BLACKVUE DR900S-2CH dash cameras install

Background:

This is a step-by-step documentation of the BLACKVUE DR900S-2CH install on a 2019 BMW X3.  It will be followed by a review of the image quality and a comparison to other dash cams.  While this has some steps that are specific to the install in the BMW X3, in general, the process will be very similar for any vehicle application of the BLACKVUE™ DR900S-2CH system.  It also includes the install of the BLACKVUE™ Power Magic Pro, to allow for 24/7 coverage.

The BLACKVUE™ system was supplied to me by Pittasoft (distributers of the BLACKVUE™) for independent long-term evaluation.  Please note: This write-up is for information and explanation purposes; if you are going to install the BLACKVUE™ DR900S-2CH you are strongly encouraged to carefully review their installation guidelines and respective manuals.  All information and opinions expressed are my own and not that of Pittasoft.  I anticipate there are other ways to accomplish this install. If my steps aid you when you do your own, all the better.

The BLACKVUE DR900S-2CH is a high-end dash cam system that includes (all specs as provided by manufacturer):

  • Front 8-megapixel CMOS sensor camera and rear facing 2.1-megapixel Sony STARVIS CMOS sensor camera
  • Front viewing angle: diagonal 162º, horizontal 136º and vertical 77º
  • Rear viewing angle: diagonal 139º, horizontal 114º and vertical 59º
  • Resolution: max of 4k UHD (3840×2160) @30mfps front, Full HD (1920×1080) @ 30 fps rear
  • Video Codex H.265 (HEVC), H.264 (AVC)
  • MP4
  • Built in Wi-Fi and GPS
  • Built in microphone and speaker
  • 3-Axis acceleration sensor
  • Built in super capacitor
  • Operating temperatures -20ºC +70ºC / -4ºF to 158ºF

Additionally, there are free apps for the phone and computer.

If you want to record while driving (engine running), then after the install all you need to do is plug in the provided cord to your accessory outlet.  If you are also interested in recording any incidents while your vehicle is parked, you will need to add either the BLACKVUE™  Power Magic Battery Pack or the Power Magic Pro.  I decided to go with the hardwire Power Magic Pro, allowing the option of recording both while driving and while parked.

Most vehicles shut off the cabin accessory outlets either when the engine is turned off or within a preset time frame of 5 to 10 minutes after the engine is shut off.  Because of this, if you have your dash cam powered by plugging into the accessory outlet, it will stop recording shortly after the vehicle is shut down.  Conversely, if your vehicle has an accessory outlet that stays on even with the engine off (more common on older vehicles), if you have your dash cam plugged into the accessory outlet, it will continue to record even with the engine turned off.  The problem with doing it that way, while certainly simple, is that if you leave your vehicle parked for extended periods of time, the dash cam can eventually drain your battery and you won’t be able to start.

The BLACKVUE™  Power Magic Battery Pack or the Power Magic Pro gets around that problem by either relying on its on external battery (Power Magic Battery Pack)  or using its micro-processor (Power Magic Pro) to shut off the camera at a predetermined voltage level of your vehicle battery or a predetermined amount of time.

Install:

What you need-

As can be seen from the accompanying images, the BLACKVUE™ DR900S-2CH and Power Magic Pro come with just about everything you need to do the install.

Basically, the only addition items you will need include a role of electrical tape, a microfiber towel and isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol (to clean the windshield before affixing the cameras with the supplied 3M tape), and if you are doing the hardwire install: the fuse layout of your vehicle, a fuse puller (or long needle nose plyers), and a pair of fuse taps adaptors (aka add-a-circuit) and appropriate fuses.

Installing the Power Magic Pro [Note: you skip this section if you are going to plug the BLACKVUE™ DR900S-2CH directly into your vehicle’s 12-volt accessory outlet]

First step is to locate your nearest fuse block to the dash.  [Some vehicles have multiple fuse blocks.  If you don’t know where yours is located, first check your Owner Manual and/or search on the web for its location.]  Depending on your vehicle, the fuses are either labeled on the fuse block cover, or in your Manual.  In the case of the (US version) BMW X3, there are two fuse blocks inside the vehicle- one on the right (passenger side) interior rear behind a compartment door and behind sound insulation.  As it turns out, BMW doesn’t include a fuse diagram in the Manual, but rather has one printed on a sheet of paper that is folded up and placed in clips in this rear fuse block. It also contains the fuse puller.  The other fuse block is located in the front passenger seat foot well.  To get to it you first need to turn two plastic ‘locks’ in the cover located up under the glove box.  The cover actually contains the footwell light.  Here is what the lock on the left of the cover looks like:

Here is what the cover looks like once you release and remove it.

In this picture you see 3 red arrows- you will need to uncouple the power to the cover light, and pop out the 2 cord holders so that you can get the cover out of the way as you access the fuse block.

Here is what the BMW X3 fuse block and labels looks like.  Note, the diagram reflects what you are seeing if you were lying on your back, feet toward the engine, and looking up at the fuse block.

