Garmin Dash Cam 20 review: Garmin's Dash Cam watches your, front

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MSRP: $249.99

The Good The Garmin Dash Cam 20 unobtrusively records crisp HD video of the road ahead. A video buffer and G-sensor automatically capture the moments leading up to an accident and those immediately following. GPS location and speed data is embedded in the recording.

The Bad Garmin doesn't include any software to take advantage of the captured GPS data. The AVI video format requires third-party software to view. Out of the box, the device beeps loudly and often.

The Bottom Line With a bit of tweaking, the Garmin Dash Cam 20 is a (mostly) silent witness that watches the road without attracting the driver's attention.

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7.0 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 6
  • Performance 6.9

Garmin's latest product is packing GPS, but it's not a Nuvi or a navigator. It's the Garmin Dash Cam 20, a seemingly odd fit for the navigation giant, but not at all a bad first step in this direction.

It's a camera...

The Dash Cam 20 is a dashboard camera or dashboard DVR. The Cam hangs from a car's windshield with an included lever-activated suction cup mount that connects to its body via a ball-in-socket joint. The camera body itself is about 6.6 cm square (not counting the connection to the mount) by about 3.7 cm thick and fairly unobtrusive when hanging above the dashboard.

Pointing out at the road ahead is a small, fixed-focus HD video camera that is capable of capturing 1080p, 720p or WVGA video with an extremely wide field of view. Think of GoPro footage and you'll have an idea of how wide an angle we're looking at. Mounted above the center of the dashboard of the car I tested it in, the camera captured the entire view out of the front windshield.

The Dash Cam 20 automatically captures video of incidents at up to 1080p. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

Facing the driver is a 2.3-inch color LCD display that shows a preview of what the camera sees to aid in framing. Here is also where the driver interacts with the various settings, menu options, and media playback controls via a bank of four physical buttons just below the screen. Once the vehicle gets moving, the screen dims and then shuts off after a few moment to prevent driver distraction; the only indicator that it is recording is a small blinking red light.

On one edge of the device is the Mini-USB port for connecting the included 12-volt power adapter. When the Dash Cam senses power, it automatically fires up and starts recording. When the power is cut (such as when the car's ignition is shut off) the camera will automatically turn off after about 15 seconds. The Dash Cam can be used without 12-volt power -- there's an internal rechargeable battery and it has a power button on one side for manual startup and shutdown -- but for extended recording, the adapter is recommended.

Located just below the power button is a small slot for the included 4GB microSD card storage. Should you need more room for clips, the Dash Cam can accept cards of up to 32GB.

It's always recording...

The Dash Cam records a continuous loop of the action happening outside of the front windshield (or wherever you choose to mount it), overwriting old footage as it loops around with new imagery. The camera can capture up to 1080p video and audio, but the owner can set it to record at a lower resolution or without audio to save space.

Internally, the Dash Cam is equipped with a G-sensor that detects bumps and shocks. When the sensor is triggered, the camera beeps loudly and captures and protects the video clip leading up to the bump and a few seconds following, saving the footage of a potential accident from being overwritten. Over bumpy roads, this can lead to multiple false positives. I filled the 4GB card up after just a few hours of spirited driving, but on smoother roads you'll likely not have as many false triggers as I did. Fortunately, the driver does have the power to adjust the G-sensor's sensitivity.

Video is captured in an AVI format, which will require Mac users to download third-party software to play back. Video quality is crisp and generally clear enough that you can make out the license plate numbers of passing cars. As with most ultrawide-angle cameras, you'll have to be pretty close to the lead car to capture the plate number in detail. Also like most "outdoor action cameras" with simple optics, the Dash Cam did have trouble with scenes with a high range of exposures and I did see skies being blown out and shadows lacking detail. The video isn't pretty, but it gets the job done.

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