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Given the highly litigious society we live in and the increasing number of distractions drawing driver's eyes from the road, having a capable dashboard camera is becoming a key tool to protecting yourself and your loved ones. In May of 2019 Garmin announced four new Dash Cam models and for the past couple of weeks I've taken the Dash Cam Mini and Dash Cam 66W on the road to test the spectrum of offerings from Garmin.
Both of these cameras from Garmin come in gray and white retail packages with similar contents, other than the cameras themselves. A 13 foot USB-A to microUSB cable is found in both boxes and is designed to be this length so you can route the cable around your window, door frame, and dash to keep the cable hidden and secure in place. This cable is designed for a semi-permanent solution. Shorter 4.9 foot cables are also provided for a more temporary option, such as when renting a car, and to connect the cameras to a computer for offloading videos.
Dual USB power adapters are provided so you can plug in your primary dashboard camera along with another device or even another camera if you want more views of your driving situation. A microSD card is not provided, but is required in order to use these cameras.
The Dash Cam Mini has a short ball joint mount with very sticky adhesive that is designed to hold the Dash Cam Mini securely in place. If you want to remove the Mini then you remove the camera from the end of the ball joint and leave the adhesive ball joint mount in place. To be honest, with the very small camera and mount that you can hide behind your rear view mirror, the majority of people are likely to keep the Dash Cam Mini mounted at all times. If you purchase the optional Parking Mode Cable for $34.99 then you can provide power to your camera even when its parked so it can start recording with motion detection.
The Dash Cam 66W has the same adhesive, but it is attached to a low-profile metal mount. The arm on the 66W has a magnetic end that connects securely to the metal mount and holds the 66W in place. This lets you easily pull the 66W down when you park so the camera is not stolen from your vehicle. The mount holds the 66W securely in place, even when traveling over speed bumps or rough roads.
In order to setup and use these cameras, you need to download and install the Garmin Drive app on your iOS or Android smartphone. This app is used to connect your smartphone to a Garmin navigation device, dash camera, or Garmin Speak device and this one app is used to connect to multiple cameras as well.
After tapping the large button to add a device in the app, you follow the instructions to pair the camera to the phone. The main display will now have buttons that let you review your footage, take a picture, save a clip, toggle audio recording on or off, and add another device. The camera has to be powered on in order to use the software on your phone.
Tapping on the gear icon to access settings gives you the ability to see what is going to be captured by the camera so you can setup perfect alignment, select the video quality, toggle the data overlay that appears on the video, toggle the travelapse option (if applicable for your camera), setup the units and time, check for updates, format the SD card, and view other settings. There are some other options on Dash Cams with a display, as discussed later.
Tapping on the large button to review footage shows you saved footage and temporary footage. The saved footage are clips that you save manually or those that are keyed by incidents. They will only be removed if you select to remove them. The temporary footage clips will be overwritten as camera storage fills up.
You can trim clips right on your phone and then export the clip to use as you see fit. A time slider is present so that you can easily trim as you play back the video. Audio can be included in your clip too if you desire. It takes a considerable amount of time to save clips to your phone so it is faster to just take out the microSD card and work with clips directly on your computer with the card connected.
On the road with the Garmin Dash Cam Mini and 66W: in pictures
Using the Dash Cam Mini
The Dash Cam Mini is available now for $129.99 and has no integrated display. It's a pretty simple device to use, but also offers 1080p video with a 140 degree field of view so will provide the essentials for dashboard camera videography. The microSD card is on the left side with an audio toggle button below it so you can manually control audio recording.
A large central button is on the back with a mic opening positioned below it. Pressing the large button saves a section of the video manually, rather than waiting for an incident to be detected.
Since I was testing a couple of cameras, I mounted the Dash Cam Mini on the back window after a day of testing it as the primary front dash cam. It was interesting to use it to watch people tailgate me and given the prevalence of rear-end accidents in Washington State it makes sense to have a dash camera facing backwards to prove your case when you get rear-ended by someone not paying attention to traffic conditions. Thankfully, there were no real incidents during my testing period. GPS is not present in this camera so keep that in mind if specific location is desired on your video.
Video quality looked great in 1080p and if I end up buying a Dash Cam Mini for my 2002 Acura then I'll likely mount it behind the mirror and leave it there all the time. If I had a more expensive car then I would definitely get the Parking Mode Cable so that the camera could act to capture those who might dent the car while it is parked.
Using the Dash Cam 66W
The Dash Cam 66W is more than just a dashboard camera, but actually serves as an assistant to the driver. This $249.99 camera provides forward collision, lane departure, red light camera, speed camera, and "Go" alerts to the driver. In my testing, I was able to see all of these in action and particularly liked hearing the red light camera alerts in towns that try to send out tickets by mail on a regular basis.
These advanced driver alerts usually require that you have a newer model car so adding a $250 device to an older model vehicle is almost a no brainer for increased driver awareness. I am especially thinking that my 19-year old could use this assistance in the 2002 Acura. Forward collision sensitivity, alert tones, and alert toggles are all managed on the Dash Cam 66W itself and not through the smartphone app.
The two-inch 320x240 pixels TFT LCD is not a touchscreen, but is controlled by four buttons found on the right side of the camera body. The top button moves back, the middle two move you up and down, and the bottom button is used to select an item. Navigation is quick and easy with main options for Settings, Gallery, Travelapse, Voice control, and Garmin Drive application.
With voice control you can choose to save a video, take a photo, record audio, and start Travelapse. You simply start your command with "OK Garmin" to launch voice control. I found this to be a great way to capture photos of interesting situations as you are driving that are not tied to an incident.
The camera recorded some clips that were identified as incidents related to going too fast over speed bumps, coming to a fast stop, or other rapid change in motion. I adjusted the sensitivity a bit to make sure only real incidents were likely to be recorded.
The 180 degree field-of-view captured everything out of the front car window and GPS location data can be overlaid onto the video so there is no doubt where you were at the time of the incident. You can connect up to four Garmin Dash Cams at once, called Dash Cam Auto Sync, and even view picture-in-picture video from two perspectives at the same time.
I enjoyed my experiences with both of these Garmin Dash Cam models and am likely to buy the Dash Cam 66W since I find the driver alerts to be helpful in our older vehicles. I could even save $50 or $100 by reducing the resolution or field-of-view and still get all of the great driver alert and integrated display functionality. With this savings, I may get something like the Dash Cam 46 and a Dash Cam Mini to cover another view out of the car.