Update: Our original Dash Cam Guidemaster was published in March 2018, but we recently tested out some of the newest options and updated our picks—just in time for 2019 summer road trips.
If you’ve ever been in a fender-bender or a serious car accident, you can appreciate the importance of a dash cam. These tiny car cameras stick to your windshield and silently record driving footage, capturing all the strange, mundane, and perilous things going on in front of your car. In addition to peace of mind during daily commutes, they can provide information footage to law enforcement, insurance companies, and other parties in accident situations, monitor your car when you’re not around, and sometimes capture fun videos of you and your friends on a road trip.
But with the numerous big and small companies making dash cameras now, wading through the sea of devices before you choose one to buy is a formidable task. Ars reviewed the newest dash cams and revisited our testing of existing devices to pick the best dash cams available now.
Note: Ars Technica may earn compensation for sales from links on this post through affiliate programs.
Table of Contents
|Specs at a glance: Nextbase 312GW|
|Camera quality||1080p at 30fps|
|Audio recording on/off option||Yes|
|Display||2.5 x 1-inch LCD|
|MicroSD card||Up to 128GB|
|Operational temperature range||-4°—113°F|
|Mounting method||Suction cup mount|
|Power source||Car power outlet|
|Warnings||Incident detection (G-sensor)|
|Mobile app||Yes, for viewing and downloading videos|
I can sum up my philosophy about dash cams in one sentence: the best dash cams disappear in your car, monitoring your surroundings and only making themselves known when you need them most. Nextbase’s 312GW does this quite well—in addition to being a compact dash cam, it has all of the essential features you’d want in a device like this and comes in at a relatively affordable price of $99.
Let’s start with its design: Nextbase’s 312GW dash cam is a square-ish oval that’s just small enough to hide behind your rear-view mirror if placed correctly. I love that it has a suction-cup mount because you can stick it to your windshield and move it at your leisure—that’s much harder to do with adhesive-mount dash cams.
The dash cam’s 2.5×1-inch display shows the road ahead of you and can turn off completely with the device’s sleep mode. Its bezels are filled with handy buttons that let you quickly snap photos and change camera settings like video resolution, audio recording, G-sensor sensitivity, and more. Each button is clearly labeled so even users who are not tech-savvy can figure out how to work the dash cam easily.
The 312GW’s camera has a viewing angle of 140 degrees and can record 720p video at 60fps or 1080p video at 30fps. Night vision also makes nighttime and dark videos more visible. Video quality is just good enough for a basic dash cam—vehicles and road signs are clear, colors are a bit on the warm side but fairly accurate, and small details like license plates can be read when your car is close to the subject (think sitting behind a vehicle at a traffic light).
The dash cam saves all photos and video to its microSD card, but Nextbase also has its Cam Viewer mobile app that you can download to retrieve photos and video immediately. The camera is Wi-Fi enabled, so all you need to do is connect to it using your smartphone and launch the app to view footage and save clips to your device. Like most dash cam mobile apps, it takes a while to download big video clips. If you plan to do this often, you should change the camera’s setting to record the shortest video clips possible (usually one-minute long). The Cam Viewer app isn’t the most exciting mobile app, but it’s easy to use and makes viewing and downloading video clips easy.
The arm of the dash cam includes a GPS, allowing you to stamp your videos with your MPH speed as well as your location. With the help of the mobile app, you can even plot your journey on Google Maps, so you can see exactly which route you took. This could be useful if you need to remember how you arrived at a certain location, or when you need to provide evidence of your exact whereabouts when a vehicle accident occurred.
There are plenty of more affordable dash cams, as well as luxury dash cams that have continuous power supplies, voice controls, and more. But the main function of a dash cam is to record driving footage at the most necessary times, like accidents and other road incidents. Nextbase’s 312GW does that well, and its handy mobile app makes it quick and simple to access footage immediately.
- Well-built dash cam with most necessary features at a great price.