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Cobra Drive HD Dash Cam with Wi-Fi (CDR 900) review

on August 18, 2014 10:00 am

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I don’t know about where you live, but where I am in Columbus, Indiana, people have horrible driving skills. I constantly see people run red lights and cut in front of you with little to no time to brake. I’ve often thought that I should consider buying a dash cam to use an insurance policy in case I get in an accident where I’m not at fault and need evidence to prove it. When the Cobra Drive HD Dash Cam with Wi-Fi (CDR 900) was offered to me, I happily agreed to take it for a joy ride – literally.

Note: Images can be clicked to view a larger size.

Technical Specifications

1296P Super HD – Records in 1296P Super HD or 1080P Full HD video.
Ambarella™ A7LA Chipset
Wi-Fi Enabled – Communicates with the Drive HD companion app for iOS or Android devices to view and share videos
2.0” LCD Screen – Includes Micro HDMI output to directly play footage on your HD TV or computer (cable not included)
160° Viewing Angle
Dimensions 2.2 x 2.2 x 1.15 in. (55.88 x 55.88 x 29.21 mm)

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Package Contents

Cobra Drive HD Dash Cam (CDR 900)
Suction cup car mount
12V power adapter
12′ USB power cable
USB sync cable
Lanyard mount
User manual

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Hardware design

The camera itself is small and compact, which is what you want in a dash cam since it has to be mounted in your car typically in front of the rearview mirror on your windshield. The face of the camera has the Cobra logo and the lens, while the back side has a 2 inch color display, two buttons that control power and recording, and a speaker.

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On one side you’ll find a microphone, a microSD card slot with an 8GB card installed and a 2.5mm GPS receiver connector. Cobra plans to offer a GPS receiver at some point that can be connected to this camera to provide realtime GPS location info to go along with captured video.

On the other side of the camera you’ll find a micro USB connector and a micro HDMI connector. The USB connection is used to provide power to the camera and to connect it to your computer to view or transfer video. The micro HDMI connector allows you to connect the Cobra Drive HD camera to an HDMI enabled display. You’ll need to provide your own micro HDMI cable to use this feature.

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The top edge of the camera has a slot for the included tripod mount.

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The plastic mount is held in place by friction.

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The camera easily attaches to the included suction cup mount.

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Setup and use

I mounted the Cobra Drive HD dash cam in front of the rearview mirror in my 2013 MINI Cooper. Although the mirror obscured my view of the camera’s display, it does provide a distraction free location to mount it. I’ve had it mounted for several weeks and it has not fallen off the windshield even with the weather switch from very hot to relatively cool.

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In addition to mounting it on your windshield, you also have to connect it to power using the included USB cable. This is a special cable that only provides power and can’t be used to connect to your computer to download the recorded video clips.

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Here’s the Cobra Drive HD Dash Cam mounted on my windshield.

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As soon as you start your car’s engine, the camera will power on and will make a shutter noise like it’s snapping a picture. It then starts recording video automatically. Note that you can use the Drive HD as an action cam too. The difference between using it as a dash cam and an action cam is that in dash cam mode it will record in a continuous loop and will also record emergency videos when it senses that there has been a sudden impact to your car. The built in G-sensor is an accelerometer that can detect impact and will automatically save footage 30 seconds before and after impact in a protected file on the inserted 8GB micro SD card.

The camera’s interface is very basic and easy to understand. The top corner shows the camera mode, dash cam or action cam. The other corner shows the available battery life in minutes. The bottom status line shows the date and time.

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Pressing the power/menu button when the display is on will show the menu. This is where you can play the stored videos, toggle dash cam / action cam mode, toggle WiFi and cloud modes.

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The menus will also let you toggle the microphone, display time out and auto record settings.

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You can reformat the micro SD card too.

After a couple days of letting the camera do its thing, I disconnected and brought it inside to watch the videos. I was a little confused when I noticed that all the videos were only 3 minutes long. I thought there must be a setting that I had forgot to change as I assumed that the video would be as long as the drive or until I turned of the car’s engine. So I asked The Gadgeteer’s resident dash cam expert Andy Chen if it was normal for a dash cam to only record 3 minute segments of video. Andy has posted several dash cam reviews over the years (check the related reviews list below), so I knew he’d know the answer… and he did:

Yes!  This is very normal.  Actually, it’s the norm.  It’s actually a GOOD thing.  These cams have to operate under some really odd circumstances, where it starts and stops recording when power is turned on/off.  That’s pretty rough.  It if messes up writing the video file you’ve got corrupted video that probably can’t even be opened up.

So instead of one giant hour-long video that gets totally trashed, the worst case, you lose a single 3-min segment.

In practice, this is a good thing, too.  Let’s say you want to share a video incident.  Just choose that small 3-min segment.  No need to open a giant hour-long video clip and search, search, search… then EDIT.

Believe it or not, the class-leading GoPro has a real problem with being a dash cam.  The GoPro can be set to record in segments of your choosing, and even “loop record” (rewrite oldest) but (1) it doesn’t work, and (2) the GoPro can’t be set to record start-stop on power on/off.

