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Cobra iRadar review: Cobra iRadar

Cobra iRadar

Antuan Goodwin Reviews Editor / Cars
Antuan Goodwin gained his automotive knowledge the old fashioned way, by turning wrenches in a driveway and picking up speeding tickets. From drivetrain tech and electrification to car audio installs and cabin tech, if it's on wheels, Antuan is knowledgeable.
Expertise Reviewing cars and car technology since 2008 focusing on electrification, driver assistance and infotainment Credentials
  • North American Car, Truck and SUV of the Year (NACTOY) Awards Juror
Antuan Goodwin
5 min read

Out of the box, the Cobra iRadar appears to be a fairly basic radar/laser detector. Measuring 1.15 inches deep by 2.92 inches wide by 4.22 inches long, the unit is about the size of a deck of playing cards and is, for the most part, composed of nearly featureless glossy black plastic. However, there are a few physical features. Along the left edge of the unit are the input for the 12-volt charger and the power/volume dial. The top surface is home to the unit's loudspeaker and round, concave Mute button. Around back is a slot for connecting the iRadar to its dual suction-cup windshield mount--which holds the unit quite securely despite being of the lick-and-stick variety. When the iRadar is powered down, there are no obvious indicator lights, but once activated an LED indicator light glows from behind the unit's leading edge.


Cobra iRadar


The Good

The Cobra iRadar works with or without a connected iPhone or iPod Touch. Its car charger has a powered USB port for keeping the paired iPhone charged. A free iPhone app allows users to fine-tune the iRadar's sensitivity and discern between actual alerts and false positives, as well as monitor for traffic cameras and speed traps.

The Bad

You will have to bring your own iPhone cradle or car mount to effectively use the app, as the iRadar kit does not include one.

The Bottom Line

The Cobra iRadar is essentially a basic, albeit good, radar/laser detector. However, when paired with an iPhone running the iRadar app, it becomes a much more flexible and useful speed management tool.

The LED indicator glows red showing that the device is active. In this state, it will beep and speak audible alerts for any of the radar and laser bands it senses with its 360-degree receiver, much like any of Cobra's radar/laser detectors without an "i-" prefix. The unit features X, K, Ka, and VG-2 band detection and POP-mode warnings for instant-on detection. There is also a mode that notifies the user when approaching safety cameras.

The Cobra iRadar app gives tremendous flexibility over how and what the iRadar detector reports.

However, the "i" at the beginning of iRadar is an indicator that this radar/laser detector is meant to work with Apple's iPhone and iPod Touch. You can initiate pairing with the iRadar from an iOS device's Bluetooth menu. Once successfully paired, the red LED indicator turns blue and an audible chime sounds. Currently, the iRadar only works with the iPhone or iPod Touch, but Android compatibility is around the corner in early 2011.

The iRadar app is what separates the Cobra iRadar from the rest of Cobra's product lineup and indeed the rest of the radar/laser detector market. Available as a free download in the iTunes App Store, the app features a virtual dashboard that monitors your GPS position, vehicle speed, and direction of travel. Here users can also switch between the iRadar's city and highway modes and quickly mark locations of speed traps or safety cameras. When the iRadar detects radar in the area, here is also where users will be alerted to the band sensed and the signal strength and given the ability to mark the location as a real or false threat--useful for marking those annoying "Your current speed" signs or automated doors in shopping center parking lots.

Users can also access a map of the current area that overlays detected and marked threats on Google Maps data. Users can filter the map to show real threats, false alarms, or both, and can set markers to expire after a customizable time period (default is a week).

In these screenshots, we see the iRadar app's main status screen and one of the warnings provided by the Aura database.

The third function of the iRadar app is the Settings menu. Here users can dig in and customize the sensitivity of the iRadar detector and fine-tune the app itself. Settings are broken into four sections. User settings features another toggle between highway and city modes, an option to chose between voice and tone alerts, an automute function, and options for automatically logging detections on the map and managing power usage of the iPhone running the app. The Alert settings menu is where you can toggle alerts for X, K, Ka, and VG-2 bands and POP mode. Cobra's Safety Alert system can be toggled here; this system relies on transmitters in emergency vehicles, road hazard warning equipment, and trains to warn of potential driver and vehicle safety threats. The GPS Alert settings menu is where you adjust what warnings come from the app and iPhone itself. These options include alerts for speed cameras, caution areas, speed traps, and user-marked locations. Data for these alerts comes from the cloud using Cobra's Aura Camera and Driving Hazard Database (data connection required). You can also set a speed warning that notifies you when you've exceeded a preset and customizable speed limit. Finally, the Unit Info menu displays the paired iRadar's model number and connection status, as well as the version number of the iRadar app.

The fourth and final function of the iRadar app is a store function that takes you to Cobra's online store for additional purchases. Currently, the only item in the store is the $169.95 iRadar itself, which is only really useful if you've downloaded the app before picking up the hardware.

Getting back to hardware for a moment, the iRadar's car charger plugs into a vehicle's 12-volt power connection or cigarette lighter port and connects to the detector. Of course, you'll have to bring your own iPhone/iPod USB charging cable and, if you want the touch screen to remain visible as you drive, your own car cradle. Another nice bonus feature rolled into the iRadar's power cable is its monitoring of your vehicle's electrical system output and reporting of battery voltage via the paired iPhone app's Dashboard screen. You can also set the iRadar app to audibly alert you if the battery level gets too low.

On the road and when it wasn't warning us of speed detectors in the area, the iRadar unit's low-profile design made for minimal distraction. Our first run with the unit was made with the iPhone tucked away in a cupholder and out of our line of sight. Using a second smartphone running the Trapster app--a free app that alerts users to speed traps and road hazards--we set out in search of a clocking copper.

Using the iPhone's data connection, the iRadar app can notify users of road hazards as a pop-up (left) or on a Google map (right).

As we said earlier, by itself, the iRadar is a good--if not simple--radar detection device. It beeps and gives verbal warnings--for example, "K-band detected"--when it detects speed-sensing radar. But without the iPhone's screen visible, that's about the extent of the sort of warnings you'll get. We didn't experience very many false alarms, and when we did, they were brief and quickly dismissed by the iRadar's logic. For example, upon activating our test vehicle's radar-guided cruise control, we were presented with a brief K-band radar warning. However, after a few seconds, the iRadar automatically dismissed it and never falsely triggered for this system again.

Where the iRadar comes alive is when it is paired with an iPhone running the iRadar app. That means bringing your own car kit to keep the iPhone in your line of sight. We think it's a worthwhile investment, but with both the iRadar unit and the iPhone mounted, the vehicle's windshield can begin to feel a bit crowded.

Fortunately, the app works for its space on the windshield, displaying not only detected radar band and signal strength, but also advanced warnings for hazards such as speed traps and caution areas pulled from Cobra's Aura database. This gives drivers a chance to check their speed before they attract police attention, buying precious seconds to slow down. Granted, we never ran into a police presence in any of the speed trap areas reported by the iRadar app, but we're of the school of thought that prefers more warnings to not enough.


Cobra iRadar


Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 8Performance 7