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Escort SmartRadar (iPhone Version) review:

Escort SmartRadar (iPhone Version)

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From the Escort Live app, users can also view a map of known police presence, radar detection, and red-light cameras. There's also a dashboard view that displays the current speed limit (if known), the vehicle's current speed (which turns red when you exceed the limit by a predefined amount). When the SmartRadar hardware detects a radar or laser band, the app also acts as a larger, second display showing information about the band detected, the specific frequency of the speed monitoring hardware, and options for reporting false alarms.

Additionally, the Escort Live app allows users to adjust the settings of the SmartRadar hardware, select which types of road hazards trigger audible alerts, and the how those Live Alerts are synced.

As I said, the app is free to download. Taking advantage of the dashboard view is included in that free portion, but taking advantage of Live Alerts requires a paid subscription. The SmartRadar detector unlocks 12 months of free service when you pair it with the app. After that year, you'll have to pay $4.99 per month or $49.99 per year to keep the access to that database of red-light cameras, police spottings, radar alerts, and false alarms.

To test the SmartRadar's ability to screen out false alarms and detect actual alerts by, naturally, driving around and seeking out alerts and finding the sources. For example, older radar detectors would go crazy in shopping centers and strip malls, because the detectors for the automatic doors would trigger false alerts. However, as I drove past the front doors of a few shopping centers in the San Francisco Bay Area, the SmartRadar remained perfectly quiet. However, I did get a few seemingly false K-Band alerts while crossing the currently under construction San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge and when passing other construction zones.

I decided to test out Escort Live's database of reported Live Alerts by hunting down and checking out some of the alerts. However, because the alerts seem to expire after a few hours and my testing occurred around lunchtime on a weekday, the map screen didn't actually display anything for miles but red-light cameras. Without other Escort Live drivers on the road, there's not much data to be gleaned from the service. After a few hours, I decided to take another shot at it during rush hour a few miles south of San Francisco in the San Jose and Palo Alto areas. Sure enough, I noticed a few Ka-band alerts and headed toward them to check.

As I approached an area where the Live Alert was reported, the SmartRadar detector notified me that K-band had been detected a few miles ahead. Just as I was beginning to doubt the accuracy of the almost one-hour-old report, I rounded a corner and the SmartRadar started to beep and talk, signaling Ka-Band detected at full strength. Cresting the next hill, I saw that local law enforcement was, in fact, busy issuing a ticket to a driver on the other side of the road. Score one for the SmartRadar. I checked out three more reported Ka-Band alerts and found police at or near every one. Each time, I got a "K-Band Live" alert a few miles before getting a "Ka-Band detected" alert shortly thereafter. Each time, I also noticed that my Ka-band detections were added to the Escort Live map to help other SmartRadar and Escort Live users.

In sum
The SmartRadar and Escort Live combo proved to be effective in avoiding and detecting speed-detection hardware. However, there are a few cons that should be noted. Firstly, the SmartRadar hardware is Android- or iOS-specific. You have to decide which platform you're going to use at the time of purchase, which can be problematic for dual-platform households. The Cobra iRadar boasts a similar feature set, but with the ability to change platforms at the flip of a switch. The $129 Cobra unit is also less expensive than the $449 SmartRadar for Android.

We found the SmartRadar to be more sensitive than the competition, and it also triggered fewer false alerts. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

However, the SmartRadar hardware gave fewer false alerts than the Cobra iRadar did and usually notified us of police detection before the less expensive unit did. It may cost more, but the Escort hardware proved to be the superior detector in my testing. I also liked the semipermanent, stealthy mounting with hard wiring and strong adhesive, but that may not be your cup of tea.

Of course, both devices and their complimentary app face competition from the free Trapster app and its database of speed traps and road hazards. However, while Trapster has a larger group of reporting drivers, its reliance on manual inputs from drivers who spot cops with their eyes could be viewed as less accurate than the automatic reporting by actual radar-detection hardware.

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