Cobra iRadar Atom (iRAD 900) review: App-augmented Atom is big on radar detection performance

MSRP: $199.95

The Good The Cobra iRadar Atom is surprisingly sensitive for such a compact radar detector. The companion smartphone app and AURA database extend the alert range even further while reducing false alarms.

The Bad Adaptive cruise control and forward collision warning systems proved to be a constant source of false alerts.

The Bottom Line With the aid of your smartphone and an app, the compact Cobra iRadar Atom is a powerful tool for monitoring the road ahead for speed traps and road hazards.

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8.0 Overall
  • Design 9
  • Features 8
  • Performance 8

Review Sections

The Cobra iRadar Atom (iRAD 900) builds on the previously tested iRAD 200 , cramming everything that we liked about the old hardware into a smaller, less obtrusive package. The tiny device has a footprint that's smaller than a deck of cards (3.34 inches by 2.21 inches), though at 1.15 inches deep, it is a bit thicker. Designed to sit atop your dashboard without attracting attention, the Atom is finished with a combination of glossy and matte-black plastic with dull silver side panels.

Behind a semi-transparent black plastic panel on the front of the device that points toward the front of the vehicle when mounted on the windshield, you'll find the radar and laser sensors. On the back of the device, the end that faces the driver, is a small multicolor LED and more radar/laser sensors. The LED glows red when the Atom is powered on and changes to blue when your phone is paired via Bluetooth. We'll come back to this bit shortly.

The Atom's sole LED glows blue when paired via Bluetooth. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

A small speaker can be found on the top of the radar detector behind a mesh grille and just afore of a large mute button. On the left side of the device is a volume toggle that doubles as a power switch, and on the right side is an input for the power supply.

Speaking of power, the iRadar Atom ships with and is powered via an adapter that plugs into your vehicle's 12-volt power point. The adapter features an integrated USB port (5V, 1A) that allows you to plug in and keep your phone juiced. The iRadar doesn't include a Micro-USB or Lightning cable, so you'll need to bring your own.

Flipping back around to the front of the detector, a double suction-cup mount slides into a slot on the back of the device and allows it to hang from the windshield glass. This is the same double bracket that we found packaged with the iRAD 200, but it now features better suction cups made of a more pliable clear plastic that sticks to nonporous surfaces. Better suction is quite important for the sort of, ahem, spirited drivers who would need the abilities of a radar detector.

The Atom retains the iRadar's mounting bracket, but uses higher-quality suction cups. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

The detector and the app

The iRadar Atom is sensitive; perhaps too sensitive, but you've got some control over that. Early on in my testing, the detector would beep "radar equipped" for speed limit signs up to a quarter-mile down the road. It beeped for grocery stores' automatic doors before I was on the same block. It would beep for pretty much everything. With each alert, the iRadar would speak aloud the type of radar that it was detecting ("Ka band" or "K band") and then beep, varying the volume and intensity based on the strength of detection, until I was out of range or tapped the Mute button.

All of that beeping could get annoying. That's where the Cobra iRadar app comes to the rescue.

After installing the app on your iOS device or Android phone and pairing the phone with the Atom via Bluetooth, the driver allows the driver to teach the detector hardware the difference between false alarms (speed-limit signs) and true threats (police clocking speed on the other side of the hill). When you get a false alarm, the software will remember the GPS position, radar band, and frequency, and eventually learn to ignore subsequent alerts of that type.

The iRadar app serves as the display and control panel for the Atom hardware. Screenshot by Antuan Goodwin/CNET

Armed with the information about the type of alerts (band, frequency, strength, more) that you're getting, the app allows the driver to customize the behavior of the iRadar detector. For example, if you're getting a lot of X band alerts in an area where you know the police typically use the K and Ka bands, you can simply disable all X band alerts for a more quiet ride. You can disable voice prompts and be alerted only with beeps.

Also built into the app is Cobra's AURA database of peer-reported hazard warnings, speed trap alerts, camera alerts, and more. When a driver gets a radar alert, he or she is also able to confirm Live Police presence by tapping a large button in the app, which uploads the location of the alert to the AURA database to be shared automatically to other Cobra users. Much like how peer-reported traffic info in an app like Waze gives drivers information about jams that are miles up the road, the network of Cobra AURA reports gives drivers information about speed traps well outside of the limits of the detector's range. These alerts sound via the iRadar's speaker as you approach their GPS location just like locally detected alerts -- for example, "red light camera ahead" or "hazardous area ahead" -- keeping the driver informed without taking their eyes off of the road.

The benefits of the iRadar app and the AURA database happen automatically, the user doesn't need to touch or look at the phone, merely pair it and let the app run while you drive. Users who want to take a more active approach can also quickly make manual reports, marking the locations of hazards, cameras, and police with as few as two quick taps.