There’s so many things which seemed amazing in the past which have just become run of the mill, daily technology which we hardly ever think about and dash cameras (affectionately known as dashcams) are squarely one of those things – besides the purchase decision and the often-frustrating exercise of installing them, dashcams are easily forgotten about and are largely useless until / unless the vehicle they’re fitted to has an accident… then they might be useful.
Why are they kind of boring? Well, they don’t do much! A dashcam sticks to your front window (and maybe your back window) and records what it sees onto a storage medium on an endless loop, so at any given time you’ve got a recording of the last however-many hours of driving captured.
Yes, they record video, audio, your speed, location and a few other things but generally speaking this is something you’ll pay exactly no attention to … until you need it. Someone pulls out in front of you and you slam into their right-hand side? Well, now you’ve got video showing exactly what happened. Your insurance company might appreciate this, and it might support your claim that the other driver was at fault.
So … that’s why a dashcam might be handy.
What makes the VANTRUE Element 3 so good?
Well, unlike most dashcams, it has three cameras – one facing the road, one facing the inside of the vehicle, and one you can install on your rear window to record behind you. In this way, the Element 3 records just about everything relevant to what’s going on in and around your car which might be very handy – or rather incriminating – should something go wrong.
What’s in the box?
- VANTRUE Element 3 dashcam
- Rear Camera
- Remote Control
- 11.4 ft Power cable
- 20ft Rear camera cable
- 3ft Type C Data Cable
- Window mount stickers
- “Protected by” stickers
- Spare mounting tape
- Removal Scraper
What’s in the camera?
There’s a 2.45″ display, and three cameras which record at 1994P (main sensor) and 1080P (the cabin-facing camera and rear-facing camera). It’s powered by USB-C (hurrah), supports WiFi and app control (which let’s face it you’ll rarely if ever use), voice control (same thing), a handy remote control which you can install near your steering wheel (handy if you want to turn off the audio recording during a phone call, for example, or take a snapshot on demand), and it can take up to 512GB MicroSD cards.
One of the truisms about just about any dashcam I’ve used is that getting footage off them sucks. Often it’s with a clunky wireless connection which is slower than a pitch drop experiment, or you have to pop out the storage card and find that damned adaptor in your drawer and copy the videos off that way.
This is true for the Element 3 camera, except that the WiFi connection works reliably each time, and the transfer speeds are somewhat quick. I say somewhat, because they really didn’t excite me greatly, but it was much faster than the previous dash camera which took minutes to transfer a single minute video file.
Another truism – which seems kind of surprising given they’re a camera – is that dashcams almost always have sloppy video resolution and reading a number plate more than a couple of meters away can be a bit tricky. Well, Element 3 doesn’t suffer from this, with 1998P video resolution making most things very clear. It’s nice to see a dashcam that finally gets this right. Even “4K” dashcams often don’t.
So what’s it do?
It records your driving, duh.
Like any dashcam you basically forget its there, provided you install it properly and put it out of the way and install the cables such that they don’t drape all over your car.
That’s the whole point. Install, tidy up, forget. A dashcam is not some sort of in-car entertainment device, and you shouldn’t constantly be looking at it, fiddling with it or paying it much attention.
Fortunately, VANTRUE’s Element 3 does this rather well. It’s easy to install, the cables install nicely behind the vehicle trim without too much effort, and despite its features, it’s relatively small and easy enough to install mostly behind the rear-view mirror so it doesn’t take up valuable windscreen space. You can tilt the main lens, too, so that even if you do install it high (like me) you can angle the lens down slightly to capture the right view.
Once installed, it records from all three cameras simultaneously, and in a hat-tip to usability, each camera records to its own file, time-sync’ed to the others. For every minute (or other limit, you can choose) it will record three video files marked with the date, time and which camera took it.
In low light, the cabin camera will switch to infra-red operation, allowing it to clearly see what’s going on in the cabin. This can be good – it will easily disprove claims that you were using your mobile which contributed to a crash, but equally, if you’re stupid enough to be using your mobile while driving, the camera will very clearly record that, too.
There’s voice control if you feel like you need to talk to bits of your car, which allows you to say things like Take Photo, Turn on WIFI, Lock the Video, Show Front Camera, Show Rear Camera, Inside video on, turn off screen.
I have not used this feature and I doubt I ever would, but I can see how others might find this handy.
The auto-emergency lock feature is something that you’ll probably want to fiddle with a bit. By default, the Element 3 will save video and take photos any time it detects a sudden shake or collision. In reality, this means every time you go over a speed bump, a drain, a pot hole, or stop suddenly at the lights, you’ll save a video file which is probably not what you want to do. In fact, it becomes quite annoying.
Fortunately, you can adjust this feature and dial back the sensitivity – or just turn it off altogether – such that it’s not randomly saving things and becomes a bit more targetted. This isn’t a criticism of the Element 3 – just about all dashcams have this feature – but what’s good here is you can adjust it such that it becomes useful, instead of staying an annoyance.
I do want to save videos if I run into someone else’s car. I do not want to save videos of every speed bump or pedestrian crossing I pass.
Last but not least, there’s a parking guard feature which you can only use if you wire the dash-cam into a permanent power source. Out of the box, you don’t get the bits to do this – just a standard cigarette-lighter power adaptor – but if you’re handy with a bit of DIY wiring, you can easily wire this into your fuse box such that the camera is always powered, and thus it can keep an eye on your car while parked in case some other jerk runs into it.
What I like?
It’s a good dashcam.
It was super easy to install, and came with long enough cables and the right tools to install them behind the vehicle’s trim without leaving cables everywhere. I hate that look.
The three cameras are neat, and capture everything, including what’s going on inside the car, so any claims of distraction / mobile use / whatever can be easily disproved (or, if you’re an idiot, proved).
The little remote control to take photos / save videos on demand is a cool feature, and much easier than voice control which some will feel uncomfortable using.
What didn’t I like?
The G-sensor out of the box is far too sensitive and records every little movement as a collision.
The buttons on the bottom of the dashcam can be a little fiddly. They could be bigger and have more travel so they’re easier to press … not that you need to press them much.
Would I buy one?
Look, I probably would. I think having a dashcam is a great idea for the unlikely event that you run into something, or something runs into you. Having a video of what happens in a prang can mean:
- You can identify the other vehicle if they drive off
- You can prove what happened before the collision
- You can prove that you had both hands on the wheel and were keeping a proper lookout before hand
- You can capture details like what the weather was like, number plates, things happening nearby and so on which may help if you need to litigate a claim
The good thing is you don’t need to think about any of this until you have an accident. Until then, the Element 3 dashcam – like any other – sits in your car minding its own business until you need it.
As someone who’s had a not-at-fault accident (someone pulled out against a stop sign without looking and hit the rear of my car), having a dashcam in the vehicle was super handy. Not only did it capture their number plate, but also filmed the whole thing (from front and rear) making it very obvious to the cops who did what, and allowed them to go pay someone a visit and invite them to contact me to settle the insurance matter before they got a drive off and not give details fine.
For that, a $300 dashcam is worth its weight in gold, and VANTRUE’s Element 3 is certainly a fine option well worth considering.