Image: Cobra

In a world of hidden speed cameras, insurance scams, and daily dents and dings, putting some protection on your dashboard is a prudent move. But plugging in a radar detector and then also adding a video camera with its sundry of dangling wires and suction attachments creates a mess—and more blind spots than is, well, prudent. So Cobra decided to combine the two devices into one with the $450 Cobra Road Scout Elite.

The “it’s a dessert topping and a floor wax” approach makes sense: the two functions are more congruous than not. The radar detector portion helps drivers with alerts about what’s around them—and the dashcam portion makes recordings of said surroundings should things go awry. Cobra calls the package “driver awareness,” a sort of role reversal of technology which is increasingly being deployed to monitor drivers these days rather than the other way around.

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To assess the effectiveness of the Cobra Road Scout, I tested it over 400 miles of highways, city streets, and rural roads. (The footage recorded is available below.) Night and day, rain and shine, I compared it against typical radar and laser reports I tend to receive on similar routes, including red light and speed camera warnings.

Starting out, the Cobra Road Scout can be installed in seconds. Simply stick the Road Scout on your windscreen using the included suction mount, plug it into the 12-volt adapter in your car, and be done with it. The Road Scout’s power adapter even includes a USB port so you don’t have to choose between powering your phone or the detector. Its default standard radar and laser sensitivity setting will eliminate most false alerts. It also includes a 16 GB microSD card, so it automatically starts recording video in 1080p in 3-minute segments in a continuous loop. If someone tap your quarter panel, the dashcam should register the impact thanks to a built-in G-shock sensor and lock the recording for posterity—and any potential litigation.

The Road Scout also delivers easily understandable alerts. A male voice will intone, “Over speed.” when you exceed a set limit (for example, 10 mph over the posted limit) or “K band” should it detect a speed trap. The spoken warnings were sufficiently loud to overpower my caraoke efforts, and if you need more volume, the Road Scout’s right-hand button for marking innocuous radar locations doubles as a volume knob.

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Relevant information is also clearly displayed on a center LCD, including current speed, GPS status, and radar and laser alerts. You can personalize what’s displayed and adjust the brightness to tone it down at night.

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The only snag I discovered was in aiming the 154-degree field-of-view dashcam. In general, you want a radar detector to be as inconspicuous as possible while maintaining an unobstructed view of the road (when they spot it, law enforcement officials tend not to appreciate the technology). On the other hand, the dashcam portion gets a better view the higher up and thus more prominently you set up the device. I had trouble wrestling with this compromise, so most of my video shots included a healthy dose of my dashboard and car hood.

Otherwise, the video portion of the Road Scout worked well enough. Recordings day and night were clear and compared favorably to more than a score of dedicated dashcams I’ve tested. The 1080p images recorded events on the road faithfully without any glitches or buffering problems. The only limitation is that the Road Scout will not register parking-lot dings; it only records while the car is running.

The footage above contains several different pieces of footage edited together. 0:00 to 6:00 is night time footage. 6:01 to 9:00 is day time footage on a multilane paved road. 9:01 to 12:00 is a mix of paved and unpaved rural roads. 12:01 to 15:00 is unpaved roads with the optional timestamp visible.

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As for radar and laser trap detection, the Road Scout proved to be reliable and unperturbed by potential interference. Over hundreds of miles it registered all my known radar spots. Furthermore, in its standard sensitivity mode, the Road Scout didn’t beep me on typical false alert spots, including several car dealerships with extensive security systems (those tend to trigger false positives). Laser alerts were accompanied by an appropriately alarming rapid digital chirp; Ka band warnings (the typical choice for speed traps) were quick and seemed to offer enough warning at highway speeds to prevent any unwanted entanglements. And the male voice correctly reminded me on more than one occasion that I was “Over speed.”

The front of the device.
Image: Cobra

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In the city, interference was kept to a minimum, but with the standard sensitivity setting, it seemed to miss some known traps. I found it worked better in such situations with the sensitivity set to high, after which it screamed plenty in town. It did not, however, get distracted by advanced driver assistance systems like blind-spot warning or collision avoidance systems. Most of those electronic signatures have been programmed out using what Cobra calls an in-vehicle technology (IVT) filter.

Of course, you can do a lot more with the Road Scout using its associated apps and connectivity. It has built-in Wi-Fi for updates and video downloads, for example, as well as Bluetooth for pairing up with your smartphone. Cobra offers two apps for the Road Scout: a Drive HD video app for downloading and viewing clips and an iRadar app for advanced warnings about speed traps and red light and speed cameras. Both are available for Android and iOS users.

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Image: Cobra

The red light camera warnings proved to be accurate, at least in calling out local camera positions. And while Cobra maintains an up-to-date database of such locations using verified data, you have to pay for the privilege. You’ll receive over-the-air updates (via the Wi-Fi connection) complimentary for the first 90 days, after which a one-year subscription costs $24.95 and a 3-year subscription is $49.95. Those fees seem steep considering the premium price you’re paying upfront for the Road Scout, although the subscription prices are in line with what competitors like Garmin charge for the same information. (If you want to avoid the subscription fee, you can rely instead on your phone and the iRadar app, which is updated regularly and is free.)

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No radar/laser detector can guarantee that you’ll avoid every speed trap. (If you’re going too fast, no detector will save you from smokey, and if a laser tag hits your plate, it’s too late.) But the Cobra Road Scout is one of the easiest models to use, with clear alerts, simple-to-adjust settings (such as shutting off the microphone for recordings), and the convenience of having a sophisticated detector with a built-in camera in one package. Yes, if you’re on a budget, you can buy comparable components separately for less. But then you’d have a messy dash.

README

  • Convenient all-in-one radar detector and dashcam, so there’s just one device and one cable.
  • Radar detector is reliable and laser alerts appropriately urgent.
  • Red light and speed camera database require a subscription.
  • It will automatically store video recordings in case of an accident.

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