Price (RRP): $199
I like cheap equipment brands. One reason I like them is that they make devices, which might normally be financially out of reach, available to those with limited resources. Sure, they may not work quite as well, or be as well built. But often they’re ninety per cent of what you’re after for half the price.
The other reason is that they put downwards pricing pressure on the quality brands. There’s no doubt that Garmin is a quality brand, and to be able to get a highly functional 1080p dash cam from such a brand for $199 is a miracle of modern times.
That’s the price of the Garmin Dash Cam 45. You can pay $50 more for the Garmin Dash Cam 55, which adds voice control and bumps up resolution to 1440p. A further $100 (that is, to $349) gets you the Garmin Dash Cam 65W. That one comes back to 1080p (I think – the manual implies one thing, the web site another), but has the voice control and adds a wide angle lens.
Apart from that, they’re all pretty much the same with their features, starting with a tiny, tiny size. The Dash Cam 45 is only 56mm wide, 41mm tall and 35mm deep. It’s shaped like an old fashioned camera, but miniaturised. The main part is a rectangular prism, with a cylindrical section housing the lens poking out from the front. At the back is a 50mm colour screen. To the left (looking from the back) is a Micro-B USB port for power and communications with a computer. To the right are four control buttons for triggering recordings, controlling playback and adjusting settings.
At the bottom is a slot for a microSD card. A minimum speed rating of C10 is required, and cards of up to 64GB are supported. (Why 64GB? 32GB is the upper limit of the SDHC class, so 64GB cards are SDXC, as are 128GB and so on.) A microSD card is apparently supplied with the camera so no additional purchase is needed. It was missing from the review unit and I’ve been unable to find the size of the freebie.)
On the top is a clamp for the small ball on the end of the windscreen mount. The tightness of the clamp isn’t adjustable, but it holds tightly enough that the position of the camera is maintained well. Not least because the camera weighs only 60 grams.
A short arm from the ball leads to a magnetic mount. Normally that would attached to a coin sized metal disc which, itself, adheres to a windscreen. This disc wasn’t with the unit so I imagine it’s stuck on the glass of some other reviewer’s car. I used Blu Tack for my temporary installation. Not pretty, but it worked.
Other features: WiFi connectivity so you can use it with a Garmin app. The photos and videos are GPS-tagged. There’s a shock sensor so that if nasty things happen, the video leading up to it and shortly afterwards will be saved as an “Event”. The unit can give warnings if you’re departing your lane, or driving too close to the car in front of you.
You can reduce the standard 1080p30 resolution to 720p30 if you need to save space on your memory card. You can manually start recordings or take photos. And there’s a time lapse setting which takes periodic frames and pastes them together into a high speed recap of your journey.
The camera has a small battery built in with enough of a charge for 30 minutes operation. That allows it to do things like continue to record for a short while after power has been switched off (a useful feature in the event of a collision that interrupts the vehicle’s electrical system). There’s also a “parking mode monitor” feature, which allows the Dash Cam to start recording if motion is detected while the car is parked. But you’ll need a special cable, probably best installed professionally, to make use of that.
That’s a lot of stuff for $199. From a leading brand.
Using the unit was really quite easy. Indeed, you don’t actually need to do anything once you’ve installed it (also supplied is a lighter power adaptor and a long cable for power).
It is always recording (you can choose to have it record voice, too, if you want, or leave that switched off) and keeps the video in a folder of “unsaved” videos. Each is one minute in length. The oldest of these is over-written as additional space is required. How far back it will go depends on the size of the card. Each one minute video file was precisely 80MB in size, so I figure if you’re using a 64GB memory card, you ought to be able to fit perhaps a dozen hours on before the old stuff starts disappearing (depending on how many bits of video and photos you intentionally save.)