If they could ever fix this, I’d toss every dash cam I have into a box and straight to the trash.

So there you have it… Let’s take a look at a compilation of video snips that I put together that shows the Cobra Drive HD dash cam in action during the day, early morning and in the rain.


Did you notice anything odd about the footage? Right away I noticed that yellows, reds and oranges are not as they appear in real life. Yellows are too bright and seem to be more orange than actually seen with your eyes. I also noticed that the picture isn’t super sharp. I do like the wide viewing angle but image quality is a little disappointing.

Captured video can be viewed directly on the device if you don’t mind watching it on a 2 inch display, through a connected HDMI display and through your computer. Another way to view the video is by using the Drive HD app.

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I tested this app with my LG G3 and wasn’t impressed at all. First of all you have to use the dash cam’s WiFi access point to connect to the camera. Connecting was very slow even when the two devices were in the same room within inches of each other.

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Once connected, you can view a live stream, record and change settings. The app will also allow you to setup the cloud feature. Unfortunately I never got the cloud feature to work. The idea is that when the camera is within range of a hotspot that you configure, the camera can be viewed with the Drive HD app from anywhere in the world. I tried to set this up several times but it would time out each time I tried. This wouldn’t be a feature I’d probably ever use though since I’m not in range of WiFi when my car is in the garage or the parking lot at work.

Final Thoughts

I like the size and design of the Drive HD, but found the color saturation of some colors (yellow, orange, red) to be way out of wack. I think the picture could be a bit sharper too and the smartphone app is a real flop. But even with those issues, I like this camera and plan to continue using it or other dash cams from now on. I think a dash cam in your car is a very useful tool for recording footage of your trips, accidents and more.

Source: The sample for this review was provided by Cobra. Please visit their site for more info.

 

Product Information

Price:$249.95
Manufacturer:Cobra
Pros:
  • Easy to setup and use
  • Auto records
  • WiFi feature lets you stream video to your smartphone
  • Records 30 secs before and after detected impact
Cons:
  • Problems with the yellows and reds

Comments

  1. 1
    JKxZ says:

    I do believe this camera is the Looxcie 3. I have one of these units and a while back I wanted to get the little tripod mount “nubbin'”. I couldn’t find one online so I contacted Looxcie directly. They told me they no longer make consumer cameras. I just thought that was interesting.

  2. 2

    @JKxZ I agree it does look like the Looxcie 3, but it is different. The Cobra does not have the buttons on the side like the Looxcie 3. Also the lens on the Cobra sticks out from the body. It looks flush on the Looxcie 3. Probably both made by the same company though.

  3. 3
    DaveF says:

    I like the idea, but I don’t want that unsightly wire hanging down like that. I’d rather have to recharge an on-board LI battery than put up with that.

  4. 4
    Eduardo says:

    $249 ?? No thank you.

  5. 5

    @DaveF I actually routed the wire up into my head liner after I took those pics. It looks much better. I could use a right angle USB cable though to make it look even nicer.

  6. 6

    Will it fall off the windshield when you do actually have an impact?

  7. 7
    Ernie says:

    In 2013, a meteor exploded over Russia. It was captured on dozens of dash cams because the Russians are really into their dash cams. Everyone seems to have one. I guess they too have lots of crazy drivers. Look up “chelyabinsk meteor”.

  8. 8

    @NotA Gadgeteer Hope I don’t have an impact. If it does fall off, it will just dangle from the USB cable that is tucked into my headliner. I’m not worried about it.

    @Ernie I remember watching some of those videos :)

  9. 9
    Andrew Baker says:

    You didn’t test the impact function? Come one Julie you’re slipping. Go get out the neck braces for you and Jeanne and do some more tests.

    :D

  10. 10

    @Andrew you want me to crash my MINI? No way… Maybe we can use Jeanne’s Kia though… hmmmm ;)

  11. 11
    Gordon Lee says:

    Great product and super compact! Price might be a tad steep though..

  12. 12
    Jeff says:

    I actually think it looks pretty good from the video samples you uploaded. The saturation doesn’t make it something I’d use for a film project but for documenting an accident or something weird seen from the car, it seems pretty cool. I’d like it just to prove to my wife that I’m not as bad as driver as she claims I am.
    Step 1) She says I’m the worlds worst driver for whatever reason.
    Step 2) Show video to unbiased strangers or trusted friends.
    step 3) I get vindicated.

    Sure, that would work. ;-)

    I have to agree with the comments about the price being a bit high for what you’re getting though.
    The suction cup mount seems to make it hand down too low. It should have a way to clip to your mirror. That would be cool.

    Can you just put the microSD card into a computer to pull the video or do you have to pull it via the USB cable?

  13. 13

    @Jeff you should be able to put the microSD card in a reader. I didn’t try it, but it shows up as a drive on my Mac when I connect with USB. It doesn’t require special software to access the video files.

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