Sunday, June 22, 2014

Cobra SPX 7800BT Review: Cobra's best windshield mount detector yet.

Cobra SPX 7800BT Review


Cobra SPX 7800BT

Budget priced Cobras have often been the butt of jokes by the online radar detector enthusiast community as far back as I can remember.  Those feelings were not entirely without merit as Cobra has had a history of producing radar detectors with marginal detection abilities which would cause other (better designed) radar detectors to false when in close proximity to them.  The feeling could also be justified by routine observations of clueless Cobra owners mounting their radar detectors pointing upward toward the sky (not a good thing to do, by the way).

With the advent of the Cobra SPX 7800BT, I have found this detector to be no laughing matter. In fact, I believe this is Cobra's best windshield-mount radar detector to date.  Despite that proclamation, I am not suggesting that this detector is on par with more expensive detectors from Beltronics, Escort, and Valentine Research, but it certainly can hold its on with other budget-priced radar detectors like those from Whistler, something that I once thought would not be possible.

Let's start with the good stuff.  The Cobra SPX 7800BT is a really small and compact radar detector (one of the smallest of any model), easily fitting the palm of my hand.  It's construction feels solid as does the tactile feel of the push buttons. Its chassis is properly black and its display is very impressive and easily viewable in all lighting conditions.

Super Compact Cobra SPX 7800BT

Cobra was the first to incorporate OLED displays into their detectors (and makes effective use of the real-estate).  Whistler has been using OLED for some time now, as well, and while their displays are also very readable, the amount of information provided is typical of conventional radar detectors of the past.  Escort has entered the OLED display with the Passport Max, but that display is quite small, harder to read in most lighting conditions, and is not nearly vivid in color or contrast of the Cobra (or Whistler).  

Beyond offering varying levels of display intensity, Cobra takes this one step further and offers a screen saver option which kicks in after a certain amount of "idle" time, giving you the best of both worlds, a dark display when nothing is going on and a bright one when there is something to report.

One of the impressive capabilities of the SPX 7800BT is the incorporation of bluetooth connectivity that is internal to the detector which can mate to either Apple or Android phones.  Cobra was the first company to offer integrated bluetooth connectivity and it's a welcome feature that I am pleased to see Cobra continue to offer in a certain number of their models.  The only other detector manufacturer that featured internal bluetooth connectivity was Escort with their now discontinued Escort Smart Radar.  Other Escort and Beltronics detectors require the purchase of a $99 cable to add BT capability to their detectors. Valentine offers a dongle ($49) for either the Apple of Android (but not both) which attaches to their existing power cable.

The BT feature of the SPX 7800BT allows for integration into their smartphone application iRadar, the first crowdsourcing application that was offered directly by any radar detector manufacturer.  While Escort still struggles to provide a stable version off their offering, Escort Live, Cobra's software in contrast feels stable, refined, and well designed.  
Cobra iRadar Ka-band Alert Reported
All programming and custom configuration of the SPX 7800BT can be accomplished quickly with the iRadar application.  iRadar is a subscription-free application that adds GPS capability to the detector as well the reporting of spotted patrol, alert detections, and known locations of redlight and speed cameras through the use of their Aura database.

Cobra's Aura Database of Photo Enforcement Locations

While I don't particularly place much value on knowing locations of radar detections of other drivers (especially detections whether--real or false--of many hours earlier), the option is there for those that do.  

Cobra iRadar Alert Types Reported

An interesting little feature of iRadar is the ability for the application to mark on its map the location of your parked vehicle when you turn-off your ignition switch.  It could get a little tricky trying to find your vehicle in a multi-level parking garage but could come in quite handy if parking at places like Disney World or Mall of America.  The iRadar app can be configured to auto launch on your smartphone when power on is first detected, a nice feature if you so choose to use it.

Cobra is the first and only company to offer city mode filtering to include Ka as well as K and X-band. This is necessary because of the nature of their sweeping patterns and subsequent signal processing; it is not uncommon for the detector to misreport the band that it is detecting.  

