With a growing list of smart products to safeguard our homes, it’s high time someone gave us a better way to watch our vehicles. The new Owl Car Cam is looking to do just that. It combines a typical vehicle dash camera with modern tech you would find in something like the Nest Hello doorbell to alert you of any issues. But for $350, can it offer enough peace of mind to negate the cost and service fees?
What’s in the box?
Instead of relying on a suction cup or adhesive strip, the Owl mounts on a clever plastic arm that tucks in nicely between your dash and windshield. The device ships with three different arm lengths to ensure the correct placement for your vehicle.
Cloaked in subtle black plastic, the Owl itself perches atop a magnetic ball mount at the end of the arm. A standard OBD-II port (found in most vehicles 1996 or newer) provides power, and the package even includes “tuck tool” to hide the cord along the dash. A magnetic connection at both ends allows you to easily connect and disconnect it.
The camera can only record for around 24 hours before shutting off to save your battery.
Once installed, you simply need to use the accompanying Owl Car Cam mobile app to scan a QR code that displays on the screen. At the moment, the mobile app is only supported on iPhone 6 and newer devices running at least iOS 11. Android folks will have to sign up on a wait list. One year of LTE data, powered by the AT&T network, is included with the $350 price. There are no details on the cost of a data plan after that initial year, though we’d imagine it will cost around $10 per month, based on the cost for additional data credits in the app.
Watching your drive
Once on the road, the Owl Car Cam display shows a view of both the 1440p front and 720p rear camera feed, so you can ensure you they’re properly aligned. The rear-facing cam is a nice feature, though it can be distracting to have your own face staring back at you while driving. The Owl has room for up to 24 hours of video in internal storage. Older clips are erased after the storage is full, but a driver can save specific moments with a vocal command.
Saying “OK, Presto” and then stating a name for the file, example “car accident,” will save 10 minutes of video to be sent to your phone for easy editing and sharing. To remove the pain of video transfer through memory cards or cords, the Owl has internal Wi-Fi that quickly transfers video to your mobile application. The hands-free system worked as easy as the Garmin Dash Cam 55 with its “OK, Garmin…” commands. We were easily able to capture various moments without breaking our concentration on the drive.
Stay connected while away
When you park, the Owl will watch for motion and send an alert to your phone when someone approaches or tries to enter your car. Even as an intruder approaches, they will see the flashing green LED on the top of the camera begin to flash brighter and let them know they are being tracked.
Once you receive an alert of a break-in or motion from your car camera, you can open the app to see a live view of the interior and exterior. We parked in a rather risky area for lunch while testing the system, and could easily look to see who was approaching. Many times, people passing by would look at the device in the window and then continue walking once they noticed it was a camera. While watching the video, you can turn on a bright, white LED on the display screen and even enable a two-way speaker to talk to the intruder. This system worked very well and should be great for stopping intruders in their track or simply terrifying your family when they run out to grab something in the car late at night.
While watching the video, you can turn on a bright, white LED on the display screen and even enable a two-way speaker to talk to the intruder.
The standard plan for the first year includes unlimited video alerts when your car is parked, but if you want to “drop in” and see what’s happening without an alert, you’ll need to use limited LTE credits. Owl gives you 60 each month, which correspond to 60 minutes of live viewing — more than enough for the average person.
Afraid the Owl might be a theft magnet? Owl will actually replace the unit if it is stolen within the first three years of purchase. You simply provide the device ID and the video of the theft using the “Share to Owl” option in the app, and your older unit will be permanently disabled.
In addition to the theft coverage, each Owl car cam purchased from the company has a risk-free 30-day return policy. This allows you to try the camera out and see if you are satisfied. If you keep the camera, you will also be covered with a one-year manufacturer’s warranty that will repair or replace the unit if there is a major defect.Our Take
As a pure dashcam, the Owl’s quality is on par with most of the unit’s we have tested under $200, like the Magellan MiVue 420. Paying $100 more to watch your car while away may be worth it for most drivers. However, we would have liked to see a bit more standby time and the addition of vehicle tracking information such as speed, and trips, to really make it worth the increased cost.
Is there a better alternative?
Yes, the new Raven connected car system is a bird with a few more tricks including navigation, and vehicle information such as fuel level and service alerts from your OBD-II port. When considering the cost of one year of service, the Raven is only $30 more expensive than the Owl car cam.
How long will it last?
The lack of information for a service plan after the first year is a bit concerning. However, Owl CEO Andy Hodge has managed products from the Apple iPod to Microsoft’s HoloLens, so this isn’t simply a fly-by-night startup. Expect continued updates to the Owl app and perhaps even a future model with additional vehicle-tracking features.
Should you buy it?
If you are simply looking for a security system that goes beyond an annoying alarm, then the Owl is a great solution to watch your car on and off the road. But if you are looking for more features for your money, along with additional information about your vehicle, something like the Raven may be a better choice.