Inconspicuous camera provides big features for drivers.
This past weekend I drove to Nashville, TN, which is about 2.5 hours away from where I live. Because I didn’t want to put extra mileage on my car, I decided to rent a vehicle. As it turned out, I ended up with the brand new model of the same car I own (Toyota RAV4). It was an amazing upgrade from what I am used to technology-wise. There were camera sensors all around the car that let me know when a car was in my blind spot, when I was about to change lanes unexpectedly, and when I was getting too close to a car in front of me.
I was surprised by how much I actually valued having that extra notification and when I got back in my personal car, I missed having the assisted driving technology. Even though my car is too old to have those type of camera options installed, I can certainly make up for it with the Dash Cam 55 from Garmin, which fills in a lot of the gaps left by the lack of the advanced camera system that was on the 2018 RAV4.
Originally released in March 2017, the Dash Cam 55 is one of the three compact dash cameras that Garmin currently has in their product lineup. The other two are 45 and 65W. The Dash Cam 55 is GPS enabled and included voice control, which is a very helpful add-on when you are driving. The camera is tiny and measures only 5.62 cm x 4.05 cm x 3.53 cm. It is feather light weighing only 59.4 grams (the iPhone 7 weighs 138 grams) and has a 2.0″ LCD screen. Dash Cam 55 captures video up to 1440p resolution. The camera is a 3.7 MP camera and works well in any lighting conditions. The camera is WiFi capable for the purpose of pairing your video/photo gallery to your smartphone (through an app).
UNBOXING AND SETUP
The Garmin Dash Cam 55 comes packaged with:
- A low profile magnetic mount
- Vehicle power cable (plugs into cigarette lighter receptacle)
- USB Cable
- Micro SD card (will accept up to 64GB card – Class 10 required)
- Quick Start manual
The box is a fairly standard Garmin branded box. There is basic information included on the exterior, but nothing more than the basic details of the product. There are two pieces of literature included with the Dash Cam — an illustrated Quick Start Guide and Safety and Product information. The full manual is available online and it covers all three Dash Cam models (45/55/65W). Even though the basic controls are intuitive and easily understood if you’ve used any type of dash camera, there are some really helpful tips about installation in the manual. For example, it is suggested that the ambient temperature in your vehicle be between 70-100 degrees Fahrenheit before you attach the adhesive mount. At the time I was testing out the camera, it was cold outdoors so I had to wait for the interior of my car to warm up before installing the mount. It’s also recommended that you allow the mount to adhere to your windshield for 24 hours before attaching the camera. I did not wait that long and thankfully, the camera and mount have remained secure.
You next want to make sure that your power cable is routed in a proper fashion so that you can connect it to the camera when needed. The Dash Cam 55 does have a rechargeable battery, but if the device is connected to power, it will automatically turn on and off when you turn your car on.
There are some dash cameras that are plug-n-play. You mount them in your car and then start recording as you drive. That’s it. The Dash Cam 55 is not that type of dash camera. I don’t say that to cause concern. What I mean is that it’s an advanced camera system and in order to get the most of its features, you have to go through the proper setup. To start, you want to tell the camera where it’s placed and the height of your vehicle. These two pieces of information will give your Dash Cam 55 more accurate details as you drive. You will also want to make sure that your date/time are accurate and that you have the video resolution you prefer selected. Higher resolutions require more space on your memory card and the Dash Cam 55 can record in 1440p/30fps, 1080p/60fps, 1080p/30fps/HDR. Each resolution has its merits, but in my opinion, the 1080p/30fps makes the most sense for card space and video quality. These options can be defined in the Settings menu on the camera.
By default, the camera will start recording when it turns on. It will continue recording and overwriting the oldest, non-saved videos on the card until it turns off. Should have an incident, you can press the Save button on the side of the camera, or use Garmin Voice Control to keep the video or image. You can then use the Garmin VIRB app on your smartphone or connect your camera to your computer to retrieve the media from the camera. You can also remove the Micro SD card and insert it into your computer to pull information from it.