You are going to want to use fuse taps adaptors on slot F27, constant power, and slot F46, accessory power (only on when the engine is on).  If you are installing on another vehicle, you similarly need to identify a fuse slot that has constant power and one that is powered only when the engine is running.  If you haven’t used the add-a-circuit tap before, it is really easy to do.  It is much better, in my opinion, than wrapping the wire you want to power around the existing fuse.  You simply pull the fuse from the existing slot (using a fuse puller or needle nose plyers), insert the fuse you pull into the fuse tap ‘front’ slot (the one that does not have the new wire coming from it), and add a new fuse for your dash cam to the other slot (the one that does have a wire next to it.  By using this add-a-circuit fuse tap, you maintain the exact same circuit integrity for the original slot and application, and your new circuit is protected by the new fuse you put in.  Then you simply push the add-a-circuit fuse tap back firmly into the same slot you pulled the fuse from.

Most add-a-circuit fuse taps include a crimp or crush connector to wire your dash cam line to.  I prefer to cut that off and solder the two lines together, finishing with heat shrink tube around the solder joint.  This results in a permanent connect between the two lines; sometimes crimped connections do not fully capture the second wire, and ultimately fail due to vibration.

Here is what the add-a-circuit fuse taps look like added to the X3 fuse block.

In this case, I used slot F46 for the accessory tap (power only when the engine is running) and the empty slot F27 for the constant power tap.  If you look closely at the picture, you will see that the one I have labelled ACC has two fuses in the tap- the original fuse from F46 and the new fuse for the dash cam.  The tap in F27 only has one fuse inserted for the dash cam, since the slot F27 was empty.  At this point you also will attach the ground line from the dash cam Power Magic Pro wiring harness, to a grounded nut.  There is one just above the fuse block that I used.  Back off the nut and slip the metal connector from the Power Magic Pro black line under the nut while retightening it.

At this point I suggest verifying that your connections work as intended.  I use a volt meter and first checked the tap at F27 to confirm power with the engine off.  Then I checked the F46 connection to ensure no power with the engine off, and power when the engine is on.  It also makes sense to check that your ground connect in fact is grounded.

Next you set you desired low voltage cut and time setting on the Power Magic Pro by moving the respective switch ‘fingers’ on the unit.  Initially I set the low voltage cut to 12.5 volts and the time setting to Infinity.  As it turns out, the 12.5 volt was too high for the BMW, which apparently has a normal non-running voltage of slightly less than 12.5 volts.  So, I changed it to 12 volts and it works perfectly.

Installing the front and rear dash cams

I started with the rear dash cam, since in the BMW X3, it required the removal of some trim pieces and a bit more finesse in routing the wiring, than does the front dash cam.  To begin with, you need to remove the center trim piece that runs across the back inside of the rear trunk door.

This trim piece comes off using a plastic trim ‘pry’ tool (one is supplied with the BLACKVUE™ system), but I have several around.  Carefully insert the plastic pry tool between the trim and body, and then use your fingers to gently pull the trim from the body as the plastic attachments release.

You will also need to remove the trim piece on the right side to give you easier access to the back side of the hinge, where you will be feeding the wire through.

Decide where you are going to mount the rear camera.  Close to the center top of the window will work perfectly.  Clean the window with the isopropyl alcohol and microfiber towel to ensure good adhesion of the 3M pad already attached to the rear camera mount.  Note the camera direction before you mount it- when you are facing the camera and your vehicle from the back looking towards the front, the mount goes on your left-hand side and lens on the right-hand side, with the cord plugging in from the left side.  You can see this here:

Start to route the cable horizontally across the rear window, following the existing power cable, as shown by the two red arrows in the above picture.

I recommend using several small pieces of electrical tape to secure the dash cam cable to the existing cable.  Next you will be sliding the cable down the back side of the hinge (where there are already cables running).  To be on the safe side, I recommend using electrical tape and making a protective wrap for about a foot along the dash cam cable, where it will be going down the backside of the hinge.  If possible, secure the dash cam cable to the plastic sleeve in the inside channel of the hinge. Next, fish the cable out between the liner and the hinge and begin to use the plastic pry tool to ease the cable to the right front of the vehicle.  You’ll find that you can use the pry tool to spread the opening between any hard-plastic liners and ease the cable into that opening, and along the roof line where there is rubber weather stripping into which you can easily slip the cable.  Use this technique to bring the cable up to the right edge of the front windshield.

Next, install the front camera.  Again, you want to get reasonably close to the center top of the windshield.  Since the BMW X3 already has the actual center taken up with its monitors and cameras, I choose a location slightly to the right.  Remember, you need to leave room for the camera to slide out of its mounting bracket, and that can only be done to the left of the bracket (facing the windshield from the interior).  Again, be sure to clean the windshield with the isopropyl alcohol and microfiber towel to ensure good adhesion of the 3M pad already attached to the front camera mount.

