THE days of us needing a dedicated satnav have all but disappeared, thanks to a combination of smartphones, Google Maps and in-car connection upgrades such as CarPlay and Android Auto.
But there is another small gadget that attaches to your windscreen that is increasingly taking over the spot that your satnav used to occupy. It’s the dashcam.
For most, this is a device they only really see in taxis. It has two main purposes: security and protection against financial damage or insurance claims.
The basic dashcam records footage as you drive and comes to life in a parked situation if the car experiences a jolt, such as being hit by another car.
Accessories to this basic model also record inward into the car in professional situations, such as a late-night taxi driver.
In Ireland, dashcams are still an emerging device. In some other countries, notably in Eastern Europe, they’re commonplace.
Nextbase is one of the biggest players in the market. Its recently launched 522GW model is for people who want more than the basic service.
In this context, the gadget has a raft of accessories available. It also adds a handful of features, some of which are very useful, others that may be more for vanity.
First, the essentials. The plastic device has a good three-inch screen and a very decent f1.3 lens that does a surprisingly good job recording at night and generally in low light. The resolution of the video it picks up is easily good enough for detailed inspection afterwards on a large screen, measuring at either 3k (30 frames per second) or ‘full’ high definition (1080p at 60 frames per second) depending on what you want.
It’s powered primarily through the conventional cable that connects to what used to be called your car’s cigarette lighter. It comes with two ways to attach it to your screen, either a 3M adhesive patch or a suction mount (both provided).
The footage recorded will include elements such as the speed you’re travelling, as well as basics like time and date. That footage is very smooth, even on rough roads. It’s to be celebrated that we’re living in an era where small sensors and lenses can be stabilised so well for video, as anyone with a recently made smartphone will attest.
So far, so familiar: there are a half-dozen other dashcams on the market that will do the above job.
But the 522GW has a bit more under its hood. It has its own accompanying app (Nextbase Connect) for your smartphone and connects both by wifi and Bluetooth. This is useful for a number of reasons. It means that you can access and review recordings on your phone, without fiddling around to pry the dashcam’s microSD card out (I’d recommend a 64GB card there, by the way). The only hangup here is that the wifi connection can be cumbersome: I had one or two connection issues that took me a couple of attempts to overcome.
There’s also a potentially important feature added in the form of its SOS function. Essentially, this is a connection to your phone and will automatically call an emergency service in the event of a collision where you are non-responsive. Like ‘fall detection’ systems on some smartwatches, it’s not perfect. But it could genuinely save someone’s life.
Even still, what Nextbase seems to be most proud of with the 522GW is its incorporation of Amazon Alexa.
To be honest, this is an odd addition. As far as I experienced, it didn’t really add much to the actual core purpose of the dashcam itself. Instead, it was like having an aid to my in-car information system. What I mean is that Alexa appears not to be able to control the dashcam directly yet. Instead, it’s really more of an enhanced microphone aid for results on your phone. So its microphones (which will probably pick your voice up better than a phone on the seat beside you) are a shortcut for you to ask Alexa about the weather, the news, your diary, or whatever else your would normally ask of it. Nextbase says you will be able to control the 522GW using voice and Alexa, but it didn’t seem to be up and running when I was testing it.
There are some useful accessories available, including a rear-view camera (for the road behind) and a cabin-vice camera. These connect fairly easily to the main device. At its core, the 522GW is arguably the best dashcam on the market right now.