Dash cams may not be quite the curiosities they once were, but they still aren’t all that common among drivers, which can make buying one a bit more confusing than, say, a new smartphone or tablet. The good news is that dash cams have gotten better and considerably cheaper in recent years, and there are more options these days from trusted companies like Garmin and Anker.
The most basic options are still fairly simple, and will continuously record video and automatically save it in the event of a crash. But many are now also considerably smarter devices and can include built-in GPS, as well as various driver-assist features that can warn you if you’re veering into the wrong lane or getting too close to the vehicle in front of you. And others are even smarter still, offering hands-free control through voice assistants like Alexa, and integration with your smartphone.
While dash cams are becoming more commonplace, there can be some legal issues with using them that vary from state to state (and country to country). Many of those regulations concern the placement and use of the dash cam rather than the device itself, but you’ll want to check any possible restrictions in your area before putting one in your car. Dash cam manufacturer Nextbase has this handy comprehensive guide to regulations in the US.
How We Selected
To pick these dash cams we relied on Popular Mechanics’s own previous testing of the devices, and expanded on it to include other dash cams we haven’t tested by consulting a range of trusted sources, including The Wirecutter, CNET, and PC World. We also took customer reviews from various online retailers into account.
Garmin Dash Cam 55
A quick internet search for the best dash cam will often turn up the Garmin Dash Cam 55 as an option. Why? It’s not the cheapest option on this list; however, at $155, it packs an abundance of features.
The Garmin has a 1440p HD resolution, logging decent nighttime video. It features voice controls while packing a G-sensor, which can automatically save the video if a crash is detected. The downside is the short 30-minute battery life and clunky user interface.
Thinkware F800 Pro
This Thinkware is the dash cam for those wanting something a bit extra—and who aren’t afraid to shell out the cash for it. Costing $340, the F800 Pro is one of the pricier options on this list, but it comes with features other dash cams lack.
From its mount at the top of your windshield, the cam is meant to be hardwired to a vehicle’s battery, meaning it’ll begin recording as soon as the car is started. But it’ll record while the vehicle is parked, too. Enhanced night vision affords better low-light video quality, and other features include speed camera alerts and Wi-Fi connectivity so you can stream video to your smartphone. There’s an optional rear-facing camera, too.
As you’d expect with any dash cam under $50, the Apeman C450 comes with its share of trade-offs—don’t plan on built-in GPS or any driver-assist features, for starters. But CNET found the dash cam to be more than capable for the price if you only need the basics.
The dash cam has a decent-sized three-inch LCD, and will record 1080p video onto a microSD card up to 32GB in size (which isn’t included). The company also touts “super night vision” feature but that’s a bit deceptive; it’s simply a large aperture F1.8 camera that offers improved low-light performance.
Best Smart Cam
Garmin Speak Plus
To no one’s surprise, voice assistants like Amazon’s Alexa have found their way to dash cams, along with everything else, where they can offer the same hands-free access to all that you’re used to on your phone or smart speaker. PCWorld found Alexa to be a welcome addition to Garmin’s Speak Plus dash cam, but they also liked how it’s a solid all-around dash cam even without the added capability.
It eschews the bulkiness of many cams in favor of a sleeker design, which also extends to the Speak Plus’ simplified interface that makes it easy to glance at quickly for important information. That includes turn-by-turn directions and driver alerts, which you’ll also get audible warnings for.
Best Front and Rear Cam Combo
Papago GoSafe S810
A front-only dash cam will likely be enough for most folks’ needs, but adding a rear dash cam to the mix can be worthwhile if you want to make sure you don’t miss any potential incidents. The Wirecutter found Papago’s GoSafe S810 to be the best dual-camera option they’ve tested. Like most such models, the small rear camera doesn’t match the quality of the front-facing one, but it will get the job done and not stick out or obstruct your view too much when it’s mounted on your rear windshield.
The dash cam itself also has all of the driver-assist features you’d expect, although you’ll need to shell out for a separate GPS module if you’re looking to add location data to your videos.
Best Interior Cam
Anker Roav Duo
Capturing video of the road ahead of them may be the priority for most folks in the market for a dash cam, but there are also instances when it can be helpful to have a video of the interior of your vehicle as well. Anker’s Roav Duo will capture both at 1080p, and do so at a relatively affordable price.
While Ars Technica wasn’t a fan of the adhesive-only mount and lack of a mobile app, they were impressed otherwise, namely by the built-in GPS and bright nighttime video capabilities. A parking mode will also let you automatically record any disturbance or break-in to your car even when it’s not running, but the kit required to hardwire the dashcam to your vehicle for that feature is sold separately.
The BlackVue DR900S-1CH is the dash cam for those who like staying connected. It captures video in 4K at 30 frames per second via a wide 162-degree lens. GPS logging and parking mode are included.
However, what sells the BlackVue DR900S-1CH is a Cloud-based subscription packet that allows for remote viewing of live and recorded video. The service also offers push notifications in the event of a crash. Paying monthly for the Cloud service could get pricey on top of the camera’s $300 price tag, but it might be beneficial for those who own a fleet of vehicles.
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