True story: I applied for my first credit card when I was 17 so I could buy a radar detector via mail order. My dad was against the purchase and would not let me use his card, so I intercepted a credit card application that came in the mail for him – we have the same name – and filled it out with my information. A few weeks later I had my card and my detector.
I’ve been fascinated with radar detectors and I’ve driven with a few over the years: Uniden, an Escort, the original Passport (sporting an industrial design that is still one of the sexiest the technology has ever seen), and the venerable Valentine V1. There is a perverse “knowledge is power” kind of thrill in spotting cops well before they spot you, even if you are driving well within the speed limit or just sitting at a stoplight.
When I ran into Ron Gividen, Escort’s PR manager, at CES this past January, we talked about our mutual passion for detectors and discussed the current state of detector technology. Gividen agreed to set me up with the company’s then flagship, the Passport 9500ix, and take it for a test drive.
The 9500ix is easily the quietest detector I’ve ever driven with.
The 9500ix is offered with red or blue LEDs. I think the blue definitely looks cooler, but the red may better preserve night vision. There used to be a price premium for the blue but now they retail for the same price, so pick whichever you prefer. The unit arrives in a nice presentation/travel package and includes a thorough user’s manual and smaller quick reference card, windshield mount, four suction cups, and a coiled SmartCord.
The Man has some new tricks, so does Escort
Having been without a detector for a few years, I was excited to see how the cat-and-mouse game of police versus detector had evolved to keep up with and introduce new technologies. Radar bands like super-wide KA, instant-on technologies like POP and LIDAR (laser) are the new tools of the ticket giving trade. Beyond just detecting the latest threats, the 9500ix includes GPS technology, adding an amazing new twist to the category. Additionally, with Escort Live!, the 9500ix taps into crowdsourcing, obtaining a pool of detection capabilities and warnings of ticket threats in real time from other drivers.
For a detector pushing $500, I found the windshield mount acceptable but nothing outstanding. It is a thin piece of metal that slides into the detector, holding it at a variety of positions to work with a variety of windshield angles. The detector does slip out of the mount very easily for times when you want to conceal it when parking. I transferred the detector between my wife’s Toyota RAV4 and my Toyota Corolla and the mount worked satisfactorily in both.
Gividen also included Escort’s SmartCord Live ($99, includes 12-month subscription), which is ordered in either iPhone or Android versions. This is a super cool device which literally changes the landscape of the product, and I’ll discuss in more detail in a bit.
Setup is crucial
In the past, setting up a radar detector was essentially limited to setting volume and brightness and then selecting between Highway and City modes. The 9500ix immediately shows how far the technology has come, offering tons of configuration options such as turning voice announcements on/off, GPS on/off, blocking out specific radar bands, selecting from different display and meter modes, adjusting brightness settings and more.
Part of the GPS feature set is calculating your speed, and I set mine up to display speed when in normal operation. As an added bonus, I’ve found it’s far easier to just move my eyes a bit to the right to check speed as opposed to looking down and focusing on the speedo. It’s also helpful in the event of an alert to see exactly how in trouble you might be.
When a threat is detected, the unit emits a distinct tone for X, K, KA, POP and Laser. Depending on the setting, a female voice can also announce the band and then display either a standard bar graph, an Expert meter that displays/tracks multiple radar threats simultaneously, or displays the exact frequency of the radar signal being received. Ideally, I wish there was a hybrid setting that showed the standard graph when only one signal was detected, but automatically flipped to the Expert meter if multiple threats were encountered.
The multiple LEDs provide a clear, bright, easy-to-read display in all lighting conditions, and I never found myself straining to see what it said. At night, it automatically dims to keep from being too bright or attracting to much attention to itself from other drivers.
The SmartCord is cool because it has a blinking red light when a threat is detected, allowing you to run the unit in stealthy “dark mode” at night while still staying apprised of alerts. The smart cord also features a mute button handy for silencing lengthy encounters.
Finicky in a good way
If you’ve ever driven with a detector then you’re familiar with how annoying false alarms can be. Driving through town can be a constant series of beeps and braps as the detector reports every door opener and stray radar signal it sniffs out. The 9500ix is easily the quietest detector I’ve ever driven with.
Also awesome is that the 9500ix couples radar detection with GPS, using the precise location of alerts to automatically learn false alarms in your area – and then ignore them. After passing the same signal three times, the unit beeps and briefly displays “Stored” and from then on, it ignores alerts at that location. Because it is analyzing the frequency of the radar signal, it will still alert if a cop happens to be radar-ing in that same spot. You can also manually mark a spot to be ignored.
After a couple of days commuting to work, my 9500ix stopped making any sounds at all and now only goes off when an actual threat is detected. This is game changing for a detector, and is the Nirvana of radar detection: maximum detection with minimum falsing.
If every driver on the road were equipped with a SCL and Escort Live, you would likely never get another ticket again.
