Dashboard cameras, which continuously record driving video, are nothing new, but Thinkware puts a new twist on the technology with its Dash Cam X500, using the camera to add driver assistance features and its GPS to warn of speed or red-light cameras.
The Thinkware Dash Cam X500 goes for $279 in the US and £199 in the UK, where speed zones and cameras would make it more useful. Australian pricing was not available, but the company does have an Australian distributor.
The Dash Cam X500 attaches to the windshield, near the rearview mirror, and automatically begins recording whenever you start the car. An accelerometer senses impact, causing the X500 to save video of a collision, which can later be used as evidence in legal proceedings.
At 4.1 inches long and 2 inches high, and with its camera lens, the X500 resembles a pocket-size digital camera. Lending to that resemblance is the LCD dominating the back of the device. Four buttons are stacked next to the LCD, and the top of the X500 features a power port and two connector ports designed for the X500's accessories. The X500 saves its video to a microSD card in the side of the device and its own internal storage.
A plastic attachment point on top of the X500 lets you slide it onto the included mounting bracket.
Although the X500 lacks a touchscreen, I found it easy to navigate its onscreen menus using the four buttons on its back. The two center buttons scroll through feature lists, while the top and bottom buttons let me go back or select features.
In addition, Thinkware includes file viewer software that works on Windows or Apple OS. This viewer shows video windows for front and rear video, along with a map window showing the car's location during recording, vehicle speed and even pitch, yaw, and roll angles.
Although most of the viewer software looks fine, the file chooser is very rough. A window shows all the video files created by the X500, separated into categories for Continuous, Motion, Event and Manual. The problem here is that, even for a short drive, the X500 creates a lot of video files. The file names include the date and time in a string, which can be difficult to visually parse. It would be better if the viewer software parsed the file information for time and location, then gave users a better interface for finding relevant video clips.
Record and drive
To test the X500, I installed it in a 2015 Toyota Camry. The plastic mounting bracket includes an adhesive pad that sticks to the inside of the windshield. Make sure to get that bracket precisely where you want it, as the adhesive pad is very difficult to remove. Putting it just in front of the rearview mirror kept it from blocking my view of the road, but I had to run its power cable over the sun visor, down the side of the car, then back over to the console to reach the 12-volt power point.
The included power cable is long enough to run through a car, but it would be more convenient if Thinkware used a USB plug rather than the cable's fixed 12-volt adapter, which monopolizes an entire power point in a car.
As soon as I turned on the car, the X500 turned on, and its female voice prompt told me continuous recording had begun. In later testing I found that it won't run without the microSD card inserted in its slot. Thinkware includes a 16MB card with a full-size SD card adapter in the package.
I headed out onto he street, the X500 working unobtrusively in the background, until its forward camera thought I was about to hit someone or I approached an intersection with a red-light camera. While I drove, the X500 periodically beeped at me, leaving me to interpret what that beep might mean. I had its forward collision alert and lane departure warning enabled, and it would also beep when it recorded an impact event. Although I never actually collided with another car, the X500 saved almost 20 Event videos over about a 40-minute drive.