REVIEW: Thinkware F550 Dash Cam
REVIEW: Thinkware F550 Dash Cam
So, if you’re like us, we drive places. From here to there, to and fro, Point A to Point B, to see family, friends, banking, business calls, etc. And we choose to take our cars, as they are a relatively safe and reliable method of transportation. And while we generally feel safe, when we have passengers, especially little ones, we sometimes worry about safety on the road.
It seems more and more that we see other drivers driving aggressively, unsafely and even dangerously. Whether they are late for work, late home or perhaps even think they are more important than other users of the road, it can lead to potentially deadly situations.
I was worried, not only for my own safety but the safety of others. Why would I need a dash cam? I had seen some dash cam videos on YouTube, people recording aggressive drivers and thought, “Hey, great idea!”. One video was very disturbing, as a motorist tried to avoid an aggressive driver, but he kept coming back, cutting the other driver off and slamming on his brakes. I’ve even seen videos of insurance fraud, where one driver will place his vehicle in neutral, roll back into another vehicle and then threaten the driver with charges and a lawsuit if they don’t give them cash on the spot!
So I started researching gadgets and attachments to mount my smartphone to the dash, both to save a few dollars, but also leverage existing technology. Hmm, between dodgy devices to mount your phone on the dash part of the time, and limited memory on my phone, it was turning into a nightmare. Plus, you have to remember to turn your video app on to record, and what if you are too busy, you know, DRIVING to be pressing the start button during an incident. By then it’s probably too late and there is nothing to be recorded. Then, I stumbled upon Thinkware…
Unlike a smartphone, the Thinkware dash cam is always an alert sentry to vehicular misdeeds. Always watching, always recording. When you turn your ignition on, Thinkware powers up, locates your GPS position and announces that GPS has been determined and it will begin recording. You can then concentrate on staying as safe as you can with defensive driving while Thinkware keeps a record of your journey.
Main features include:
- Hi Definition video with several different quality options
- Auto focus, auto exposure, auto colour and contrast correction
- 140 degree wide angle view which captures ALL of the road, sidewalks and intersections
- GPS information and date/time are stamped on the videos (see screen caps below)
- 4 recording modes: Continuous (normal operation), Manual (if you wish to record something and ensure you keep it), Event recording (crash/accident/impact), and Parking Surveillance Mode (optional), which protects your vehicle from hit and runs while it’s parked.
- Optional rear camera records vehicle movement behind, which is very useful for rear end collisions.
- Security LED, which is a visible warning that the dash cam is enabled and in use, which can help prevent break ins.
- Voice recording
- Dual Save © technology, records to the SD card as well as internal memory in the event of a crash
- The Active Impact Monitoring System utilizes a 3-axis G-Sensor to continuously monitor any impact to the vehicle, and triggers the incident recording mode whenever an impact is registered
- With the THINKWARE PC Viewer, you can access the recorded videos with time, speed, and location data on your PC or Mac computer. You may also use the application to configure the device, as well as accessing firmware upgrades. You can also view the videos on selected 3rd party applications to view the videos in large format HD. Thinkware records one minute of video before beginning a new recording. Hard to watch using another app, but seamless in the included app.
The review unit showed up after being couriered from BC, and the unpacking began. Included is the camera unit with a swivel lens; power adapter; Mini SD card; SD card adapter; USB/SD adapter for transferring videos to your computer; mounting supplies.
It as very easy to mount the adapter behind the rear view mirror with the included 3M velcro, and then you should attach the power cable to the unit and hide the cable underneath the moulding near the roof in your vehicle. The user manual guides you in this process. I chose not to as it was only a loaner unit. If you choose not to, you’ll have the unsightly power cable dangling in your field of vision, so be warned 😉
I have two power outlets in my vehicle, one that shuts off when the car is off, another that always on. The optional Parking Mode requires the unit to be hardwired into the battery, so to use a pseudo parking mode, I usually power the Thinkware via the always on plug, if I am doing a lot of running around and want the added security of the unit watching out while I’m gone. BE CAREFUL that you unplug it or power the unit off when you are home or leaving the vehicle for an extended period, or you will discharge the battery!
