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There are three parts to the Escort SmartRadar system: the SmartRadar detector itself, a separate display controller, and an app for Android or iPhone devices that is installed on your smartphone.
Let's start with the SmartRadar detector. The unit itself is a small, unassuming black box that is meant to be mounted near the top of the windshield just ahead of the rear-view mirror. It measures 3.2 inches by 3.5 inches and is 1.2 inches thick. The unit is affixed to the windshield with either a dual suction-cup mount or an adhesive pad, both are included in the box. The unit itself lacks any sort of visual indicators aside from a single, blue LED behind the power button. That power button is located on the driver's side of the device (when it's mounted sensor-forward) and is joined on the unit's edge by connections for the power cable, the display controller, and a data connection.
In the box, the our Android-specific SmartRadar unit shipped with two power cables (one short and one long) that need to be connected to the vehicle's 12-volt fuse box or tapped into 12-volt power. This version did not ship with a standard cigarette-lighter-type 12-volt power cable. When mounted using the strong adhesive pad, the SmartRadar is more or less a permanent installation.
The bulky SmartRadar box isn't as slick-looking as, for example, the Cobra iRadar, but I didn't penalize the design score because this is a device that is designed to be mostly hidden behind the rear-view mirror and out of sight. Some drivers may enjoy the unit's function-over-form aesthetic.
The SmartRadar detector is able to detect X, K, Ka, and Laser bands and notify the driver with an audible beep and a spoken indication, such as "K band detected." Three sensitivity modes are available: Highway, Auto, and AutoNoX. Highway is, presumably, the highest sensitivity mode, designed to be used on the open road. Auto features a Traffic Signal Rejection (TSR) feature that automatically ignores interstate traffic sensors in areas where they're used. AutoNoX is the same as Auto mode, but with the addition of automatically ignoring all X-band alerts in areas where local law enforcement doesn't use the older method.
Although there is no display integrated into the SmartRadar itself, the detector ships with a small, display controller that can be connected to the device and mounted in a visible and accessible location. I chose to mount the display to the top of my test car's rear-view mirror, which is both the location suggested by Escort's photography and the only location that the extremely short connection cable would allow. The tiny dot-matrix display shows the current detection mode and, in the event of a radar trigger, the band and signal strength. Users can select from three different display modes that get more and more detailed. There are also buttons for powering the detector on and off, adjusting the brightness of the display's red illumination, and changing the detection sensitivity mode.
Escort Live app
With just the physical hardware alone, the Escort SmartRadar is already shaping up to be a fully competent radar detection setup. However, there's still the matter of the third piece of this system's puzzle: the Escort Live app. This app (free to download, but subscription-supported) installs on your Android phone or iPhone. After a short Bluetooth pairing process, the app is able to communicate bidirectionally with the SmartRadar hardware, connecting it to Escort's database of user-reported speed traps, police sightings, radar detections, and speed and red-light cameras. Whenever the SmartRadar detects speed-monitoring radar or lasers, it uploads the location and band detected to the Escort Live database. False alerts are also noted. Now, when you approach a red-light camera or a known speed trap, the SmartRadar unit can alert you before you even get there, displaying something like "K-BAND LIVE" and giving you more time to adjust your speed. The idea is that with the help of an army of other SmartRadar users, the Escort Live service effectively extends the detection range.
From the Escort Live app, users can also view a map of known police presence, radar detection, and red-light cameras. There's also a dashboard view that displays the current speed limit (if known), the vehicle's current speed (which turns red when you exceed the limit by a predefined amount). When the SmartRadar hardware detects a radar or laser band, the app also acts as a larger, second display showing information about the band detected, the specific frequency of the speed monitoring hardware, and options for reporting false alarms.
Additionally, the Escort Live app allows users to adjust the settings of the SmartRadar hardware, select which types of road hazards trigger audible alerts, and the how those Live Alerts are synced.
As I said, the app is free to download. Taking advantage of the dashboard view is included in that free portion, but taking advantage of Live Alerts requires a paid subscription. The SmartRadar detector unlocks 12 months of free service when you pair it with the app. After that year, you'll have to pay $4.99 per month or $49.99 per year to keep the access to that database of red-light cameras, police spottings, radar alerts, and false alarms.
To test the SmartRadar's ability to screen out false alarms and detect actual alerts by, naturally, driving around and seeking out alerts and finding the sources. For example, older radar detectors would go crazy in shopping centers and strip malls, because the detectors for the automatic doors would trigger false alerts. However, as I drove past the front doors of a few shopping centers in the San Francisco Bay Area, the SmartRadar remained perfectly quiet. However, I did get a few seemingly false K-Band alerts while crossing the currently under construction San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge and when passing other construction zones.
I decided to test out Escort Live's database of reported Live Alerts by hunting down and checking out some of the alerts. However, because the alerts seem to expire after a few hours and my testing occurred around lunchtime on a weekday, the map screen didn't actually display anything for miles but red-light cameras. Without other Escort Live drivers on the road, there's not much data to be gleaned from the service. After a few hours, I decided to take another shot at it during rush hour a few miles south of San Francisco in the San Jose and Palo Alto areas. Sure enough, I noticed a few Ka-band alerts and headed toward them to check.
As I approached an area where the Live Alert was reported, the SmartRadar detector notified me that K-band had been detected a few miles ahead. Just as I was beginning to doubt the accuracy of the almost one-hour-old report, I rounded a corner and the SmartRadar started to beep and talk, signaling Ka-Band detected at full strength. Cresting the next hill, I saw that local law enforcement was, in fact, busy issuing a ticket to a driver on the other side of the road. Score one for the SmartRadar. I checked out three more reported Ka-Band alerts and found police at or near every one. Each time, I got a "K-Band Live" alert a few miles before getting a "Ka-Band detected" alert shortly thereafter. Each time, I also noticed that my Ka-band detections were added to the Escort Live map to help other SmartRadar and Escort Live users.
The SmartRadar and Escort Live combo proved to be effective in avoiding and detecting speed-detection hardware. However, there are a few cons that should be noted. Firstly, the SmartRadar hardware is Android- or iOS-specific. You have to decide which platform you're going to use at the time of purchase, which can be problematic for dual-platform households. The Cobra iRadar boasts a similar feature set, but with the ability to change platforms at the flip of a switch. The $129 Cobra unit is also less expensive than the $449 SmartRadar for Android.
However, the SmartRadar hardware gave fewer false alerts than the Cobra iRadar did and usually notified us of police detection before the less expensive unit did. It may cost more, but the Escort hardware proved to be the superior detector in my testing. I also liked the semipermanent, stealthy mounting with hard wiring and strong adhesive, but that may not be your cup of tea.
Of course, both devices and their complimentary app face competition from the free Trapster app and its database of speed traps and road hazards. However, while Trapster has a larger group of reporting drivers, its reliance on manual inputs from drivers who spot cops with their eyes could be viewed as less accurate than the automatic reporting by actual radar-detection hardware.