When CNET editor Antuan Goodwin reviewed the Escort Passport Max radar detector in 2013, he was impressed by its detection capability but griped about the additional cost for Escort's SmartCord, needed to use the Escort Live Radar smartphone app. Escort solves that problem with the Passport Max 2, integrating Bluetooth connectivity into this next-generation radar detector.
I put this new version of Escort's signature radar detector through its paces, checking out its app features and testing its detection capabilities.
Unchanged in size, the Passport Max 2 is on the large side, considering how small most consumer electronics have become. The unit measures 1.3 by 3.2 by 5.3 inches, much thicker than the average smartphone, and at 9.6 ounces it also has a bit of heft to it. Size aside, the packaging, black with silver accents, looks business-like.
The front end houses the all-important detector, able to read X, K and Ka band radar, while a small nodule on top of the unit detects laser signals. At the back end, a narrow OLED display shows you radar hits with signal strength, the current speed limit and your own speed, these latter two bits of information courtesy of the device's built-in GPS.
An array of buttons across the top lets you change the Passport Max 2's volume, set the detection mode and mark locations. The 12-volt power cord, which includes buttons for some basic functions, plugs into the side, then drapes down the middle of the dashboard to a power point.
Escort includes a suction-cup mount that fits both on the windshield or smooth dashboard surfaces.That mount's hinge only moves vertically, with limited range.
As a useful part of the Escort radar detector system, the associated app includes crowdsourced data and gives a more visual representation of data from the Passport Max 2. The app includes map locations for radar hits and red-light cameras, and also lets you report speedtrap locations. Even more convenient, the Passport Max 2 automatically reports its radar hits through the app to the crowdsourced database, letting other drivers know about speed traps.
I found it dead easy to install the Passport Max 2. Stick the suction-cup mount to the windshield, and insert the power cord and run it down to the car's power point. I installed the Escort Live app on my iPhone and, using an account provided by Escort logged in. When the Passport Max 2 fired up, I found it in my phone's Bluetooth settings and it paired right away.
On the road, the Passport Max 2 sounded off with a noisy alert for every radar hit it got, similar to radar detectors of old. At the same time, a meter on the device's display showed bars indicating the strength of the signal. When approaching a radar detector, the audible alert gained frequency, but also lowered its volume automatically so as not to be annoying.
In one example, which proved to me the efficacy of the detection, I was following a box truck in the right lane of a freeway, and had little visibility of the road ahead. The Passport Max 2 sounded off with a K-band radar hit, and its audible and visual alerts showed increasing strength as I drove. After about a mile of driving, the source of that radar hit became apparent, a highway patrol office parked on the side of the road.
The Passport Max 2 managed to detect that radar signal even though the truck was blocking the line-of-sight between the detector and the patrol car.
I happened to drive that same stretch of freeway about a half hour later, and heard the Passport Max 2 report a live radar hit using a programmed voice, matching my current location to what the system had automatically reported to its database previously. The database maintains those signal hits for one hour after they've been reported.
However, I saw many obvious false hits from the Passport Max 2. In one 10 minute stretch of driving on city streets, the Passport Max 2 got seven hits, some duplicates, of both K and X band, which I assume were errant signals bouncing around the buildings. Escort informs me that the Passport Max 2 incorporates learning behaviors to eliminate false hits, using its GPS to determine if a radar signal always comes from the same location. After repeated passes, the radar detector will stop calling out those hits that it determines are false.
The device used its voice alerts to warn me about red-light cameras, accurately calling out intersections as I approached. The app also showed icons on a map screen for these locations. As one drawback, the Passport Max 2 called out red-light cameras for surface streets when I was merely passing near or over them on a freeway.
The app itself works OK, but is limited in scope. For example, it shows a history of radar hits, but provides no details other than time and street name. It would be more useful, especially if you were pulled over for speeding, to have more information for each radar hit, such as map location and vehicle speed.
While driving with the app active, I also noticed that, like navigation apps, it drained my phone battery relatively quickly.
At $599 MSRP, the Escort Passport Max 2 is certainly one of the more expensive radar detectors on the market. Of course, if it saves you from a couple of speeding tickets, it will justify its price, or so goes the traditional argument. The device offers good detection capability, and its app connectivity is a modern touch.
However, it seems needlessly bulky. For design, I like the Cobra iRadar Atom better, which relies on its associated app as the alert interface.
Depending on where you drive, any radar detector will be more or less effective. In California, the highway patrol uses both laser and pop-up radar. While the Passport Max 2 detects laser, that type of speed measurement is instantaneous, so the detector won't be able to alert you before your speed has been recorded. Likewise, pop-up radar is usually too fast for a detector to help. In areas where law enforcement uses older equipment, the Passport Max 2 will be more useful.
Editor's note: This review has been updated to include mention of the Escort Passport Max 2's ability to eliminate repeated false radar detection hits.