Once you have attached the mount for the front camera, you will need to run the cable from the rear camera to it from where you stopped at the right side of the windshield, and the power cable that attaches to the front camera.  It is very easy to push these two cables up under the header at the top of the windshield.  Remember to leave enough line of the cables exposed near the front camera, so that you can comfortably attach them to the camera when you are ready.

Next bring the power cable down from the windshield down along the weather stripping between the door frame and body, down towards the fuse block.  Also, if you have excess cable from the rear camera, you can easily bring that down at the same time as the power cable.

Continue to bring the power cable down to the fuse block area.  [If you are not going to use the Power Magic Battery Pack or the Power Magic Pro, continue to tuck the power cord up behind the area above the carpeting in the passenger foot well and bring it to your center compartment accessory outlet.]  Now attach the wiring harness that you connected via the add-a-circuit fuse taps and grounded to a grounding nut, to the Power Magic Pro.  Connect the accessory plug to the Power Magic Pro receptacle.  I suggest you use some electric tape to wrap and secure the plugged accessory connection.

Next, tidy up your excess cable and place it in the area behind or above the footwell carpeting.  Also, place your Power Magic Pro where you would like it.  As you can see, I placed it in the same general area, since I don’t anticipate I will be needing to turn the unit off.

At this point, your Power Magic Pro should show power on (LED lit) and your front and back dash cams should be powered up.  Be sure to remember to remove the plastic lens cover from both the front and rear camera lens.  If everything is working, now go and replace the trim pieces on the back window.  Reconnect the power cable to the passenger footwell cover and then slide that back on, engaging the catches on the frame with the back right and left of the cover.  Relock the plastic locks.

Now you are ready to download the BLACKVUE™ app for your phone and app for your PC or iPad.  Though these you can adjust the respective setting, ensure your software is up to date, etc.

Here is what the rear camera looks like from outside the vehicle

And what the front camera looks like looking into the windshield

Finally, here is a view from the driver seat showing the rear-view camera visible in the rearview mirror (red circle), and the front camera to the right of the mirror.

Note: Once I got the Power Magic Pro functioning properly, I ran into an unexpected issue.  The CPU battery management software on the BMW is designed to detect unknown power draws once the vehicle is parked.  As a result, while it (the BMW) allowed the Power Magic Pro to fully power the dash cams in ‘parking mode,’ it twice documented electrical problems and to preserve the battery, began to shut down non-essential functions in its control (like remote key FOB control) after about 24 hours of the BlackVue power draw.  This means that even though the Power Magic Pro enables the BlackVue DR900S- 2 ch system to operate in parking mode correctly, it is incompatible with the BMW because of the continuous power draw for parked periods of several days or more.  This unfortunately defeats the purpose/value of using the Power Magic Pro for anything other than shorter parked periods.

I hope this write-up makes your install go smoothly.  I will add a link in the near future to my review of the image quality of the BLACKVUE™ along with comparison to other dash cams.

Product Review- Getting jacked

MYCHANIC 3T Low Profile Floor Jack

This unit was provided to me by Delk, distributer for the MYCHANIC brand, for review.

Quick Facts:

-lift 3” to 20”

-capacity 3 tons (6000 pounds)

-all steel construction weighing 78 pounds

-rolls on polyurethane wheels

The MYCHANIC 3T Low Profile Floor Jack, (model 53034) arrives in a compact, but heavy (82 pounds) single box.  Little assembly is needed.  When you open it, you’ll see the Owner’s Manual & Safety Instructions, the handle as two components, and the 3T Jack itself. 

The assembly instructions start by telling you to insert the lower part of the handle into the jack socket.  However, before you can do this there is a step not mentioned in the instructions.  You need to remove the transport aluminum spring catch (shown in the following picture with the red arrow pointing to it) which holds the socket assembly down.

Doing it is easy, just step on the socket to relieve the pressure on the spring catch and slip it off.  Then gently ease up on your foot to allow the socket to raise up on its own.

Once you do that, you can insert the lower handle into the socket, finger tighten the retainer bolt and then use a wrench to tighten the bolt home. 

Add in the second (top) section of the handle and you are just about ready to use the 3T Jack.  The instructions tell you to pump the handle 10-15 times to force out any air that might be in the system.  Then you are ready to use the jack.

One of the first things you’ll notice about this jack is how nice it looks!  It is finished in black with bright green highlights (like the rest of their product line).  The second thing you’ll like is the considerable heft of the well-constructed unit at nearly 80 pounds.  However, because of the polyurethane wheels, it rolls effortlessly and quietly across all types of flooring, without scuff marks or damage.

Well thought through design elements include protective padding on the lift arm and the saddle plate.

It raises your vehicle very effortlessly, smoothly and quickly.  The low profile (3 inches!) comes in very handy when working on sports cars and other vehicles with low clearance. It smoothly goes from the low of 3

inches, to a high lift of nearly 20 inches!

As can be seen in this image, it easily goes under the somewhat low clearance of the Corvette Stingray (even with the Stingray having jacking pucks installed on its frame at the recommended jack points).

