Dashcams are becoming ever more handy for insurance purposes, as well as general peace of mind that you’ll have proof when you’re in the right, and others are in the wrong. And for that role, the key wants here are two-fold — reliability of operation, and quality of image.
The last Transcend dashcam we tested was the DrivePro 220. This new 230 model looks very similar but updates both software and hardware, notably the all-important image sensor which, in combination with the optics, governs that vital image quality. Any low-res dashcam will record an idiot flying in from a side-road and causing an accident, but if they then scarper, will you be able to read their number-plate from a few soft blurry images?
Chances are with the Sony Exmor sensor in this Transcend, not only will the number-plate be identifiable, but so will road-signs, other traffic, and the bloke in the red cap who saw it all from from his lounge-room window. The Exmor sensor is not only full-HD, allowing recording here at 1920 x 1080 at 30fps (in .mov format), Sony’s sensor is more sensitive to light than your average light-gatherer because all the tiny wiring is kept behind the sensor, not in the spaces around the individual pixels, as is more common. The larger pixel area thereby possible makes the Exmor particularly effective in low-light situations — and since night-time recordings are a traditional weakness for dashcams, the choice of sensor makes sense here.
Otherwise things are much the same. This is a very dinky little dashcam about 7 x 6cm in size, with a wide-angle (130-degree) lens facing forward and a usefully bright 2.4-inch screen facing the driver, with four function buttons below. A sucker mount adheres to your windscreen and the DrivePro clicks in below, supplied with a long cable which can snake over your passenger visor and down through the glove-box to your 12V power socket.
Those using the dashcam permanently would do well to plumb it in, as more than four metres of trailing cable is neither pretty nor convenient for passengers.
As we noted on the 220 model, things here are clearly designed for left-hand drive, rather than our Australian right-hand drive vehicles. The cable emerges from the driver’s side of the cam here, while the useful red button for protecting important recordings is hidden from the driver on the passenger side. In a left-hand drive vehicle it would be visible and easier to reach — whereas on one occasion when reaching around for the red button we actually popped out the microSD card instead, which shut the dashcam down, exactly the opposite of what we were trying to achieve.
But the red button is only used to mark a file for permanent storage if something interesting happens; you don’t need it in day-to-day use. In fact you don’t need to do anything in day-to-day use; the dashcam powers up with your ignition — on our Subaru it operated 100% reliably as we started our engine, recording continuously, and stopping 10 seconds after the ignition was turned off. (Should your lighter socket be one that doesn’t power down with your ignition, you’d have to manually unplug it every time to avoid car battery drainage, which you’re unlikely to remember to do, so some other solution might be wise.)
The DrivePro 230 comes with a “high endurance” 16GB microSD card, and it’ll keep recording all your journeys until that’s full, and then it’ll keep going by replacing the earliest recordings with new ones. Just like a black box, indeed.
How much footage fits on the card? Remarkably little at 1080p — less than three hours, and only nine hours even if you invest in a 64GB microSD to insert. (Up to 128GB can be used.) You could more than double footage length by dropping the resolution to 720p, but that’s hardly making best use of the high-quality sensor here.
So it’s all about marking those important emergency files. Some 30% of the storage is reserved for these, but they’re not 100% protected — the earliest emergency file will be overwritten by the latest emergency file, so too many of those and the available space gets increasingly reduced. Make them sparingly, or get into the habit of transferring and deleting those files (see 'transferring recordings', below).
In addition to manually invoked emergency recordings, there’s a built-in 3-axis G-Sensor with two available sensitivities — low may be triggered by even minor shocks, which could again overstock your space. After a genuine accident, it might be sensible to power down the camera and even remove the card for safekeeping.
You can also ‘lock’ recordings during playback, putting them in the emergency group even if not so labelled during recording.
The other button to press as you drive is on the right below the screen, taking a snapshot without pausing the video recording. As with the videos, these are marked with time and date, and even GPS coordinates — you can decide exactly what’s listed through the extensive list of options under the ‘Settings’ menu accessible from one of the four buttons under the screen. Here you can alter video length, what’s ‘stamped’ on it, and whether you record audio (this can be either useful or dangerous, of course, depending on what you say or how you sing as you drive).
There are various options like driver fatigue alert (just a timer which goes off after a fixed time) and lane departure warning… we doubt many will use these in day-to-day operation.
Instead of normal recording you can manually start time-lapse, with one, two or four seconds per frame, rather fun for getting a rapid spin through a particularly inspiring route, though remembering that in this mode you might miss the crucial cause of an accident should one occur.
One feature can be added for those prepared to give the Dashcam a permanent power source or power bank — a Parking Monitor mode can be set to either time-lapse or motion-activated recording when you leave the vehicle in a public place.
So how were the recordings? Excellent. Clear images and audio on the videos, and good detail both on day and night recordings (see examples). We still had our test images from the non-Exmor DrivePro 220, and the night images were particularly improved, with blacks black instead of grey, and clearly a far greater sensitivity to light. You can see this in the images here.
If anything, Australia’s bright sunlight could sometimes overexpose number plates with flare, and at any time the motion blur could make identification difficult in any particular frame, though there was invariably some frame in which numberplates could be noted.
PC users can also use Transcend’s DrivePro Toolbox program for even greater control, including mapping of your videos, assuming you have GPS information recorded.
The alternative, rather easier we thought, is to simply remove the microSD card and put it into a computer — copy the recordings you want for viewing on any other program. This process also frees the files from the jurisdiction of the Transcend app, and the .mov movies and .jpg images played just fine through standard PC and Mac programs and other software such as VLC. The emergency recordings were shown as locked, though interestingly we couldn’t delete any recordings or images at all (from a Mac, anyway; they go back into the camera ready for rolling deletion or specific selection through the dashcam menus).
The main upgrade from the DrivePro 220 here is the new sensor, which, as the comparisons show, brings a higher level of clarity to recordings. It’s important to remember the supplied microSD will hold only a few hours of travel, and less of emergency recordings, so that you should store any important recordings immediately on a separate device.
The cabling is its other drawback — fit it beside your mirror and the cable trails all around the passenger visor and glovebox to the cigarette lighter. (As you can see, we had it lower down, for a shorter but still messy cable trail.) If you can plumb it in permanently, it’s a whole lot neater.
+ Improved imaging over previous version