battery the best because they can be put in place and removed with the least amount of fuss. It’s a plus when models include an appropriate cable and a dual-port USB adapter for a 12-volt car jack, and the best units we tested did. A USB cable lets you use a USB port if your car comes with one; a dual-port adapter lets you plug in other devices along with the dash cam, like a navigation unit, a smartphone (or tablet), or radar detector—without giving up the 12-volt car port entirely.

The dash cams we prefer all include long cables—at least 48 inches—so you’re able to snake the cable from the camera, into the car’s structure, and behind the dashboard to avoid having the cable hanging conspicuously from the windshield. (If your car has a secondary battery or doesn’t cut power to its 12V outlet when the ignition is turned off, you’ll need to hardwire a dash cam directly into the car’s fuse box, or unplug your dash cam from the outlet every time you leave the car.)

We considered cameras that use capacitor-based power, which only work while a car’s power system is on, because battery-powered units perform poorly in extreme weather conditions, which are more typically in already hot areas when a camera is left baking in a car—objects can reach 180°–200°F! Lithium-ion batteries can overheat and need to cool, and suffer in very cold climates when they’re too chilled to function right away. In both cases, the battery can degrade over time. However, a battery-backed unit can also be taken outside of the car for brief periods, such as to document accident damage.

What you don’t need

There’s a flip side to features we think every dash cam should have and our minimum acceptable specification: Those that we felt didn’t meet our readers’ stated needs and our evaluation—at any price or quality.

  • Stamping all your video with geographic coordinates and speed using the data from a built-in GPS receiver may seem appealing, but it doesn’t help any with accidents—and could wind up being used against you if you were speeding even slightly.
  • Some dash cams include Wi-Fi to transfer footage to your smartphone, but we don’t see an advantage for most users over removing the memory card and popping it into a mobile adapter or a computer reader.
  • Cameras with infrared night vision never worked as promised. Either the infrared lights meant to illuminate the area were too weak, or the lights reflected off the windshield. Your car’s own headlights do a much better job using visible light. (If you wind up with a unit that includes this feature, you can turn it off, and we recommend that you do.)
  • Some cameras include motion-detection software that tracks frames of video to determine whether there’s movement, ostensibly to document break-ins or vehicle damage while you’re away. But you have to keep power to the dash cam all the time for that to work. There’s little evidence that the cameras can provide useful intel in those scenarios anyway—mostly because it captures only the view directly in front of the car.

How we tested

After narrowing our list to 10 cameras, we tested each one for everything from packaging and build quality to button and menu configuration to overall design, display organization, ease of use, and—most critically—video quality. Initial testing took place indoors with the cameras plugged into a 12V power supply. This enabled more focused attention on initial setup and menu navigation.

After that, we hit the road with the cameras, using them individually or in pairs so as to eliminate distraction and windshield obstruction. We drove short distances with the full complement of cameras on the right hand side of the windshield—though even that array was still not terribly obtrusive. This was necessary to get footage in identical situations to make apples-to-apples comparisons.

We tested each camera in daylight and at night, in direct sunlight and in shade, and in rain, fog, and overcast skies.

We tested each camera in daylight and at night, in direct sunlight and in shade, and in rain, fog, and overcast skies. During the course of several road trips over the holidays and occasional commutes into New York City and Philadelphia, we racked up scores of hours of use with the cameras. All of them got a fair shake, but the front-runners quickly emerged, and they eventually became our focus.

After the road testing was complete, we pulled the footage off the memory cards for analysis on a PC. We assembled clips and screenshots that portrayed each camera’s capabilities and weaknesses across the spectrum of usage conditions. Then we compared the results and narrowed down our selection to the top pick, factoring in value, usability, and overall quality.

Our pick

Zero Edge Z-Edge Z3
The affordable Z3 hits all the marks with great video quality in the wide 2560x1080-pixel format across a range of difficult outdoor light.