With several pumps of the handle, the MYCHANIC 3T Jack easily lifts the entire side (both front and back wheels and tires) off the floor.  [Of course, for safety, the opposite side wheels are securely chocked.]

Considering its lifting capacity and heft, the MYCHANIC 3T has a relatively small footprint of 26 ½ inches long, by 13 ½ inches wide (at its widest point of the rear wheels). It lists for $199 and comes with a two-year hassle-free warranty.  Country of origin is China.  If you order from the MYCHANIC web site, they offer a $3.99 flat rate ground shipping to the 48 Contiguous United States.

Please let me know if you have any questions! Thanks for visiting.

Product Review- Detailing and wrenching aids.

This review is of the three new products from MYCHANIC. Covered are their Detailing Rig, their Sidekick Stool-KK2 and their POD Light, all were provided to me by Delk, distributer for the MYCHANIC brand.

Looking first at the Detailing Rig (Model #52810).  It comes with all the necessary components in a box:

I used a soft mallet, blade and Philips screwdrivers, 17mm wrench and socket, to assemble following the easy to follow graphic (only) instructions.  It took under 30 minutes to assemble. 

The only thing I would recommend MYCHANIC add to their graphic instructions is in the third assembly step: to make sure the holes are lined up in the bottom tray with the frame holes, before tightening the four “A” 17 mm bolts that secure the two halves of the bottom tray.  I found the holes were fine on one side, but slightly off on the opposite side.  If they are off slightly, you will not be able to fit the studs on the wheel assembles through both the frame and the attached tray.

The assembled Detailing Rig is extremely well constructed and thought through.  It lists a 350 pound/ 158 kg capacity, and country of origin being China.  It comes with a one-year limited warranty. It lists at $109.99.

The Detailing Rig comes equipped with a number of useful options including the nicely sized soft wheels, lots of storage under the seat, spray bottle hanging racks, a wash bucket with removable grit trap tray, and of course a bottle holder.  I particularly like that the seat can be lifted off of its studs and put on the floor to use as a kneeling pad.  Very useful for working on the wheels, etc.

I found sitting on the unit a perfect height for detailing cars, as you roll effortlessly around the car.

Moving to the Sidekick Stool- SK2 (Model #52875).  It comes with all the necessary components in one box:

You need a Phillips head screen driver, 17mm wrench and socket to assemble following narrative text instructions with one graphic.  It is straight forward and easy to assemble, taking about 20 minutes.

The assembled Sidekick Stool- SK2 is a heavy-duty well-designed unit.  However, I would suggest two modifications in future iterations of the Sidekick: it has an adjustable height seat, but requires you to fully remove and reattach the four 17mm bolts, washers and locking nuts to accomplish this.  It would be much more convenient if you could adjust the seat by an easier process.  The other modification, would be to enable you to remove the seat (cushion) in a fashion similar to what MYCHANIC has done with the Detailing Rig.  I found there were times when working with the Sidekick, I needed to kneel for the task as hand.

The Sidekick has surprisingly convenient storage areas including drawers

And a drill holder/holster along with side ‘cubbies’

It includes a removable tray (that stores under the seat area), which includes a built-in slot in the handle to hold your iPad or tablet so you can play how to video for the project you are working on.

The assembled Sidekick is rugged, well-constructed and a very practical means of bringing your tools to the project.  It rolls on four soft large caster wheels.  It lists a 350 pound/ 158 kg capacity, and country of origin being China.  It comes with a two-year limited warranty. It lists at $109.99.

Let me now shed some light (sorry, couldn’t help myself) on the MYCHANIC POD Light (Model #52811).

This is a compact, very well made and relatively bright ultra-portable light.  It is rated at 250 lumens, and comes with the 3 AA batteries.  The batteries can power it, on the high output setting, for approximately 7 hours continuous use. The POD Light is imported, lists for $24.99 and comes with a one year warranty.

The POD Light includes a magnetic base that allows the light to be rotated 360 degrees, and the base itself adheres to anything metallic. The unit has a high and low output setting.  In addition to using it with its magnetic base, it can easily be hand held or rested near the area you are wanting to illuminate (if there is no metal for the base).

I found the unit just right for shooting light down in the engine wheel or for example, checking how much life is left on a brake pad.  The only thing that surprised me about using the POD Light, is that modern cars have very little steel often in the engine hood or around the engine bay, to enable the base to be magnetically stuck.

The only minor suggestion I have that would make it a bit more convenient, would be to eliminate the two small Philip screws that hold the battery case cover in place. It already has a sufficient built-in catch to secure the cover, and in turn, the entire case is inside of the two halves of the unit, when you screw them together after inserting the batteries.

In summary, MYCHANIC has three winning products that make detailing and wrenching even more enjoyable for ‘us gearheads.’


If you have a question, please feel free to ask! 

You’ll get a charge out of this.

This review is of the newestCTEK charger/maintainer.  It is the “CT5Time to Go” CTEK, and was provided to me by CTEK.