The 9500ix has an auto-sensitivity feature that uses the vehicle’s speed to adjust detection range; automatically increasing to max sensitivity when you’re driving faster and cutting the range back when you are creeping around town, further eliminating annoying falses. Also included is Escort’s Traffic Sensor Rejection (TSR) software to ignore traffic flow sensors used in some states. There are thousands or TSRs in place in Ohio alone, which would be a false alarm nightmare for drivers
Of course, driving with a radar detector is no guarantee that you will never get a speeding ticket; police can use means other than radar to gauge your speed, and a smart and patient cop can still nail you if you are the first car he hits with a radar signal in some time. (The dark, lonely road at night is the most dangerous time, where a diligent and patient cop can reel you in like a wrangler with a big catch.) The goal is that your detector will have enough range to pick up the signals of them tracking other vehicles before you approach the trap, and as far as range goes, the 9500ix is outstanding.
For a while, one of those “Your Speed Is…” signs with a K-band detector was set up on my way in to work so I could check range and reception both heading to and away from a stationary transmitter. Even with the gun located off on a frontage road, and with curves and bends in my path, the 9500ix alerted more than 1.2 miles out, giving plenty of time to slow down before I would have been targeted.
The majority of police in my area use the shorter/newer KA-band, and a KA warning is almost always the real deal. Even with its shorter range, the 9500ix still alerts far before the threat of being detected, typically more than a half-mile out. We also have several country highways where speeds fluctuate from 60 to 35-45 as you drive through towns, and the 9500ix has proved invaluable, giving plenty of warning of speed traps up ahead.
Frikkin’ laser beams
While the 9500ix has “multiple high-performance laser sensors” to “provide maximum laser warning,” laser is very rarely (if ever) used where I live, and the unit has only emitted the Laser warning three times; two of which I’m positive were false alarms. (Apparently sunlight at certain angles and instrumentation near airports can trip up the Laser detection.) Laser has a much finer beam and can be very difficult to detect before you’ve actually been targeted, so when laser is detected, a trilling “SLOW THE HELL DOWN!” tone emits, and you best jab on the brakes first and figure things out later. Usually with laser you barely get one chance, so respond quickly.
Another benefit of the GPS receiver is that the 9500ix comes pre-loaded with thousands of red light and speed camera locations across the country. When you near one of these points, the device warns you with a directional arrow and distance countdown to the trouble. This is handy when driving in a new city, making sure you don’t accidentally run a yellow and then get burned on it.
The 9500ix is also the first radar/laser detector that can be updated by connecting to a PC or Mac via USB, letting you back up your data and update the detector’s firmware if needed. You can also subscribe to Escort’s DEFENDER Database, ensuring that your detector is kept up to date with all the latest locations. (A 90 day subscription is included with purchase.)
As amazing as the 9500ix is, coupling it with the SmartCord Live (SCL) and Escort Live smartphone app takes detection to the next level. The SCL looks much like the regular Smart Cord, but adds a USB connection which is great for charging my seemingly-always-on-the-verge-of-dying iPhone 5. It connects to your smartphone via Bluetooth and when tethered, warnings generated by other drivers are delivered, providing accurate real-time alerts.
When tethered, warnings generated by other drivers are delivered, providing accurate real-time alerts.
The app also serves as a full second screen for the 9500ix, giving speed, radar band and strength detail. It is also great for making any settings changes to the detector, as any changes are immediately pushed from the phone to the unit.
As Escort says, “With ESCORT Live!, you and your fellow drivers will instantly communicate radar/laser encounters automatically, providing the most up-to-date and accurate protection on the road. Imagine millions of other drivers helping you Drive Smarter!” It’s not an exaggeration to say that if every driver on the road were equipped with a SCL and Escort Live, you would likely never get another ticket again.
Escort vs. Valentine
It’s impossible to talk about high-end detectors without making comparisons to the venerable Valentine V1. The V1 differentiates itself from the 9500ix in two significant ways; 1) it has a separate, rear-facing radar receiver that improves reception of radar from the rear and 2) its famous directional arrows. Once you’ve driven with a V1, you quickly grow to love those directional arrows, and I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I wished the 9500ix incorporated that technology.
With detection ranges greater than a mile, there are many times I’m left wondering where the threat is coming from. However, I feel that the 9500ix’s GPS technology and greatly reduced false alarms along with the SCL features ultimately make it a superior performer and a friendlier daily driving companion.
Worth the price for the money you’ll save
Since driving with the 9500ix for the past several months, I can think of three specific instances where I was driving 15-over the limit and had time to ratchet back before cruising into the trooper’s view. Just one of these “saves” instantly pays for the 9500ix in saved insurance premiums and fines. If you haven’t owned a detector before or haven’t upgraded yours for a while, you’ll be amazed at the technology packed inside the Passport 9500ix. Once you drive with one, you will feel naked and exposed without it.