Though the Zero Edge Z3 was a late entry in our testing, it impressed us with its high-quality video and build, which is on a par with dash cams that cost almost twice as much. It also includes a 32GB microSD card, making it an even better deal. Combine that with the best mount of any camera we looked at, video footage that is easy to see fine detail with, rock solid build quality, and easy setup, user interface, and installation, and you have a camera that easily beats the competition.

(The full and proper name of the camera is the “Zero Edge Technologies Z-Edge 3″ 2560*1080P Full HD Car Black Box Car DVR,” but it’s advertised on Amazon simply as the Z3.)


Front of the Zero Edge Z3. Photo: Eric Adams

Once in place and powered up, you can forget the camera exists until you need it. But you won’t want to. The image quality is so good that you’ll want to squeak out screen grabs of sunsets, dramatic roadside vistas, and other views that you come across on road trips, but for which it might be impractical to try to shoot on the fly with your smartphone.

Credit for this goes to the camera’s excellent sensor, which generates appropriately contrasty footage, but—another case of the Z3 hitting the sweet spot—keeps dark areas from being too dark. They remain balanced enough to present a clean, consistent, and high-fidelity image of the scene ahead of you. Some might interpret the footage as slightly washed-out, but this camera is designed for functionality, not attractiveness. The lighter contrast helps in changing light and low light, and at night.

Scenes were crisp in the daytime: You could still read highway signs even with direct sunlight behind them. At night, streetlights have minimal halos around them.

When we looked at the video on a computer, our pick was crystal clear. Scenes were crisp in the daytime: You could still read highway signs even with direct sunlight behind them. At night, streetlights have minimal halos around them, and the video shows similarly low levels of grain, avoiding a common night-time shooting problem. The camera uses a strategic balance of clarity and contrast to provide the most useful image possible.

We showed the footage to Sebastian Rex, the lead reviewer at Dashboard Camera Reviews. Though Rex differed from us on which product was functionally better, we agreed on the overall quality: “Personally, I find the Vantrue to be a bit sharper, and the Z3 a bit more washed out, with a bit more glare from streetlights and such in night images. Except for the night parking lot picture, where the Z3 seems to be a bit sharper. It’s hard to say though just from looking at a couple of still images, [but] the quality is really quite good for both cameras!”


Rear of the Zero Edge Z3. Photo: Eric Adams

The Z3 has the best suction mount of any model we tested, with a screw-in attachment to the camera body, as opposed to some plastic-slot base options, and a compact, well-built articulating arm extending to the lockable suction mount. Everything feels strong and solid. It also uses our preferred cable configuration: Micro-USB to USB Type-A, and includes a dual-USB 12V adapter setup.

Using the camera is a breeze. The default settings are the best and the most appropriate of the options: maximum resolution of 2560×1080, 5-minute segment lengths, motion detection off, and an acceleration sensor with sensitivity set at medium. The Z3 organizes its buttons on the side, with icons revealing their use; this is better than other cameras that have inconsistent button placement and cryptic functions. For instance, the time and date are easily set via clearly marked buttons. This seemingly straightforward task was a grind on other cameras, highlighted by repeated accidental mis-presses of the wrong buttons—followed by cursing.

The Marietta, Georgia, company provides an excellent consumer experience, far better than most dash cam makers. Everything from the copy on the box to the instructions is clear and concise, and all the functions are precisely explained in the instructions. Inside, the camera is well-protected and in a vinyl wrap and surrounded by foam. This was better than even some of the other top models we tested. The Vantrue, our runner-up, is similarly well-presented, but the G1W-CB, our chosen step-down model, includes vaguely labeled packaging and incomplete instructions with stilted translations.

Unlike most dash cams, the Z3 comes with a high-capacity microSD card—32 GB. You could get away with as little as 8 GB, but the combination of Zero Edge including this card and the package costing much less than competitors of similar quality means you get the benefit of storing much more footage without having to make any trade-offs or spend a dime. You’ll find yourself taking more photos and capturing more events for later review, too, as you won’t be worrying about looping your video storage even over a long trip. The microSD slot has a cover, which prevents the slot from gathering grit or spitting out the card if it’s tapped somehow—it’s the only camera that didn’t have an exposed microSD slot.

