I vaguely recall the first time I had a dash camera for any real length of time, and it was a long time ago. I’ve not really used them much since, except for a brief stint with a Garmin dash cam (but that’s when I was doing a lot of investigation work, and capturing stuff on the in-vehicle camera was kind of required).
When Nextbase approached us to review one of their range of dash cameras, I was initially not all that interested; frankly, I have no real need for a dash camera. That said, I do spend a lot of time on the road, and I do see a lot of stupid driving. Perhaps, then, having a dash camera isn’t a bad idea, in case some jerk cuts me off and I need evidence to give my insurer?
Whatever the case, I’ve been reviewing a Nextbase Dash Cam 522GW, and I’m going to tell you a little about it.
What is it?
The Nextbase 522GW is a 1440p HD dash cam that incorporates an emergency SOS response feature, Alexa Voice control (more on that later), and a polarising lens. It’s $399, comes with a fairly easy-to-use installation kit so you don’t have visible cables all over your car, and setup takes just a minute or two with a paired mobile device (iOS and Android are naturally supported).
In many respects, it’s just a dash camera. It mounts on your windshield, it plugs into your vehicle power adaptor, you hide the cable under the trim, and it records onto a MicroSD card.
What else does it need to do, right?
What are the special features?
The polarising filter gets top billing – it promises to drastically reduce windscreen glare and reflection, making for a better video capture through your windshield. You can rotate the filter – it sits in front of the lens – to minimise internal reflection so you can get the best view of the road ahead.
If your car is like mine – and yes, most are – there’s a not insignificant amount of internal reflection from things like your hands, a mobile phone mount, and even just the dashboard itself. Being able to adjust for this and get rid of some of the glare makes for a much better capture of what’s happening outside the car, which is kind of the whole point of a dash cam.
Without adjustment, the 522GW picked up quite a bit of internal reflection on my windshield. Rotating the filter removed some of it – e.g. the reflection from my GPS – but it didn’t do an awful lot to get rid of internal reflection on sunny days (shown below, bottom right).
The 3-inch HD IPS touch screen is a cool feature, allowing you to interact with the dash cam without having to use fiddly side-mounted buttons. That said, you really don’t need to actually do anything with a dash cam 99% of the time. You turn it on, and leave it alone.
Of course, you can tap the screen to take a photo, stop/start recording, and watch captured video if that’s your thing, but I think like most normal people you’ll find it easier to do this on your phone or on a laptop; watching things on a 3-inch screen isn’t my idea of fun.
A HD touch screen doesn’t matter much if you’re not capturing in HD, and the 522GW does that; it captures in 1440p 30fps detail, which is more than enough to capture details that you need a dash cam to capture, like licence plates, road signs and so on.
At night, though, the detail really isn’t quite so flash:
There’s also an emergency SOS feature, which – when paired with your mobile – can automatically alert emergency services in the event of an accident. Given that this is only required in the event of serious injury or where a vehicle can’t be moved, it’s not likely to be a regularly used feature – a fender bender doesn’t need the police, and you’d hope that a dash camera isn’t going to waste their time. Fortunately, you can cancel the SOS call before it goes out. You’ll need to make sure your phone is paired to use this feature, though.
The last feature – and probably a pretty welcome one – is the intelligent parking mode which will record automatically whenever your car is bumped or moves when left unattended. This will capture all those careless occasions where someone will scrape your car while parking their own and then drive off without leaving a note.
How’s it actually go?
I’m left somewhat unsure what to say here, because .. well .. it’s a dash camera, and it records.
From that perspective, it does what it’s meant to.
By default, the 522GW records 1-minute long videos, end to end, over and over until the SD is full, and then it records over the oldest stuff in an endless loop.
Getting the videos and photos off is easy if you’re happy to take the SD card out and plug it into your PC or an adaptor.
The wireless option – using your mobile phone – should be a great feature, but it’s painfully slow, and the app’s interface is really disappointing; you can only select 5 items at a time (which in 1-minute increments isn’t much), and the WiFi transfer speeds are so slow that you’d basically never want to use this feature.
While a great idea, it’s not something I’d buy this unit for – but it’s also not unique to Nextbase’s 522GW; I’ve never, ever, used a dash cam that actually has good WiFi performance. We have gigabit WiFi around our place, and my car parks close enough to the house that it can easily reach it. Why the dash cam can’t use that – and it’s high speed data rate – instead of using its direct WiFi to a mobile device at a painfully slow transfer speed, I don’t quite understand.
Sure, some people might not park in their home WiFi coverage, but surely it should be an option for those who can. As it is, I tried to transfer a video once, and it was so slow, I gave up and didn’t bother again – I didn’t want to sit around in the car for minutes waiting to download a 1 minute video. Just plug the SD into your computer and you’ll be much much happier.
While I’ve spent a bit of time on this, it’s really my only gripe. As dash cameras go, this one is full featured, easy to install and use, and you can pretty much forget about it once it’s in your car, until you need it when you have a prang.
I guess that’s what a dash camera should do, and so for $399.99, this one feels like good value, with good image quality and smart features.
Oh – what about Amazon Alexa?
It’s an interesting feature, but one that you can’t exactly use all that often unless you’ve got Alexa set to listen all the time. On my phone – I’m using an iPhone 12 Pro at the moment – Alexa only listens when the app is open, and when the app is closed, sometimes it seemed to activate (via the dash cam, I presume), but other times it didn’t activate at all.
When it’s working, you can ask Alexa to do things like save a recording, take a photo, etc – very cool for hands-free operation.
On an Android phone, it’d probably work a little better.
Would I get one?
Look, it’s a maybe.
On one hand, having a dash cam is a great way to capture all the stupidity that we witness on the road every day. It’s great if you’re involved in an accident, so you can capture what happens (including – optionally – the audio from within your car’s cabin) which might be a helpful evidentiary record should you have a bingle.
On the other hand, though, whether this is something you think you need to spend $399.99 to have is another matter entirely. It’s not a cheap camera – there are definitely cheaper ones – but it is relatively full featured and easy to use.
I think what it comes down to is this – if you want a dash camera, this one is an excellent option. If you drive a lot – or professionally – then it’s a great little extra insurance policy.
However, if you don’t really need a dash camera, then don’t spend the money. You probably won’t get the value from it.