Last week’s review detailed the Valentine One Radar Detector, and looks at how that was the best radar detector to pass through my hands. In fact, it is hard to imagine a better unit than the Valentine V1. However, to have formed such an opinion, some less than stellar radar detectors passed through my usage. This week, the least-stellar and most annoying detector gets reviewed: The Cobra iRadar system. While the title above and last week’s review might not leave a lot of my opinion unstated, does the extremely low price of under $250 warrant ANY attention?
What do you get?
Cobra, much like Escort, is the overall brand name, while the iRadar system denotes the type of system you are going for. iRadar devices are their app-centric devices, although other traditional detectors are available. There are three systems supposedly available through Cobra’s own website, with the iRadar 230 being the most expensive, the ATOM the middle child, and the S-Series, which was the early effort. While the appearance of choice might seem like a boon, any apparent shoppers will quickly realize that the smooth-looking 230 unit is not offered, and the S-Series is billed as a legacy product and as such is more expensive than the positioned ATOM above it in the hierarchy. That leaves iRadar shoppers with the ATOM as the sole offering from Cobra without having to resort to a third-party retailer.
For those who—like me—decide that $250 is worth trying out the system, they receive a fairly comprehensive bit of kit from the box.
Included in the box is the detector itself, a suction cup mount, and a power cable which utilizes the cigarette lighter in your car. Set-up is as simple as slotting the mount on the device, putting it up, and plugging it in. The included instructions allow you to connect your phone with ease. For basic use, this is all that is required, but for users such as myself who dislike wires, a hard wire option is available. Appearance wise, the iRadar unit looks fantastic, and is small enough to never get in the way. The small size is a major advertising point, with Cobra claiming, “Cobra’s highest sensitivity radar/laser detector packed into the industry’s most compact design”. Both points—the sensitivity and the compactness—prove to be true, although as we will see sensitivity is a tricky business for a radar detector.
It has the Form but what about the Function?
Because installation is such a snap, it won’t take new users long to start running into some of the ATOM’s ‘quirks’. First off, while advertised that it is functional without a phone connected, it is almost impossible. Not only does the small size make this inconvenient, but the button to mute the device can be almost impossible to reach if the device is placed too high or too low on a large windshield. After solving the new problem of how to also mount my phone legally in the car, and connecting through Bluetooth, this becomes a much smaller annoyance; although one just waiting for a low battery warning to rear its ugly head again. While difficult to mute from the device, once connected to a proper smartphone much more usability is unlocked.
Two screens are available to users, one a map with user reports on it, a la Waze, and a ‘dashboard’ which displays speed, direction, and battery voltage. This is supposed to be the ‘killer app’ of the iRadar system, melding the functions of a radar detector with a community based reporting system. While surely a good idea, Cobra does not necessarily have the user infrastructure to maintain a usable number of reports. My area, a large population area, had a single other intermittent user, and as such I spent most of my time on the less-intrusive dashboard feature. After a few days of expectantly watching the map for warnings, with not a peep to reward me, I never really went back. Without the community, the iRadar system becomes just another radar detector.
If the ATOM was stumbling before, this is where it falls flat on its face. As I said before, Cobra is very proud of the sensitivity of their little box. They seemed to be so excited in fact that they turned the detector up to 11, taped it there, and called it job done. Everything, absolutely everything with an inkling of radar energy triggers the alert. Every single automatic door, most modern cars with radar safety features, and yes, sometimes a police officer will light up the screen, the audio system, and the app on your phone. Luckily a single mute silences all the alerts, but it is still quite the spectacle. Audi’s are particular culprits, with almost every single modern model triggering an alert in passing. On top of this, the app designed to make the experience easier often crashes, freezing and requiring a restart; a hard feat for a driver.
Once the ratio achieved nine false reports at least for every one officer, I realized that the Cobra iRadar was a failure. Why did I live with it for almost two years? Well, it was there. That about sums up the motivation for keeping it, and upon getting rid of it no love was lost. However, while the Cobra ATOM system is not really a radar detector, it does act as a sort of quasi-trainer for driving habits. Because the machine lets loose so many notifications, drivers who heed the warnings are constantly driving a little timidly, and certainly more aware, looking for officers that probably aren’t there. While I didn’t receive any tickets during those two years, I credit almost none of that to the ATOM system. Save the headache and buy a Valentine: Love the arrows and never look back.
If you really wish to purchase the unit still, do so HERE.
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I recently recieved a degree in History from the University of Nevada, Reno.