Road-trippers, commuters, and ride-hailing drivers are increasingly relying on dash cams to help keep an eye on the road ahead. There are hundreds of available models, but. It’s packed with useful, cutting-edge features like voice recognition technology, and it can even make timelapse videos users can share on social media via a purpose-designed smartphone app. And while it’s a great dash cam for cars, it’s also suitable for other types of vehicles.
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. Sure, we’ve seen cooler, more feature-rich dash cams on the market, not to mention cheaper ones … but the Garmin 56 is the jack of all trades.
Best dash cams at a glance:
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? $160
Why we picked the Garmin Dash Cam 56:
At under $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 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? $80
Why we picked the Mobius ActionCam:
Adding a dash cam to your car is a smart move, but that doesn’t mean it’s an affordable one. Fortunately, the Mobius Maxi allows drivers to protect themselves without going broke.
We’ve been fans of Mobius and its quirky, affordable dash cams for cars for years. The newest entry to the family is the Maxi, and it offers more than just a low price tag. Its compact size allows it to fit perfectly in front of a car’s rear-view mirror, so it doesn’t sacrifice visibility, and it allows motorists to keep a clean-looking interior. This little guy also boasts 2.7K video recording at 30 frames per second — not quite 4K, but absolutely sufficient for your purposes. Rounding out the cam’s highlights is a 150 degree field of view, remote picture taking and remote live video, and a painless setup process.
Our gripes with the ActionCam are few, but it’s worth mentioning that you’ll have to do without a built-in display to monitor your recordings – for that, you’ll need a computer or TV. Finally, the lack of an accelerometer and a G-sensor means accident footage may appear chaotic compared to stabilized cameras that cost more.
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? $300
Why we picked the Owlcam:
One of the latest innovations in the world of dash cams is the addition of a second, rear-facing camera lens to monitor activity in and around the cabin of your vehicle. There are plenty of choices within this growing segment of cams, but the Owlcam stands out for its safety add-ons.
Once on the road, the Owlcam’s display shows a view of both the 1440p front and 720p rear camera feeds, so you know they’re properly aligned. The Owl has room for up to 24 hours of video in its internal storage. Older clips are erased after the storage is full, but voice command technology lets the driver can save specific moments while keeping both hands on the steering wheel. That’s just the dash cam part; there’s much more packed in this device.
It keeps your car safe, too. When you park, the Owl watches for motion and sends an alert to your phone when someone approaches or tries to enter your car. As an intruder approaches, they see the flashing green LED on the top of the camera begin to flash brighter to let them know they are being tracked. Once you receive an alert of a break-in or motion from the camera, you can open the app to see a live view of the interior and exterior. 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.
Read our full Owlcam review
Why should you buy this? You want a dash cam that doubles as a virtual copilot.
Who’s it for? Motorists who drive a lot.
How much will it cost? $125
Why we picked the WheelWitness HD Pro Plus:
The WheelWitness HD Pro Plus is a heavy-duty dash cam that’s ideally suited to the needs of van and truck drivers, especially 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 its 140-degree angle records a wide view of the road ahead. It automatically overwrites older files, though users who would rather download their footage can turn the loop function off. The built-in G-sensor tells the HD Pro Plus to immediately save the footage if it detects an impact.
Smartphone connectivity comes standard. Motorists can use an app compatible with Apple and Android devices to wirelessly transfer video footage from the camera to their phone. It also comes with a 4X zoom, a feature that’s not common in the dash cam world, and users can zoom in even when the device is recording. Finally, the built-in GPS function keeps track of where the vehicle goes, and the speed it’s traveling at at any given moment. This robust set of features makes the HD Pro Plus an electronic copilot you can mount to your windshield.
Research and buying tips
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.
Having to take your dash cam out of the car every time you park to prevent it from freezing or overheating would quickly become a nuisance. Luckily, that’s not necessary.
How well a dash cam withstands extreme temperatures depends on the make, the model, and the hardware packed in it. We recommend buying a device with a capacitor, not a battery. The capacitor or the battery is what will power it in the brief moment after you turn the engine off so that it can save what it recorded. Capacitor-equipped cams are normally more expensive than those with batteries, but they’ll withstand hot and cold temperatures much better.
Though many dash cams feature voice recognition technology and Wi-Fi compatibility, most do not work with Alexa, Siri, or Google Assistant. Not yet, at least; it’s the next development in the dash cam world. One of the exceptions to the rule is the Garmin Speak Plus, a tiny device we called the Swiss army knife of dash cams. It 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 on the fly.