CNET editors pick the products and services we write about. When you buy through our links, we may get a commission.
Car accidents happen unexpectedly, and reconstructing what happened from vehicle damage and witness reports won't necessarily be a truthful account. Dash cams, specially designed cameras mounted in cars that record accidents, can offer more complete video and telemetry details of an incident.
Vantrue's OnDash R1 Pro dashcam is one such product, recording HD video on an SD card as you drive, and saving the relevant moments around an accident.
With a 2.7-inch LCD on the back and wide-angle camera lens on front, the R1 Pro resembles a typical point-and-shoot camera, although it comes in a bit smaller. Its metal case gives it a solid feel, while black and silver coloring and rounded ends makes for an attractive look.
Buttons to either side of the LCD seemed arranged a little haphazardly at first, but the interface made sense to me after digging into the device's menus. Left and right arrow keys, used to scroll through onscreen menus, sit at opposite ends of the R1 Pro. But holding the dashcam in both hands, those buttons proved conveniently arranged, as I could hit each with my left or right thumb.
The bottom includes a power button, Mini-USB port and an SD card slot. Of the latter, you will have to provide your own card, as the R1 Pro doesn't come with one and has no internal video storage. The top includes a bracket mounting point and a port for an optional GPS input, which counts as one of the R1 Pro's biggest failings. I'll come to that in a bit.
A suction-cup mount with a short, hinged arm attached easily to the top of the R1 Pro, and will fit easily to a variety of windshield shapes.
The R1 Pro emphasizes video quality, recording HD quality footage onto a micro-SD card. The 170 degree wide angle lens should capture everything in front of your car, including traffic in lanes to either side. In its menu settings, you can choose different video resolutions, from 2,560x1,080 pixels to 1,280x720, with a variety of different frame rates. Those options are a bit overkill for a dashcam, and will prove confusing to the average user, who will likely leave it on the default setting.
Other video settings include image quality, with Super Fine, Fine and Normal, and white balance, this latter also an interesting attribute but not that useful for the average user.
To enable true dashcam features, the R1 Pro has a built-in shock sensor. When something triggers that sensor, such as a collision, it automatically saves video immediately before and after, which may come in handy for insurance and legal purposes. The R1 Pro also makes use of that sensor to enable a parking monitor. Leaving it on standby in your car, the parking monitor will record video if someone hits your car, vandalizes it or tries to break in.
A built-in motion detection sensor can automatically record suspicious activity around your car, as well.
What's missing here is built-in GPS or much in the way of telemetry data. The R1 Pro can time-stamp its video, but there is no information as to your vehicle's speed or location, which would also be useful in the case of an incident.
Putting the R1 Pro into a test car, the suction cup easily clamped to the windshield, just ahead of the rear-view mirror. However, the power cable, plugging into the bottom of the device, would take some work to get cleaned up and out of the way. A top-mounted plug would be better, making it easier to run the cable along the top of the windshield and down to a 12-volt power point.
Turning the ignition, the dashcam turned itself on automatically and started recording. Its LCD showed the camera image as I drove, which could be distracting. Stopped at a traffic light, the R1 Pro stopped recording, only resuming 53 seconds later, after the light had turned green and I was already in motion. This gap is troublesome, as any number of incidents worth recording could have happened in that time.
First setting its shock sensitivity to normal, then bringing it up to high, I drove over rough streets and speed bumps, intentionally slamming on the brakes more than a few times. None of this harsh driving triggered the R1 Pro's event recording, and I wasn't willing to get in an accident to see if it would work. On the plus side, that means no false positives, but it also leaves me wondering if it would record a minor collision.
Even with no events captured, the R1 Pro did record continual footage of my driving, saving files in one minute video segments. To watch it, I had to pull the micro-SD card and put it into a computer. The resulting video, on the R1 Pro's HDR setting, was sharp and wide, clearing showing my driving progress.
However, as I mentioned above, there is no telemetry information with the video other than the time and date stamp. If I wanted to find a specific moment of driving footage, I would have to dig through many, many video files to find the exact moment I needed.
With the car parked, the R1 Pro's motion sensor triggered readily, making it work for stationary surveillance.
While the Vantrue OnDash R1 Pro dashcam produces sharp, wide-angle video clearly showing the road ahead, it also shows some serious problems. It seems too ready to shut down at a long stoplight, and in my testing did not immediately turn back on when I started moving again, potentially missing crucial moments.
If you want to actually record your speed and location, the R1 Pro can't help you. Look to the Thinkware Dash Cam X500 for this capability.
The parking and motion sensor may come in handy, but you won't want to leave the R1 Pro on your windshield in areas where people might break into your car, which is just about everywhere. With its silver trim and big lens, the device is pretty noticeable.
Ultimately, dashcams are not all that necessary in the US. Every state either has a financial responsibility law, requiring drivers to have insurance, or a no-fault law, which basically serves the same purpose. If you get in a collision, the insurance companies work out the payouts among themselves, then raise everyone's rates. With such a legal climate, the video from a dashcam is unlikely to be called for.