The camera also has the largest screen of any model we tested, with a full 3 inches diagonal, while most cameras ranged between 1.5 and 2.5 inches. This isn’t critical for daily use—and you could argue that smaller screens mean less intrusion in your field of vision—but the larger screen allows you to ensure the camera points to the right place, and you can clearly see its interface, with well-organized icons on the LCD indicating the settings and modes. (While many users will want the screen off during daily operation, with just a blinking LED indicating that the camera is recording, I prefer to keep the screen on. It’s just satisfying to be able to glance over and see the view ahead being recorded in such crisp clarity.)

Flaws but not dealbreakers

We found the Z3 to be such a well-made product, one that met all of our criteria so well, that we considered it even though the company itself is fairly new, and even though we disqualified Zero Edge’s original product, the Z1, early in our testing because the video quality was so low. Zero Edge is a young enough company that even its website can be hard to find, but the Z3, which arrived late in our test process, showed considerable improvement over its predecessor. We contacted the firm, based in Georgia, to make sure it had a legitimate point of contact, and beyond our own examination of the product, we showed footage from the Z3 to experts to get their input. If you’re concerned about dealing with a relatively unknown firm with a new-to-market product in regards to warranty services or technical support, our runner-up is more expensive but comes from a company with a much longer track record and a much higher online profile. However, that extra peace of mind comes at a premium of $60 or more. Between the build quality, the packing and documentation, and the well-implemented technology features, we feel comfortable recommending the Z3.

While the Z3 is a great dash cam, it’s not perfect. Button arrangement and labeling could be better. The gold standard for user interfaces among the cameras we tested is the Cobra CDR-835, which shows text labels of button functions on the LCD screen, varying by what mode you’re in. Because users will fiddle with the Z3 only rarely, it would benefit from more help in identifying button use.

Also, the Z3 is only average in terms of size and intrusiveness—its big, 3-inch screen and rectangular design make that unavoidable. But the compact suction mount helps, and it doesn’t bother us much. Finally, reflective elements on the front of the camera, notably a silver ring around the lens, might betray its presence to passers-by and other vehicles, making it a potential target for theft.



Front of the Vantrue OnDash R2. Photo: Eric Adams

Also Great

*At the time of publishing, the price was $150.

Vantrue OnDash R2 2K Ultra HD 2.7-Inch LCD Dashboard Camera
It’s ever so slightly better than our top pick, but its much higher price keeps it as a backup if you can’t find the Z3.

If the Z3 sells out or becomes otherwise unavailable, consider the comparably excellent, though substantially more expensive, Vantrue OnDash R2. Its packaging, instructions, and general usability are on a par with the Z3, and its image quality is also top notch. While just as crisp as the Z3, the R2’s images have slightly more contrast. This makes them more attractive, but not quite as useful as they could be in different scenarios, as some areas tend to be too dark, and the night vision is also a hair darker.


Rear of the Vantrue OnDash R2. Photo: Eric Adams

It also has a slightly wider 170° field of view, which exceeds our preference just a bit. But we’re hair-splitting here: Both the R2 and our top pick, the Z3, are sensational cameras. The deciding factors for us came down to cost (the Z3 is about $50 less), and the R2 doesn’t come with a microSD card, further increasing the practical cost differential. If you like its slightly better photographic output or you need a dash cam right away and the Z3 is unavailable, we recommend the R2.

For hot climates or a tighter budget


Front of the Spy Tec G1W-CB. Photo: Eric Adams

Also Great
Spy Tec G1W-CB 1080P HD Car Dash Camera
Bypassing temperature problems with batteries, this model draws directly from a car’s power, while having great image quality, albeit at a lower resolution.

While the user interface isn’t as great as our other two picks, and it has a much narrower resolution, the Spy Tec G1W-CB, is our pick for extreme weather. It’s capacitor-powered system means it’ll turn on instantly in boiling hot conditions (as well as freezing cold), where traditional batteries will take time to boot and can lose capacity. It’s also cheaper than our top pick—about $40 less. The camera tops out at 1080p resolution, but its image quality is excellent. It has a 2.7-inch screen, high-quality construction, and a matte-black front to minimize reflections and maximize discretion.


