The dash camera market is being flooded with outside competitors offering more features for less money. To counter this, big name manufacturers are releasing a line of new products to try and stay ahead of the curve.
For the team at Cobra, they looked to build upon their great line of cameras, like the CDR 900 we reviewed last year. But can they reduce the price, improve the design, and stay ahead of the competition? We gave the Cobra 855 BT Dash Cam a whirl to find out.
Initial camera setup
The packaging includes the 855 BT camera unit, windshield mount, USB to Micro USB cable, 8GB MicroSD card, and 12-volt power cable. Because this is a budget device, the camera body is composed of light plastics that can feel rather unsubstantial. This isn’t to say that the camera will fall apart in your hands, but don’t expect a solid metal build like the stuff from some manufacturers like Vantrue. The design of the camera is thankfully more rounded than the “simple and square” style of last year’s CDR 900. For this updated design, Cobra has also improved the interface to incorporate four buttons under the display screen. This allows for easy access to common controls like the display on/off, mute/unmute, pause/record, and capture photo actions. Additionally, you find a button above the screen to capture and save an “Emergency Recording” so it cannot be overwritten.
On the right side of the unit is an HDMI output and Micro USB port. The left side has a slot for the MicroSD card and an “unused” accessory port (used to connect GPS on CDR 875G model). The camera will turn on and begin to record once plugged into a power source in your vehicle. A small battery can power the unit for around 30 minutes, but keeping it plugged in is recommended. The default setting records in the highest 1920 x 1080 pixel resolution at 30fps. At this quality, you will fill the standard 8GB memory card in around two and a half hours. The lower 1080 x 720 pixel resolution setting at both 60fps or 30fps will fill the memory card at around two and four hours, respectively.
Cobra iRadar application
For most consumers, new to the dash camera market a device like the Cobra 855 BT is a fantastic place to start.
Those who quickly glance at the product description of the 855 BT might assume GPS is built within the unit. Unfortunately, the system requires you use Bluetooth to pair a smartphone running the iRadar application in order to keep track of the video location. The application offers a nice interface and quickly connected our iPhone 6 to the Cobra 855 BT camera. Other benefits of the iRadar application include alerts for red-light cameras and speed traps as reported by the community using the app. The drawback of this GPS system is that you will need to remember to connect your phone each time you set off, and it’s a manual process each time. For those who regularly prefer something like the Waze application for road alerts, this may be inconvenient to have another background app running.
Video quality and features
With a 160-degree viewing angle, the Cobra camera really captures every detail of the road ahead of you. Out of the cameras we have tested, the Vantrue R1 Pro is the only one that outmatches the video quality and viewing angle for the price. At $150, the Cobra has great value for the quality of video and a fair amount of detail can be seen in the 1080p quality setting. In low light, the camera also does a good job adapting to street lights and you can make out the details for surrounding cars and signs. In fact, the quality at night is on par with the more expensive cameras like the BlackVue DR650GW.
Like most cameras, the Cobra 855 BT has a built in G-Sensor that will store recordings in the case of an accident. The system will also auto-detect when the vehicle is stationary — for five or 10 minutes dependent on the settings — and automatically activate Parking Mode. We found that in slow traffic, the G-Sensor would assume you were stopped even if crawling at around 15 mph and the camera would prompt, asking if you would like to switch to Parking Mode. Changes in the G-Sensor sensitivity helped with this, but it would also trigger an accident recording when going over some larger potholes on a couple occasions. The automatic Parking Mode can be completely disabled for those who don’t want to use the camera while stationary.
The DT Accessory Pack
If you’re new to the dash camera market, a device like the Cobra 855 BT is a fantastic place to start. If you are open to using the iRadar application for road alerts and GPS location on your videos, then you will have very few problems with this camera. But for some people, the lack of built-in GPS may turn them off completely. For that buyer, the extra $30 for a Cobra 875 G that includes a GPS unit that attaches to the camera — and doesn’t require the iRadar app — may be a better decision. Whatever you decide, Cobra remains one of the better options for compact and affordable cameras in the market.