Like a good co-pilot, a dash cam sees what you might miss. It also never sleeps, so it keeps an eye on your car even when you’re nowhere near it, and it records everything that happens, so its memory is better than yours. Dash cams are becoming increasingly popular, and the list of models available grows on a regular basis. The best one you can buy new in 2020 is the Garmin 56. It’s loaded with user-friendly features, and it can even create time-lapse videos you can post on social media using an app.
- The best dash cam: Garmin Dash Cam 56
- The best dash cam under $100: Apeman C860
- The best dash cam for safety: Thinkware U1000
- The best dash cam for Uber or Lyft drivers: Vava VD009
- How do I install a dash cam?
- What does a dash cam record to?
- How long can a dash cam record?
- Do dash cams have night vision?
- Can dash cams tolerate extreme heat or cold?
- Can dash cams work with Alexa, Siri, or Google Assistant?
Digital Trends selected Garmin’s 56 after testing the most popular dash cams on the market in real-world conditions. We judge them by their ease of installation, storage capacity, video quality, and features. When we’re not behind the wheel, we constantly stay up to date with the latest developments in the dash cam world by attending major international trade shows like CES.
Why should you buy this? It boasts a robust set of features that actually work as intended.
Who’s it for? Anyone who wants the absolute best in dash cam tech.
How much will it cost? $200
Why we picked the Garmin Dash Cam 56:
At $200, the Garmin Dash Cam 56 — the 2019 successor to our former Editors’ Choice pick, the Dash Cam 55 — offers a ton of useful features and above-par quality for a reasonable price. The new 56 boosts the field of view from 122 degrees to 140 and adds a Clarity HDR feature, for higher contrast recordings day and night. In a crowded market, it takes more than just being good — and the unique attributes of the Dash Cam 56 give it an edge.
At 1440p HD resolution and 30 frames per second, the Dash Cam 56 shoots in stunning quality during the day and respectable quality at night. Like some other dash cams on the market, the Dash Cam 56 offers innovative driver aids, but unlike other cameras, its alerts are often relevant (instead of driving you nuts with false alarms). And, thanks to a slew of voice-activated functions, it lets drivers focus on the road ahead. Also, the nifty Travelapse feature makes cool time-lapse videos that can easily be shared on social media via the app.
The Garmin Dash Cam 56 looks great, feels sturdy, and has better features than competitors costing far more. What’s not to love?
Why should you buy this? It protects you without breaking the bank.
Who’s it for? Cost-conscious consumers.
How much will it cost? $100
Why we picked the Apeman C860:
Adding a dash cam to your car is a smart move, but that doesn’t mean it’s always an affordable one.
Fortunately, the Apeman C860 dash cam allows drivers to protect themselves without going broke. It offers more than just a low price tag. It records high-resolution footage, it’s compatible with 128GB memory cards (which you’ll need to purchase separately; no memory card is included), and it offers a 170-degree field of vision with a double lens. It can even keep an eye on what’s going on behind your car, because it comes with a second camera.
Even the simplest, cheapest model comes with a built-in G-sensor that detects accidents and locks the footage following the impact, so you don’t have to worry about losing it. Finally, the Apeman C860’s standard Sony IMX355 sensor helps its night-seeing ability. Stuffing all of these features in a $100 package is a winning combination.
Why should you buy this? You want front and rear video surveillance for maximum safety.
Who’s it for? Extra cautious drivers.
How much will it cost? $590
Why we picked the Thinkware U1000:
The U1000 is expensive, but it’s also the best all-around, do-it-all dash cam that safety-conscious drivers will love thanks to its second rear-facing camera lens and impressive video quality. The U1000 also stands out from the competition for its other features.
The front camera records in 4K UHD resolution and has a relatively wide, 150-degree viewing angle, while the rear camera shoots in 2K QHD and has a 156-degree lens. Wi-Fi connectivity, built-in GPS, and a G-sensor are also included with the U1000. Also, the low-light recording quality is better than most because the dash cam uses a Sony Starvis image sensor. The dash cam also comes with driver-assist features, including forward collision warning, front vehicle departure warning, and lane departure warning.
When parked, the U1000 will start recording video if it senses motion or an impact, and it records in time-lapse for lower power consumption. The cloud-ready dash cam also utilizes the company’s app, so drivers can receive notifications (like impacts when parked), check the vehicle’s location, and monitor camera activity (including a live feed) from their iOS or Android smartphone. Also, the Thinkware U1000 should perform reliably and not lose recordings thanks to its integrated thermal sensor and anti-file corruption feature.