For those of you not familiar with CTEK, they are a major OEM branded car battery charger manufacturer, for example Alfa Romero, Arctic Cat, Audi, BMW, Camaro, Corvette, Ferrari, Husqvana, Rolls-Royce, Saab and Yamaha.  They also enjoy a healthy portion of the after-market car battery chargers under the CTEK label.

I have been using CTEKs for about 15 years for maintaining my automotive batteries.  I started with the Multi US 3300, then the MUS 4.3.  I actually never had one stop working properly (even after a couple of them were dropped), but I added as their technology improved, or I simply needed an additional charger for another of my cars.

CTEK chargers (non-OEM) typically come packaged with two ways to connect the charger to your car battery: ‘alligator’ clips to temporarily connect directly to the battery terminals, and what they call the Comfort Connect which has bolt connector eyelets that you can permanently connect to the respective terminal stud nut.  If you do it this way, the Comfort Connect has a secure connector with a sealing flap, that connects easily to the output cable from the CTEK unit when you need it.  A third option, especially for cars with dedicated charging accessory outlets like the Corvette Stingray has, is a Comfort Connect Cig-Plug.  I actually use all three methods for different vehicles- permanent eyelet to the battery terminals on one of my vehicles that doesn’t have easy access to the battery and no live accessory plug, the alligator clips on another car where it doesn’t have a convenient live accessory plug, but does have it’s battery easily accessed in the engine compartment, and the Cig-Plug solution for my Stingray with the dedicated charging port in the trunk.

Regardless of which method you use to connect to your car (all three methods are interchangeable via the Comfort Connect end on the output cable), the unit works the same way.

So, this brings us to the latest CTEK CT5 Time To Go. 

The unit it self looks fairly similar to the MUS 4.3, as can be seen in this picture with the Time To Go on top.

All CTEK units for the most part perform similar tasks: charging regular wet lead batteries and AGM (gel batteries), intelligently maintaining the proper float charge regardless of how long the unit is attached to the battery, automatic desulphation program, and reconditioning of batteries.  The newest feature of the CTEK CT5 Time To Go, is the LED indication of the time remaining from a depleted battery until you can attempt to start the car “TRY”, or until it is ready to use “GO” and at 100% “CARE.”  It also incorporates temperature compensation to adjust the optimum charge based on the battery temperature.

Here are images reflecting the unit unplugged, LEDs on initial plug in, and at “GO” as well as “CARE.”

Using the CTEK is straight forward, if you are connecting via the supplied alligator clips or eyelets you are set to go out of the box. 

If you are going to attach via a dedicated charging accessory you need to purchase the optional Cig-Plug.

The following shows the CTEK connected in a Corvette Stingray, at the dedicated charging accessory port using the Cig-Plug.  You can also see the Comfort Connect, between the Cig-Plug option and the power cable from the unit.

Pricing: the CTEK CT5 Time To Go lists at $113.99 and the Cig-Plug lists at $11.99.  However, you can usually find deals on Amazon or elsewhere.  It appears to be pricing out at about $30 more than the MUS 4.3 currently, which is very comparable, except it does not directly display any information relating to time remaining in the charge cycle before you can attempt to drive your car.

As noted earlier, I can attest to the CTEK’s build quality having dropped one of my units to the garage floor with zero damage (well, other than I felt pretty dumb for doing it).  The units are weatherproof and approved for outdoor use.  They operate properly from -4 degrees F to +122 degrees F.  The wiring as well as Comfort Connect has never failed on my units over 15 years of use.  They also have built in back-up in the event that power is interrupted. The unit will resume at the step it was at and for the type battery you selected in mode (regular or AGM).  Also, they will warn you if you attempt to attach with incorrect polarity and prevent any circuit damage.

As to which model to buy, it really depends on your intended application. If you are looking for a highly reliable charger/maintainer, one that you can set and forget about, a CTEK unit will serve you well.

If you have a question, please feel free to ask!  Happy charging.

Product Review- Dash Cameras with Navigation: The evolution of Man’s need for direction & documentation.

The Evolution of Man’s Need for Direction and Documentation.

All of us have to some degree experienced the increasing reliance on electronic gadgets to help us get from A to B, especially if we don’t know exactly where B is.  Along the way paper maps, TripTiks, and (often as a last resort) calling or stopping and asking for directions, has given way to dependence on electronic navigation units.  These range from apps on smart-phones, to dedicated free standing navigation units such as Garmin and Magellan, to OEM built-in units in our cars.  Each of these options typically has its own strengths and weaknesses.

More recently, at least in the United States, dash cameras have started to come into their own.  Similar to navigation units, some are now OEM equipment built-in cars, while more commonly, they are free standing units.  There are three primary reasons for their increasing popularity: a desire to share images of a car trip, to have a record of driving on a high-performance track or circuit for learning and review, and documentation in the event of an accident or road rage.

In this review, I look at the latest units from two of the key navigation players, Garmin and Magellan, who have combined units housing both navigation and dashcam capabilities.  This is the first of several ongoing reviews I am doing on these units.  Both manufacturers are providing their respective units to me for review.

