Dashcams are both very useful and very new to most drivers.
At their most basic, dashcams are perfect at recording everything going on outside the vehicle all the time. That means capturing accident evidence, perfect scenery and weird stuff your passengers can post to make their social accounts less boring.
At their most sophisticated, “smart” units can do everything from call 911 if you’re in a crash to providing a Wi-Fi hot spot for passengers.
You can buy a good, basic dashcam for under $50. But for more features, expect to pay several hundred dollars, and perhaps even a monthly fee.
Here are some suggestions for drivers just getting into the technology:
• Alpine ILX-W650 — This is a premium unit with prices starting around $300. It has a big 7-inch display and also includes Bluetooth, satellite radio and the ability to route your backup camera through the display screen (for an extra cost).
The unit is shaped to be shallow in the back, allowing it to fit more easily into the dashboard of almost any car. If you want to add an amp for music, it just docks on the back, a unique Alpine feature.
• Apeman basic dashcam — On the other end of the price spectrum, this sells for less than $50. It includes all the key features of dashcams and a clean design.
A more advanced version can step up to 4K resolution, with a second camera looking either into the cabin (so the driver can keep an eye on the kids in the back seat) or out the rear of the car and driver assistance alerts if the car is drifting out of its lane or closing too fast on the car ahead. The price range for these units is $100 to $250, depending on accessories you purchase with them.
• Nextbase 522GW — This is an advanced dashcam that blurs the lines with connected models.
The Nextbase 522GW offers better-than-HD 1440 front resolution, built-in Amazon Alexa voice control and connectivity through your phone. Prices start at under $200, but without built-in 4G LTE technology, it can’t claim to be a true connected dashcam, but it sits on the border of being one and carries no separate monthly cost.
The top tier of dashcams comprises connected or “smart” models that combine all the previous features and also have a 4G LTE connection so owners can get remote alerts if their car is hit or tampered with while parked. The connection also allows the viewing of live video or recorded clips from anywhere.
Another selling point is the ability of these cams to call 911 in the event of a detected collision and to provide some indication of the crash’s severity. Connected dashcams typically cost $200 to $400 but also carry a monthly service charge to enable all their connected features and cloud storage. Keep in mind, that’s a lot if a car sits in a garage most of the time.
• Owlcam — This is a top-drawer connected dashcam with a price to match: $349 plus $99 a year or $9.99 a month for service after first year.
It features excellent build quality and innovative car mount accessories. You might consider a cheaper alternative that also has built-in 4G LTE for remote access and cloud recording, but with a forward view that’s only 1080p, compared with the higher 1440p resolution of the Owlcam.
• PureGear PureCam — With prices starting at $250, this is a more-affordable connected dashcam.
The PureCam offers the greatest hits of connected, “smart” dashcams for a price that lets it compete with several of the better non-connected cameras. It also functions as an in-car Wi-Fi hot spot, which is almost as necessary these days as jumper cables and a spare tire.