Transcend DrivePro 220Taking a cab out of Sydney recently, we turned onto the Bridge to find a large truck stuck across two lanes, having misjudged the angle. Our taxi driver quickly leant across and tapped the ‘still’ button on his dashcam.
“[Expletive deleted] idiot!” he laughed. “That’ll be on Facebook as soon as I’ve dropped you off.” 
Dashcams are rising in popularity — and why wouldn’t they. Their prices are becoming more affordable while their quality increases, benefitting from the general advances in small cameras for smartphones and action-cams. And as we’ll see here, they can be pretty smart themselves — Wi-Fi, app connection, and of course clever enough to look after themselves in order to catch the unexpected and unpredictable moments for which they were created. 
Plus, as our taxi driver demonstrated, they can be used for entertainment and social media. General awareness of their abilities is high following regular publicity and TV coverage showing their capture of asteroid impacts and plane crashes, as well as road accidents. For our off-roader readers here in Oz, who knows what could be around the next bend? You’ll never whip out a D-SLR in time to catch kangaroos bounding across the track at sunrise, wild camels at sunset, that UFO over the Nullarbor — but your dashcam is always on, always ready, always recording. 
You may have noted that those TV shows often focus on recordings from Russia, where dashcam ownership has become de rigeur, protecting motorists against scams by delivering the evidence to police and insurance companies. And ultimately, that is the fundamental raison d’etre for a dashcam. Does it guarantee a useful recording on that one occasion when everything goes wrong? 
Dashcam design
So it’s not hard to create a wishlist for the ideal dashcam. It should be convenient in your vehicle, easy to mount without dominating or inconveniencing the overdash area, and easy to reach, while driving if necessary, to invoke an emergency ‘keeper’ recording that won’t be erased through the usual procedure of wiping the earliest recordings to make new ones. For similar reasons it should have sufficient onboard storage, doubly important for off-roaders taking a long trip where you may wish to keep holiday footage of general rather than merely traumatic driving.
Operation must be robust and reliable — it must start automatically every time you drive because, clearly, manual control is a nonsense in terms of capturing the unexpected, not to mention the road safety and legality issues of operating cameras while driving — just ask Sam Burgess.
Lastly quality should be acceptable — there’s no use in recording an accident if the results aren’t clear, no point in capturing some idiot on the road if you can’t then read the number plate to report them.
So priorities established, how does the Transcend DrivePro 220 stack up?
Transcend DrivePro 220
Screen on the screen
First up, the Transcend 220 is genuinely dinky, less than half the size of some satnav separates, for example. At just 63mm wide and 70mm high, it’s not going to dominate the space above your dash. Of course this means that its screen is similarly small, with just a 2.4-inch diagonal LCD, but then this isn’t something to be watched as you drive; indeed it should avoid being a distraction, given it displays a live video stream in a position forward of the driver. 
Transcend DrivePro 220The Transcend presents something of a quandary here for the casual installer. It is clearly intended to go at the top of the windscreen, attached by sucker (an adhesive pad option is mentioned in the supplied guide, but there wasn’t one in our box), where it is certainly convenient in use and operational terms, but this leaves a long cable run round the passenger windscreen, down the door and across the glovebox to the location of your cigarette lighter power socket. The cable in the box is entirely long enough to allow this, but it’s an impossibly ugly and inconvenient quantity of trailing cable to handle in an ad hoc installation, so for this position you must plan to run things internally through to some point south of the glove box. For our temporary review use, the sucker worked fine lower down, still achieving a clear picture over the dash and bonnet to the road beyond. (Those with more sportily extreme widescreen slopes or superchargers sticking out of their hood might want to plan things out before purchase.)
There’s another issue here — the power cable emerges from the right side of the Transcend, while the big red ‘emergency’ button is on the left. This is clearly designed for lefthand drive vehicles, and so presents a double inconvenience for us here in a righthand drive country. Still, once you’ve worked it out, you know the button’s there, and it sticks out so you can’t miss it when reaching around the unit. Hopefully as dash-cam sales increase, someone will do a favour for the 55 countries that currently drive on the left and produce a reversed or ambidextrous design.
As soon as the Transcend receives power, it starts recording — no interaction at all was required for this; it just records, as it should. When the ignition turns off, it records for a further 10 seconds then (with a warning) turns itself off. There’s an internal battery in there so that it can handle plenty of time without the power being applied, and you can also activate a parking mode where any motion detection will trigger a recording (thieves, side-swipes) though as Transcend warns, this constant awareness will drain the battery pretty quickly.   
Transcend DrivePro 220
Transcend DrivePro 220
Recordings are made to a microSD card, a better fit for the dinky unit than a full-sized SD card, and the Transcend comes with a fairly generous 16GB microSD card. You can set video quality at either 1080p or 720p, each recording at 30 frames per second (again we are really a 25/50fps country, but it matters little in this context). The lower 720p might be tempting, as it allows four hours 20 minutes of recording on the 16GB card compared with two hours 20 minutes at 1080p, but really, quality is important here, and we kept our recordings at the higher quality. You can always upgrade to a higher capacity card (get one which is MLC-type, not the less reliable TLC) — Transcend’s own MLC 64GB cards can be found around $80, and comes with a useful adaptor to SD size, which might have been a useful inclusion in the box here.  