Rear of the Spy Tec G1W-CB. Photo: Eric Adams

The competition

We liked the Spy Tec Mini 0806 a lot, due to its solid video quality and a very discreet mounting profile. However, because that discretion is combined with a tricky set of wedges to get its adhesive mount—which we recommend against—to proper aiming angles, we were put off. It’s more expensive than our top pick due to unnecessary extra features (GPS and dual microSD slots), and its tiny screen with mostly illegible text doesn’t help, either.

The Spy Tec A118-C is another capacitor-powered camera, and also one with an alternative configuration meant to encourage discreet mounting. In this case, though, the camera is designed to sit forward of the rearview mirror, and basically out of view. The problem is that the instructions don’t explain very well how to do that, or even how its two separate pieces are meant to fit together. It’s a solid 1080p camera that sells for about $80, and its unique shape may be precisely what some users are looking for. But its small screen also has tiny text, and in most mounting positions can’t be looked at directly—you have to crane your neck a bit to see the image and access the menus.

Cobra is a well-regarded maker of radar detectors, CB radios, and other mobile technologies, and its Cobra CDR-835 has what we’re convinced is the best button arrangement and user interface of all the cameras, with on-screen labels and explanations of hardware buttons depending on where you are in the menu. It was excellent in most lighting conditions—including at night—but its higher price, at $140, just couldn’t win us over. A newer model, the CDR-855BT, is now available, and a reviewer for Digital Trends likes its 160-degree viewing angle and great user interface. Unfortunately, this model costs more than our top pick and has a lower-resolution camera, so we can’t name it as a pick.

The Polaroid PD-G55H is generally good, with excellent color rendition and detail, but it records too-dark video. This makes identifying scenes a challenge in low light. It’s also large and clunky, with a gloss-blue front that’s mildly reflective. It includes GPS, which we don’t think is useful, as well as a sensor-based lane-departure warning system, which we found shrill and exceptionally imprecise. The PD-E53H—once the least expensive of any camera we tested—has acceptable video at 1080p, but the images are fuzzy overall. When you can spend the same for tack-sharp quality, there’s no argument for this model. (You might be comforted by the Polaroid brand name, but the current company has no connection other than the name with its storied past.)

There are two other cameras that we also rated as competent performers, but without much distinction. The Rexing F9 is apparently a repackaged variant of the G1W line of cameras, and we indeed found its image quality to be equally good as that camera. The Transcend DrivePro 200 has Wi-Fi and is generally very good for night vision, but it washes out daytime footage unacceptably.

Finally, we took a look at Garmin’s most recent entry, the Dash Cam 35. Garmin’s products are among the priciest on the market, but they’re packed with features, and makers lean on the company’s reputation for quality and durability. We ruled it out because it baffles us with omissions: Information on screen is scant and instructions are so terse as to be nearly non-existent. It also has an adhesive mount that, while it permits full articulation of the camera courtesy of a ball/socket connection, it is also the hardest to remove. If you’re not careful you can break either your windshield or your arm—or so it seemed when we tried to remove it. The Garmin does have excellent build quality and perfectly good 1080p image quality, and it features collision alerts, lane-departure warnings, and alerts for red light and speed cameras courtesy of its updateable onboard database and GPS receiver. If you want that stuff, go for it—but those pricey add-ons are not essential enough to win our recommendation, and we think 1080p is no longer the resolution standard to which dash cams should aim.

What to look forward to

While 2560×1080 is the new minimum resolution we think is acceptable for most people, we also think cameras will creep up in specs with better optics and higher resolutions, and prices of current models will drop. We’d like to see more attention paid to reliability, because a permanently mounted dash cam experiences harsh conditions, especially continuous, extremely high temperatures.

We also hope that one day manufacturers will introduce a form of image stabilization to further sharpen the image, and enable even long-range license-plate legibility.

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Originally published: February 23, 2016

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