In theory, there are some real advantages of combining both navigation and dashcams into one unit, not the least of which is fewer wires and a smaller combined footprint resulting in less blockage of view out the windshield.  While we know they do a very good job providing navigation, the key question is how well do these units do in accomplishing both tasks?  To provide a comparison for the image quality, a pure dash cam unit is included.  I am using dash cams from Papago, a leader in the field of after-market dash cams, and one that has proven itself in prior testing I’ve conducted.

Initial test results:

Here are “raw” (no post-shoot software enhancement) still images generated by each unit at virtually the same time.

From the Garmin

 

From the Magellan

IMG170617-152651F

From the Papago

JWDaum (3 of 2)

You can see that all units adequately capture the scene and the license plate on the vehicle directly in front is certainly legible.  They also document the GPS coordinates, time and mph.  The image in the Garmin is slightly less wide than the Magellan, resulting in objects being slightly closer.  The captured colors, while slightly different for each unit, are close enough to be a non-issue.  On close inspection, the Magellan has a slight edge on sharpness of the image and matches the Papago.

One other thing to note is that the Magellan also captures part of its window attachment, as can be seen in the upper left corner of the image.  While there may be a way to configure the attachment component so this doesn’t happen, it wasn’t intuitively apparent.  Both units were placed on the windshield in a manner that replicated the typical location, especially if you were intending to use the navigation function of the unit while driving.  Here is the set up used:

JWDaum (1 of 4)

Another point to note is that both units picked up reflections from the dash interior.  It would have been possible to reduce or minimize these reflections by moving the attachment point on the windshield, however, again, these were placed where a typical driver would place them, so as to easily view the navigation information and also, to ensure that the unit did not block any critical forward vision.

Here is a second example of still shots generated by the respective units (each has a touch button to ‘snap’ a still shot independent of whether the unit is recording video at the time).

From the Garmin:

GRMN0002

From the Magellan

IMG170617-153150F

From the Papago

2017_0517_143138_006-1

The dash reflection is apparent in all units, but not to the point of reducing the value of the documentation.  When I enlarged each of these, you could not only read the license plate of the white car, but also the plate on the silver/gray truck.  As before, the Magellan is slightly sharper than the similar image on the Garmin, but the best image is from the Papago.

While the day time images would be very good for any incident documentation, that was not the case with the still images captured at night.

Here is the Garmin:

GRMN0014

And the Magellan

IMG170617-202512F

And here is the Papago

JWDaum (2 of 2)

No unit was able to effectively compensate for the high dynamic light range between the ambient light and the reflected headlight, rendering it impossible to read the license plate off of the car immediately in front (possibly some post editing software magic would enable the reading of the license plate).

It should be pointed out however, a different vehicle (different type of head lights and different size vehicle) can have a better outcome under night driving situations with these same units.  For example, here is an image from the same Papago S30 in a sports car (the vehicle used in the current tests was a full-sized sedan)

3 S30

You can see that the license is fully legible from this perspective.

Now let’s look at comparative videos.

This first set shows daytime MP4 output and demonstrate how the dash cam could provide documentation in the event of an incident.  Shortly after the respective videos start, you’ll see on the left side of the screen a car start to drift into my lane.  If the car had hit me, or caused me to stop abruptly, the video would document several factors including my speed, the fact I was driving in my lane at the time of the incident, and the car entering into my lane.  This units all have microphones (that you can turn off), that capture potentially supporting evidence like a horn, or turn signal.

First is from the Garmin:

 

Here is the Magellan:

Here is the Papago:

All three units provide reasonable quality videos sufficient to document an incident, should it be necessary.  There are minor differences in the quality of the three units, and noticeable in the Magellan only, is uncorrected image shake.

This next set shows nighttime comparative videos.  As noted in the still shots, you cannot read most license plates resulting from the high dynamic range contrast of the reflective license plate versus the surrounding images.  However, you can easily make out the type of vehicle, the traffic light colors, etc., so if an incident occurred you would be able to document your vehicle’s position within its lane, speed, and right of way.

First is from the Garmin:

Here is the Magellan:

And here is the Papago:

A few words about the navigation function of the two hybrid dash cams.

Both of these companies have been producing nav based units for years and have it down pretty well by this point.  Each has earned its camp of followers.  The directions, visual guidance including automatic map enlargement at pending turns or divides on highways, ease of finding establishments including entertainment, food, gas stations, as well as emergency information such as police stations and hospitals, have greatly improved with the latest iterations of software.  A real plus of these units (in most cases) is the free lifetime map and software updates.   Additionally, the latest units are offering live traffic updates and automatic rerouting.

 

JWDaum (3 of 4)

Both offer routing with similar options, on-the-go quick course recalculating, and reasonable good audible call outs of directions.  Similarly, each has updatable points-of-interest (entertainment, food, gas, etc.).  However, one big difference is that the Garmin allows either manual input of address location or voice command input, whereas Magellan only has manual input.  This is an important difference, both from a convenience and safety perspective.  It is much easier to use the voice command (which is pretty good in terms of recognition) in my opinion even when not driving, and critical to have when you are driving.