There’s some basic set-up — put the date and time in to ensure your recordings are correctly date-stamped, while this model has GPS built-in as well, to note location too, which could also be useful for giving an accurate location to emergency services in case of an accident. 
The four buttons below the screen access all the menu options and we found them entirely intuitive, even without the comprehensive (and easily comprehended) printed guide supplied. Icon labels above the buttons form part of the screen so can change depending on context; in normal mode they are (left to right) power, file list, menu/settings, and still picture. However, as we’ll see, you needn’t mess with settings here at all — because there’s an app for that.
On the road
The only two buttons you’re likely to use during actual operation are that ‘still’ button on the right below the screen, and the ‘Emergency’ button hidden on the left side. The still button simply captures the moment as a still image, and doesn’t interrupt a video recording, handy for snapping something unusual, like our taxi-driving friend capturing ‘idiots’ for his Facebook page. The legality of this is questionable — not the Facebooking so much as the camera operation while driving, so consider this if using a still image in any insurance dealings. 
Better, perhaps, to post-capture a still from the handsfree no-interaction video recordings. The trick here is to make sure the ones you need don’t get deleted from subsequent normal use. The unit’s own G-Sensor will automatically trigger an Emergency recording in the event of an accident (and no, we didn’t test this), but you can manually force one using that lefthand red button. Doing so will save 30 seconds of footage before you press, and 30 afterwards. But the unit can save only 15 Emergency files, so if you’re using this casually, you simply must offload and clear these recordings regularly to keep space available for the real emegencies. Once the 15 slots are full the unit does start flashing red messages at you quite virulently, so at least you’re unlikely not to notice the problem.
Apps and exports
The easiest way to get your recordings is to remove the microSD card, stick it into an SD card adaptor (not supplied) and copy them to your computer. We found, however, that this didn’t let us delete files easily, and since we had hit our maximum of 15 emergency recordings we had the choice of either manually deleting using the unit’s on-screen menus, or switching to the app, which is available for iOS and Android devices.
This app connects directly to the DrivePro’s own Wi-Fi signal (you need to activate this from settings on the unit) and will first offer a firmware update if available, then handy access to recordings and settings.
Transcend DrivePro 220This is by far the easiest way to change settings, for example, the sensitivity of the G-sensor, the length of each recording (three minutes is the default), resolution and all the rest of it. You can have a speed alert, but it’s only for one fixed nominated speed, so not too useful in urban environments. The app lists your videos under two tabs — normal and emergency recordings, each divided into stacks by date. You can stream or download recordings, a useful quick way to back-up after a prang, or an easy way to display something immediately on your phone to a police officer in the case of an accident, perhaps, or a Channel 7 reporter in the case of a UFO. We found the streaming to be a bit sluggish at 1080p (we had to restart the entire app a couple of times), and we couldn’t find any way to access the still images via the app, but that aside, it’s a pretty effective app as a bonus to have in addition to the direct access and computer download.
On computer you can simply drag the mp4 files and still jpgs out to be used in a program of your choice; the video size is about 100MB per minute at 1080p. The results were effective at 1080p from the 130-degree wide angle lens and microphone (you get audio alongside the 15Mbps video, mainly a blasting car audio system in our case); there’s situational clarity in being able to see a wide angle view of everything happening, though we found number plates could be blurred into illegibility under motion beyond a few car lengths away, and could wash out in bright sunlight (there is an exposure control available, but it’s not automatic). Time, GPS coordinates and speed are also stamped, rather small, at the bottom of the image. See our screenshots for examples of the results.
The popularity of dashcams is rising at such a rate that it surely can’t be long before they become part of more integrated solutions and factory fits.
In the meantime Transcend offers a compact and tech-strong offering, slightly compromised for Australia by its lefthand-drive orientation, and requiring some careful cable placement, but delivering good results with the benefits of app connection by Wi-Fi and, for offroaders, added GPS details so you can place your kept recordings in their rightful position in the great outdoors. Offroaders on long trips might want to upgrade the card size and/or carry a spare, backing up to app or computer whenever possible to keep any recordings showing more extreme or entertaining moments behind the wheel. But if that’s your main goal, maybe get an action cam, while trusting the Transcend DrivePro 220 to handle the everyday and the emergencies. 
Transcend DrivePro 220 car video recorder
Price: $249 
Features: 2.4” LCD display, speaker, microphone, mini-USB 2.0, 16GB microSD card included
Format: 720p/30, 1080p/30, H.264 MP4
Dimensions: 70 × 63 x 35mm
Transcend DrivePro 220