Why should you buy this? You want a dash cam that doubles as a virtual co-pilot.
Who’s it for? Motorists who drive a lot.
How much will it cost? $200
Why we picked the Vava VD009:
The Vava VD009 is ideally suited to the needs of those who drive for a living. Sony-sourced technology allows it to record clear images during the day and at night, which means the device won’t become an expensive windshield ornament after the sun goes down, and it features two cameras. One faces the road ahead, one films what’s going on inside the passenger compartment, and both record high-resolution footage at 30 fps.
The Vava VD009 automatically overwrites older footage unless its G-force sensor detects a collision. Note that the SD card is not included. Its built-in GPS tracks your car’s location, driving route, and speed, among other parameters. Smartphone connectivity allows users to download videos and share them on social media.
There are two basic ways to install a dash cam. The first and simplest solution is to plug the cam’s power cord into your car’s 12-volt outlet. To do this, use the suction cup that most dash cam manufacturers include with their device to attach it to your car’s windshield. Make sure it has a clear view of the road ahead, and double-check that it’s not in your field of vision. Run the cord from the cam to the 12-volt outlet — which is normally located on the center console — and you’re good to go. It’s not the neatest solution, but it works.
For a cleaner look, you can hard-wire a dash cam into your car. This solution requires a handful of tools, a little bit of time, and a basic knowledge of how a car’s electrical system works. Again, start by positioning the dash cam on your windshield using the suction cup. Carefully tuck the power cord under the front part of the headliner, and run it down the A-pillar by sliding it under the panel that covers it. Use a fuse tap — which you’ll need to buy online, or from an auto parts store — to plug the wire direction into your car’s fuse box.
Though some dash cams come with a small amount of internal storage, a vast majority of the devices on the market save the footage they record onto a micro SD card. Most cams feature a loop function that automatically overwrites older footage when the card reaches its capacity, though users who don’t want to lose their files can turn this feature off. If the loop function isn’t on, users will need to either empty the SD card or insert an empty one to keep recording.
The amount of footage a dash cam can record varies depending on the size of the SD card that’s in it, and the resolution selected. If the loop function is on, meaning old footage gets overwritten when the card is full, the cam will keep recording indefinitely as long as it’s connected to a power source. If you want to save every file the cam records, keep in mind an 8 GB memory card stores approximately 20 minutes of footage recorded at 1080p resolution in AVI format. Upgrading to a bigger card — like a 16 or a 32 GB unit — and lowering the resolution will help you save more footage.
Like humans, dash cams don’t see as well in the dark as they do during the day, and they rely on a car’s headlights and other sources of lights (like street lights) to capture footage at night. Recent advances in sensor technology helps them record increasingly clear footage after the sun goes down, but the quality depends on the model purchased. Some of the more expensive units on the market come with night vision technology that automatically adjusts lighting levels to provide the best possible picture, but it’s not going to be as clear as what they record in broad daylight.
Broadly speaking, your dash cam sees about as well as you do. If you drive out to the Nevada desert on a cloudy night and turn your headlights off, don’t count on your dash cam to back up your claim of shaking hands with a jackalope.
The simple answer is yes. Dashcams are extremely resistant to heat and cold. Much like modern in-dash navigation systems, dashcams can withstand a wide range of temperature changes. That means you can leave them in your car without fear, unlike your smartphone.
While all dashcams can withstand harsh environmental conditions, exact tolerances will vary by model. Devices that use a capacitor rather than a battery are better at tolerating extreme temperatures. The capacitor allows your camera to record the last few moments of footage when turning your camera off since there is no built-in battery.
While a dash cam that includes a capacitor will be more expensive, it’s worth the money if you live in a climate that experiences extreme temperatures. Its design makes it more durable than basic models, so you’ll pay once for a cam that lasts longer than those that run on batteries.
When it comes to smartphone integration, the dashcam industry still has a long way to go before it catches up with in-dash audio. You can find some expensive cams that have voice activation features, but none are fully equipped to link up with Siri, Alexa, or Google Assistant.
The Garmin Speak Plus is the only cam on the market that came close to being fully integrated with voice commands. This tiny device supports a wide range of Alexa features, allowing you to access news reports, stream audio, communicate with your home, and carry out a host of other actions as you move.
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