Conclusions and recommendations

If your car has a built-in navigation system and you are satisfied with it, then there probably isn’t much logic in getting a combination nav and dash cam unit.  However, with the increase in red-light runners, distracted drivers, and the like, I highly recommend adding a dash cam to your vehicles.  If that is your inclination, the Papago units are worth considering.  They have some of the best cameras and reliability of ones I have tested.  They have differing levels of bells and whistles, so you will need to explore and find the one that suits your needs.  Please see details at the end of this review for highlights across the Papago units.

If your vehicle has a OEM nav system that you are less than satisfied with (don’t like having to buy expensive map updates, or its a complex process to input an address, etc.) or lacks one completely, then I’d recommend considering the hybrid Garmin line.  While the Magellan was certainly capable, the fact that it currently does not include the ability to accept voice commands takes it out of contention.

One additional plus of an aftermarket unit that combines nav and a dash cam, is that you can easily transfer it from vehicle to vehicle, if you have more than one, and also take it with you when you travel to use in your rental vehicle.

Final thoughts for future improvements on combo-dash cam/nav and dash cam only units:

I would like to see a larger rechargeable built in battery so that the unit could turn on and record a bump or impact while the vehicle was parked (and powered off).  Most vehicles today have their accessory outlets power down shortly after the vehicle is turned off rendering these units ineffective.  Even if you have an accessory outlet that remains live when your vehicle is powered down, you probably don’t want a dash cam potentially draining down your battery.  A rechargeable independent power supply in the unit would get around this. Since such an occurrence would hopefully be rare, the battery would need to have perhaps a 15 or so minutes reserve for practical purposes.

Many units come with ‘driver assistance safety features’ such as the ability to alert you that the car in front has started moving (for example after stopping at a light or stop sign), a reminder to turn on your head lights at dusk, driver fatigue alarm, forward collision warning, lane departure warning, and in the ability to recognize and warn you of an approaching stop sign.  Personally, I found these more of a distractor than a safety feature and turned them all off, except the stop sign recognition.  It will beep and turn on/show a picture of a stop sign on the rear display as you come up to it (even if you have the display turned off as I did).  However, in the units I tested, it failed to recognize at least half of the stop signs I encountered.  I’d rather see improvements in dynamic range, reduction of dash glare, and making quick attachment and removal (leaving the windshield component in place) a priority, and losing the driver assistance features.

Many of these units come with a hardwired 12-volt accessory plug.  Many vehicles today don’t have multiple accessory plugs (at least up by the driver).  Often drivers are already using the sole accessory outlet to power a radar detector or charger for their phone.  It would make more sense to have these units power off of a USB connection, since cars typically have several of those.

Additional detail on each unit tested:

Garmin Drive Assist 51 LMT-S

JWDaum (35 of 7)

Pros:

  • Very easy to set up
  • Voice command works well
  • Easy to read with a quick glance
  • has “live traffic”
  • has WiFi built in for updates
  • can be paired to your Garmin smartwatch
  • Incident Notification: When the unit detects an incident, the device can send an automated text message to a designated contact in 60-seconds. The message is sent from a third-party service, not from your phone, and includes your name and a pre-selected message. If you wish to cancel the notification, you can cancel it within the 60-second window. Incident Notification requires a connection to Smartphone Link, an active mobile data connection, and can be disabled if desired.
  • Travelapse: The Travelapse feature captures video frames at a set interval (one frame for each mile you travel, for example), and creates a fast-motion video of your trip. The device sets the distance interval automatically, based on the length of the route and the space available on the memory card. The unit continues to record regular dash cam video while recording a Travelapse video.
  • The “Where Am I?” feature gives you instant access to important information in case of an emergency. When you touch the vehicle icon on the map screen, the “Where Am I?” feature provides the coordinates (including elevation) of your current position, plus the nearest address and intersections. There are also buttons to help you locate the nearest hospitals, police stations, and gas stations. You can also save the location for future reference.

Cons:

  • When mounted where you would normally mount to have access to routing, the camera catches windshield internal reflections.  Would like to see some form of lens shield to prevent this.
  • Would like a quick release from windshield mount that doesn’t change the unit’s position on the windshield (so you don’t have to re-align camera). Some other Garmin non-dash cam units have a magnetic mount from the unit to the windshield so you can leave the mount and easily pull off the unit without potentially altering the alignment.

