This season we’re looking at a variety of dash cameras as part of our series. There are dual-camera kits, as well as cameras with Wi-Fi connectivity, and cameras that come in all shapes and sizes. This time we’re looking at the Cobra Drive HD dashcameras.
Cobra Drive HD Cameras
There are two versions of the Cobra Drive HD cameras: a single camera unit with only a front-facing camera – the Cobra CDR 855BT, and a dual camera unit that supplies a front and a rear camera – the Cobra CDR 895D. (Need to know whether you should get a front-only camera or go for the front and rear? Read our blog on how to choose a dash camera, here.)
Both cameras are 1080p HD, meaning you’ll get a crisp, clear video picture day or night. Both cameras have a 2-inch viewing screen on the back of the forward-facing camera and a 160 degree wide angle lens, which is among the widest angle you can get.
The Drive HD cameras use continuous loop recording and let you choose the size of your files; you can record in 3, 5, or 10 minute increments and when the memory card fills up, the camera automatically overwrites the oldest files to make room for new ones.
Set Up – Cobra Drive HD
The single-camera unit was ultra simple to connect and install. Just attach the front-facing camera to the windshield using the included suction cup mount, then plug in the USB power cord. You can use the supplied cigarette lighter power connection, or use your own multi-USB plug so you can keep your smartphone charged at the same time.
Having a suction cup mount on the front camera is very handy, since it allows me to move the camera around the window to get the best viewing angle.
Cobra Dual Camera set up is bulky, messy
The rear camera is installed using a plastic bracket and double sided tape, but it can be turned and angled for optimized viewing.
There’s a long cable for the rear camera, and a splitter cord that allows you to plug in both cameras. While it was easy to run the rear camera cable along the windshield, between the seats and mostly out of sight to the front, there was a mess of cables to deal with when adding the splitter.
The key problem is the splitter cable with its two cords and two bulky adapters is what plugs directly into the main front camera on short 6″ cords. As a result, you need to find a way to tuck two cords (the front and the rear) and those fat adapters out of sight along your windshield and then under the dash. It’s virtually impossible. This poor planning and cable management is enough to put me off buying this camera, since there is no way to neatly string all the cables.
After a lot of fussing with this set up I gave up and let it hang from the camera down to the floor.
What Cobra should have done was attached let you use a regular, longer power cord to attach to the front camera, so it could be run on its own around the windshield, THEN connect to the splitter under the dashboard.
Once installed, you can make some adjustments to some of the settings. You can choose your loop recording length, for example. While initially I thought a 10 minute loop would be more beneficial, that actually means older files get overwritten faster, because they’re larger and take up more space on the included micro SD card. A 3 minute loop lets you keep more events on the card before the oldest ones get overwritten. That’s handy for when someone crunches your car in a parking lot but it takes you a day or two to notice because it’s on the passenger side.
The Drive HD cameras have emergency recording options. You can hit record yourself on the camera if you see something you want to save and that file won’t be overwritten. An automatic version of this feature automatically protects recordings made during an impact.
The camera’s sensitivity is pretty good. Hitting a pothole or speed bump too hard will result in a protected file, and while that’s a good failsafe, it does fill the card up quicker.
Bluetooth connectivity, kinda but not really
While I was initially excited to see the Drive HD cameras have Bluetooth connectivity, I was disappointed to see that its reach is somewhat limited. The cameras don’t use Bluetooth to allow you to watch video files or download them to your smartphone. This feature is to allow you to connect to Cobra’s iRadar app which uses driver-submitted info to alert you to things like police presence, photo radar, or other hazards. The app can also embed GPS, Speed, Heading, and G-Sensor Information into video footage recorded, for you to look at later on a computer.
Suffice to say, while you can download the iRadar app, you can’t really use it for anything. I did find it thoroughly disappointing this camera doesn’t have the ability to connect to my smartphone for video screening and download like some other cameras do. If you want to check out one of those, read the Thinkware review above.
Viewing front and rear on Cobra CDR 895D
With both a front and rear camera installed, the main front camera will display a split screen image showing you both front and rear views. While the images are quite tiny on the screen, it’s enough for you to know that things are aimed properly. The front and rear camera feeds are recorded as a separate video files onto the SD card. Take note that these dual files eat up a lot of your storage, and you’ll likely only have the last few minutes of your drive on the card.
Video Quality Cobra Dash Cameras
The video quality of the front-facing Cobra Drive HD series cameras is great. As I’ve written before with all the great HD video options on the market today, there’s just no reason to settle for a lesser quality camera. with the 160 degree wide angle lens and the sharper resolution the footage looks sharp. It’s easy to see a license plate of a vehicle directly in front of you but not unlike other dashcams we’re testing in this series, once the cars move off a few car lengths it becomes impossible to read them.
Dash cameras like the Drive HD by Cobra are best for capturing larger details like vehicle make, model, colour and other distinguishing features. Getting a license plate may be a challenge depending on positioning.
Night time video
Video quality at night is just fine. While you’re not getting true night vision you can see well enough to capture pertinent details. I did find the rear camera’s video picture extraordinarily dark at night, so much so it would seem to be basically useless. You can really only see a car’s headlights, or darkness as you drive. Daytime video quality on the rear cam is great though.
Overall review of Cobra Drive HD
The Cobra Drive HD cameras are a good choice for those entering the dashcam scene since they’re relatively inexpensive, and they’re easy to use. There’s not a lot of settings to fuss with and on shorter loop durations, the card takes forever to fill up so you don’t need to worry about it. The camera did record impacts quite well, even though my impacts were speed bumps and potholes. Even so I have no doubt my files would be preserved in an actual crash situation.
I like the fact the front cameras are very small and can be tucked out of the way of my field of vision when I’m driving. I absolutely hate the cable configuration when adding the dual camera option. There’s just no way to make it tidy, and for that reason, the only Cobra cam I’d chose here is the front-facing option.
While I did wish for Wi-Fi connectivity, I think for as often as you’ll need or want to screen tape (not often) the low price (about $140CAD) offsets the lack of Wi-Fi.