The default video quality is quite stunning! This will allow you to record more videos before you have to transfer them to your computer. Now you don’t have to transfer everything, but during testing I wanted to transfer a few and look at them. If you don’t transfer them, they will automatically be overwritten by the dash cam. Refer to the chart below for quality and record times expected:
|Video Quality||Full HD + HD 30fps||Full HD + HD 15fps||HD + HD 30fps||HD + HD 15fps|
|Capacity||16 GB||73 min||147 min||84 min||168 min|
|32 GB||153 min||306 min||174 min||349 min|
I recorded with the unit sitting in my driveway, tooling around the neighbourhood, and on the highway. I tried both night and day driving to see how the unit would respond. Then I took the unit inside and popped out the SD card to import the videos. Hmm, small problem…
I was running an older Mac with an older operating system. The software that comes with this unit was designed to work with newer systems than an 8 year old Mac, so I had a new Mac, updated the OS and was able to install the Thinkware PC viewer to view the videos. So, review the minimum requirements before you buy the unit. It also runs on Windows systems 🙂 Second *small* problem…
I had not updated the firmware or the settings on the unit before I used it, so the default Pacific Standard Time was enabled and all the recordings I had made were off by 3 hours 🙁 Not a big deal, but just a caveat that you should review the system settings such as Time Zone, video quality, security LED, etc BEFORE you started using the unit. That’ll teach me for being too eager! Also, Thinkware recommends that you reformat the SD card every few weeks, for optimum performance. This is a great idea, as you have gigabytes of data being written and rewritten daily, so wiping it periodically makes good sense.
I was unprepared for the amount of data at my fingertips and the number of options available for watching the videos in the Thinkware PC viewer app. I could see the GPS coordinates of the precise moment I was watching on the video, and my route as I drove; it shows a map of where I was and where I was going as I progressed through my drive; I could see a compass showing direction; I could see my speed according to the GPS satellites (bad boy, need to slow down!). When watching the videos and you pass a posted speed limit sign and glance at the speed indicator, you’ll start to realize how often you drive above the posted speed limit :-/ But, I digress… You can zoom in on videos, if you were a police agency for example, to read a license plate perhaps. Once you’ve zoomed in, you can pivot the video while playing or paused to see the wide angle image. You can view the right or left side of the screen very easily! You can also view the optional rear camera in its own video window. I didn’t test it, so the window just says Rear Camera.
If you’ve enabled voice recording, you’ll also hear what you were listening to, what you were saying in the vehicle, or just how often you sing along to Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” 🙂 I forget sometimes that it is recording inside the car, but this could be a crucial tool during a crash investigation, should police need the video. Voice recording can be disabled, but you shouldn’t…really.
This little device has also helped the police nab TWO impaired/distracted drivers! Both drivers were changing speeds erratically, veering into other lanes, braking for no apparent reason, etc. OPP were quick to respond for both and I mentioned to the dispatcher that dash cam video was available if necessary. They were grateful!
I would buy this unit without reservation! The very reason lies in the fact that it directly helped our roads stay safer by removing two drivers who were unfit to drive for one reason or another. The quality is stunning, letting you see incredible details on videos you’ve recorded, which would be helpful for a potential break in. Also, this makes a worthwhile addition to an existing car security system, which can potentially save you money on insurance rates, AND claims if you are not at fault for accidents. Highly recommended.
Finally, here’s a driver in Toronto that was the intended victim of insurance fraud, which was stopped in its tracks because of a dash cam!
For more information on this unit or other dash cams from Thinkware, go to http://www.thinkware.com/Products
Thinkware products can be purchased at major electronics retailers in Canada, and worldwide.