Update

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 cons aren’t as common here, recording your excursions is a reasonable precaution to take—especially if you’re driving professionally.

January 29, 2018: We added our review of the Transcend DrivePro 520, the first model we've tested with a second camera trained on the backseat for keeping an eye on passengers (currently $170 on Amazon). Read our full review. Also check out the Vava Dash Cam (currently $120 on Amazon), our new top pick for single-channel dash cams. It's an impressive first-timer that checks off a lot of boxes. Read our full review

Best overall dash cam: Thinkware Dash Cam F800 

Thinkware’s Dash Cam F800 (currently $300 or less on Amazon) is a high-end, dual-channel dash cam that offers easily the best night video we’ve seen. It revealed details that we missed with our own eyes while actually sitting in the car. For all the details, read our full review of the Thinkware Dash Cam F800.

Best budget dual-channel dash cam: Cobra CDR 895 D Drive HD

The CDR 895 D Drive HD is by far the cheapest dual-camera system we’re aware of (currently $150 on Amazon), even when you add $50 for the option GPS mount. Its controls and interface are top-notch, and 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 single-channel dash cam: Vava Dash Cam

Vava’s Dash Cam is a very impressive product from a first-time vendor. It’s even competitively priced (currently $120 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.

Best budget dash cam: Viofo A119

The Viofo A119 is the unqualified bargain of the roundup. Currently a little over $80 on Amazon, it sports a boatload of features: 1440p/60 fps/160-degree video, time lapse recording for parking surveillance, as well as lane-departure and forward-collision warnings. Video quality was impressive for the price. For all the details, read our full review of the Viofo A119.

Our 2017 dash cam reviews 

The dash cams just keep coming, as companies big and small are getting into the category. Other 2017 reviews include:

Dash cams that may be discounted

Bargain hunters, some of the models we reviewed in 2015 are still available, often for discount prices: 

What to look for in a dash cam

  • Power: All use 12-volt, switched power via the cigarette lighter (also known as the auxiliary power outlet). All come with backup batteries or capacitors, but some have longer run time that others, which can be handy if you want to use it as an impromptu video recorder away from the car. 
  • 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 (that’s the battery thing...)
  • 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 170 degrees, but the wider it is, the more fisheye distortion there is, and more processing is involved to compensate.
  • Day and night video recording (night quality is a big variant)
  • MicroSD card storage. All worthy dashcams bundle a storage card, but some come with larger cards and some come without.
  • GPS: This feature could be the tipping point if you use your captured video to resolve a dispute. GPS watermarks your video with geographical coordinates, and you’ll also want to set the time via GPS (a few models don’t do this).
  • Dual-channel support: This is what you’ll need if you want to support front and rear cameras, but it’ll involve more cabling (and cost more overall). Only a few models we’ve tested have it: The $280 Thinkware X500 and $300 Thinkware F770  F770, but the rear camera for those units costs an additional $80. The Cobra CDR 895 D Drive HD gets you into dual-channel video for a measly $200—rear camera included. That’s news.  

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 mounted 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 take very good daytime video. Night video can be plagued by murky shadows and headlight flare, so take a close look at the night shots in each review. 

I tried 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 tried them...and I turned them off. In practice, they simply told me I was changing lanes, in heavy traffic, or had 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 are HDR support (High Dynamic Range, for greater detail and contrast) and better night video processing. Another welcome trend is the ability to record two video streams (dual-channel) from front and rear cameras.

I definitely had my favorites, but all the products will capture any metal-on-metal incidents you’re unlucky enough to experience. Although in the case of the Yada (one of our lowest-rated products), only during the day.

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. We’re also waiting for some sort of off-device storage, or continuous web upload, so that the evidence of who stole your car doesn’t disappear with said vehicle. Keep checking our roundup for new reviews and developments. 

At a Glance
MSRP $272.23
View

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
$259.99 MSRP $294.51
View

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.
$99.99 MSRP $149.99
View

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
$399.99 MSRP $399.99
View

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
$224.99 MSRP $199.99
View

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
$171.99 MSRP $199.95
View

The CDR895 was the only product we tested that comes with two cameras (front/rear) in the box. Even with the $50 optional GPS mount it's a steal, with great daytime and nighttime video quality.

Pros

  • Two-camera, front/rear system
  • Excellent daytime and nighttime video
  • Small and very light

Cons

  • GPS is a pricey $50 extra-cost item
MSRP $280.00
View

The X500's advanced features--especially the ability to record front and rear--set it apart from the crowd. But the interface is counterintuitive, and a removable mounting system should be provided.

Pros

  • Integrated GPS
  • Records both front and rear (with optional camera)
  • Speed trap warnings

Cons

  • Doesn't take photos
  • Doesn't run off USB power
  • Permanent mount on rearview camera means you have to leave it in the car
  • Front camera mount swivels in only one direction
$259.99 MSRP $400.00
View

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
$168.99 MSRP $169.99
View

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
$169.95 MSRP $269.95
View

This is the best dash cam for catching events in the periphery. The interface is subpar, but the features are top-notch.

MSRP $170.00
View

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
$139.99 MSRP $169.99
View

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
$81.96 MSRP $89.00
View

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
$99.99 MSRP $100.00
View

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
$218.90 MSRP $299.99
View

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