I’ve been using the Garmin Dash Cam 55 in my 2008 Toyota RAV4 for some time now. This past week was sort of an eye-opening experience though because we had what meteorologists call a “Winter Weather Event”. A system moved through our geographic region and dropped 1/4″ of ice followed by 5-6 inches of snow on us. Then, two days later, another 3-4 inches of snow fell. Even though the Midwest is no stranger to winter weather, this is the most significant snowfall we’ve had in several years. Our school systems have been closed all week, but I’ve still had to brave the poor road conditions in order to get to my office.
On Monday (Jan 15), when the snow was blowing around the city, I found myself driving from our airport, which is on the north side of town, to my work, which is about 5 miles away. Most of the roads I traveled are considered ‘main’ roads or connecting roads to main roads. So, I was surprised at how poor the conditions were and how badly they were deteriorating during the time that the snow was falling. VIsibility was terrible and people were just going too fast for the weather conditions. I had the Garmin Dash Cam installed and running, which was actually a big help to me. As I mentioned, I had rented a car with camera assist options and the Dash Cam 55 acts in a similar way. It was able to notify me when traffic was moving ahead of me and it made it possible for me to capture an event that was almost horrific. I was turning onto a connecting road from a main highway and a Dodge pickup truck had turned left in front of me. The driver wasn’t going particularly fast, but their backend still spun out. This happened directly in front of me and thankfully, the driver of the pickup didn’t panic, which might have caused a multiple car accident — including me. Despite the fact that there wasn’t a collision, I still saved a still image and the video from the event by utilizing the Voice Control.
Garmin’s Voice Control was an invaluable tool for this dash camera. It makes it possible for you to save events without having to take your hands off the wheel of your car. By saying, “Ok, Garmin,” you activate its commands. You can start a Travellapse recording, save a picture, record audio, stop audio recording, or save videos just by using Voice Control. It is possible to disable Voice Control, but I don’t know why you would want to. It runs in the background and unless you activate it, you don’t even know it’s there. I did end up activating it a couple of times inadvertently, but it ended up not affecting my recordings or driving ability.
I chose to record my video in 1080p/30fps/HDR for a couple of reasons — space on the memory card and video quality. I found that this setting was ideal for me. I captured video and pictures at night, during the day, during an overcast day, and even during a snowstorm. Each type of environment was captured very well.
There are a couple of features on the Dash Cam 55 that I didn’t get to utilize.
- Red Light and Speed Cameras: This feature is not available in every region and I know in our area, there are very few speed cameras installed. In order to utilize this feature, you have to maintain an updated database, which can be obtained from Garmin on a subscription basis. For me, this didn’t seem to be a good use of finances so I didn’t worry about installing it for this review.
- Lane Departure Warning System: During the time of my test, I didn’t receive a warning about leaving a lane from the Dash Cam. I don’t remember driving erratically and it not capturing it, but since we’ve had a lot of snow and ice on the ground, the road lanes have been somewhat invisible. The manual does state that – The LDWS relies on the camera to provide warnings for lane markers and, as a result, may have limited functionality in low visibility conditions.
The Forward Collision Warning System (FCWS) and Go Alert are pretty awesome features, in my opinion. I did have the Go Alert pop-up frequently and I would say it was about 95% accurate. There were a few times that motion was detected from cross traffic, but for the most part, the Go Alert did tell me when traffic was moving. The FCWS did alert me to vehicles that were too close in front of me and thankfully a collision did not occur. Because of the bad roads, I did slide one time because I hit a slick spot that I didn’t see. Because of that, the FCWS dinged and I knew I was getting too close.
While nothing can replace a diligent, alert driver, having an advanced dash camera can be a wonderful travel companion. Garmin’s Dash Cam 55 is worth the investment of the advanced features it provides. There are many other types of dash cameras out there, but Garmin makes having a camera in your car work better than basic models.