Magellan RoadMate 6630T-L

Copyright JwDaum-1

Pros:

  • The unit comes boxed with a Quick Start Guide, 8gb micro card and reader, the components to attach it to your windshield (effective suction cup), and a 12 volt accessory plug and mated USB power cable.
  • You will want to set the unit up at your home, so that you can log onto your WIFI for the normal updates to the maps and software.
  • Once set up, the unit is pretty intuitive and easy to use. However, there is no voice command for inputting addresses, you have to manually use the touch screen

Cons:

  • No voice command interface.
  • When mounted where you would to be able to use map/routing, the camera catches its own mounting bracket (can be seen in the upper left part of videos) .
  • (minor) The unit has a red led power light on the upper left side of the front. This is OK during the day, but an annoyance during the night.
  • Static cover on unit tells you to charge it for 2-4 hours before using, but unit only comes with a 12 volt accessory plug and mated USB cable. The included Quick Start Guide does not mention that you can do this using a power pack like Go Puck©, or your computer USB (however, using the computer will be a relatively slow charge), or by using a AC adapter (not supplied).  The full downloadable User Manual does mention that you can use an AC adapter.  I placed a call to customer support and quickly got through.  The very professional tech said you can us power packs, computers (again, noting that it will be slower) or AC adaptors in addition to the 12 volt accessory plug supplied with the unit.
  • Voice sounds tinny. Though this unit may have had a cracked board, since it also randomly lost power.
  • Doesn’t appear to have any image stabilization software, note shake in images

Papago

JWDaum (36 of 7)

As noted earlier, Papago has a variety of dash cams with somewhat different options.  All are very good dash cams, so the decision as to which one is best depends on your needs.  Tested and pictured above include the 760, 520, 30G and S30.

All units include lifetime update on software, removable microSD memory cards, a set of driver alerts such as stop sign recognition, shock/impact auto save recording, etc.  Also all units operate properly in temperature ranges from 14 degrees up to 149 degrees.  This upper range is impressive, since many competitive dash cams malfunction in the higher temperature ranges (of a windshield fully exposed to the sun).

Here are the highlights of the 4 units tested:

GoSafe 760: This is one of their more advanced multi-purpose units.  It comes with a forward facing wide140 degrees F2.0 camera in the main unit and a separate rear (or side) facing 120 degrees F2.4 camera.  It also has connections for their optional GPS antenna (for adding GPS coordinates overlay to recorded images) and their optional tire pressure monitoring D10E unit.  This unit would probably be best suited for an older car which doesn’t have built-in tire pressure monitoring, and/or individuals who want to document both forward and rear (or side) views simultaneously.

While this offers an impressive array of options, one thing to consider is all of the options and the additional camera require physical connections to the main unit.  So, if you are using the rear camera, GPS and tire monitoring systems, you will have four sets of cords attaching to the main unit.  Unless you plan on trying to tuck some of these in the header or elsewhere, that is going to be pretty messy in your vehicle.

GoSafe 520: This unit has their widest lens at 146 degrees, F2.  It also offers the highest quality at 2K 21:9 ratio videos.  It does not have built-in GPS, nor offer the option of using their GPS or TPMS accessories like the 760 does.  This unit would be ideal if you want to capture your driving trip, track experience, etc. to share with others.  It also, of course, will provide excellent traffic incident pictures.

GoSafe S30: This unit has 135 degrees capture lens with an F1.9 sensitivity.  It also offers the option of using their GPS and tire pressure monitoring systems.  It offers a very small ‘foot print’ on your windshield and is unobtrusive, unless you opt to attach the GPS and/or TPMS.  Then, similar to 760, you are going to have two or three sets of wire connections to this small unit.

GoSafe 30G: This is one of Papago’s latest units and has a wide 140 degrees F1.9 lens.  It has the GPS built in, but does offer the option of attaching the TPMS.  If your vehicle already has a decent navigation system, and TPMS, then this would be the unit to consider.  It is relatively small, would have just the power cord (unless you added the TPMS) and produces high quality videos, time, date and GPS coordinates stamped.

 

InSight© Product Reviews

A bit of background:

P1010884I have always been inquisitive of how things worked, coupled with a high level of mechanical ability.  Over the years, friends have frequently relied on my research and evaluations to help them with product decisions.  Several encouraged me to share my write-ups in the ‘public’ arena.

I am adding a new section to my blog which will include practical product reviews.

No compensation is received for any of my reviews.  When I started this, and published reviews, the items were purchased directly by me. Of late, most products have been provided at no charge by the manufacturer to me for review.

When possible, I try to compare and review comparable products since I think this provides a better benchmark.

If you have questions about one of my reviews, please use the contact form to reach me.  You will also find an area for commenting following each review.  I look forward to hearing from you and hope, where applicable, the information will assist you in making purchasing decisions.

Thanks for stopping by!

The first review Dash Cameras with Navigation: The evolution of Man’s need for direction & documentation http://wp.me/p81CBz-99

Here is a review of a car battery charger/maintainer:  “You’ll get a charge out of this.https://insight.daumphotography.com/2018/11/11/youll-get-a-charge-out-of-this/

Here is a review of products to assist in detailing and wrenching: https://insight.daumphotography.com/2019/03/23/product-review-detailing-and-wrenching-aids/

Here is a review of the step-by-step installation of the BlackVue DR900S-2CH install https://insight.daumphotography.com/?p=989