The detector is not especially immune to alerting to the K-band radar sources of the obnoxious lane departure and blind spot systems of automobiles such as Audi.  Unfortunately the detector will alert to Ka, of varying frequencies, in certain circumstances when detecting these systems which can lead to real confusion for the driver.  Using city modes reduces the falsing from these systems, though.  Cobra really needs to work on resolving this.  It is one thing to see a confusion of X and K-band as one can see with Whistlers from time to time, but being improperly alerted to Ka is really not a good thing.

Perhaps the physical size of the detector is a limiting factor here, but I would certainly welcome a bit louder maximum alerting volume that what is currently possible.

Cobra has had a history of "borrowing" other detector manufacturers intellectual property and that trend has continued here.  The novel features of Whistler's LSID and RSID display have been "lifted" and incorporated into the SPX 7800BT.  Unlike the Whistlers, the Cobra does not provide the ability to filter out specific pulse trains of laser that do not emanate from police laser, such as those wind-sheer systems found at airports or collision avoidance or cruise control systems of certain automotive manufacturers.  In any event, it is a nice feature even though it should only appear on Whistlers.  But be mindful of the fact that while the feature is like that of Whistler, it is not as accurate as theirs. 

I have known for a long time that one of the great strengths of Cobras have been their sensitivity to police laser.  With the 7800BT, I put the detector is the very good range, far exceeding the capability of even Escort's flagship model the Passport Max (costing $550!)  In one instance I found the Cobra able to alert to a bona-fide shot of police laser while the detector (and my vehicle) were perpendicular to the source.  The only other detector that I have found that could pull off such a feat, is the Valentine One (which is in a class by itself in laser sensitivity).  Despite its sensitivity to laser, the Cobra appears pretty resistant to falsing from the shadows cast by trees alongside the roadway during certain times of the day when the sun is low in the sky.  In short, I believe this Cobra is the best they have ever produced for detecting police laser and its strongest .performance characteristic.

The other thing I have come to feel about this Cobra is that is especially responsive (quick) to alerting at brief radar detections, within the limitations of its reduced sensitivity relative to the more expensive detectors. Ever since I was the very first to point out the benefits of improved reactivity when I reviewed years ago an early model of the Beltronics band-segmented remote detector, the Beltronics STi-R, all of the other radar detector manufacturers have finally gotten on board with accepting my observations as being valid, quite possibly now Cobra as well.  (Note: This is one of those contributions that I have made to our industry in which I have taken great pride and detectors are much better today as a direct consequence.)

I also appreciate that the trailing alerts to detections are more reasonable and not at the unnecessary and ultimately misleading durations from detectors from Beltronics and Escort.  Again, within the limitations of its sensitivity, I believe the Cobra can do a fine job at alerting to an approaching instant-on trap, by better conveying the texture of those sorts of radar signal detections.

In terms of sensitivity, K-band appears to be very slightly better than similarly priced Whistlers, while X-band and Ka-bands appear to trail.  Certainly off-axis detections are not nearly at the level of the high-end detectors, but this has one upshot to it, the detector can be quieter around town when presented with the myriad of X and K-band door openers that exist.

In an apparent contradiction, the filtering or sweeping patterns aren't as tight as I would like because while the Cobra has less sensitivity to X and K-band than other detectors, it can false more often than those other detectors when it encounters certain frequencies of radar in the X and K-band range.

An especially notable aspect of this Cobra is the handling of its local oscillation emissions.  In models of the past, Cobras have been notorious for setting off other detectors on Ka-band.  This behavior is history.  Any LO interference now between two detectors appears to be similar now as any other emitting detector interference (often reduced alerting distances during the time of interference).

The detector's windshield-mounting bracket appears nicely designed and the two suction cups adhere well to clean windshield surface.  Cobra also provides a nicely designed power cable which provides a USB connector in which to plug your smartphone.

To wrap things up, let me be clear, this Cobra is not going to set any long-distance detection records nor will it perform at the same level of the high-end detectors from the other detector manufacturers, especially with extreme off-axis signals.  That being said, this Cobra provides sufficient detections, I believe, in many targeting scenarios and provides laser detection capabilities beyond what its price point would otherwise suggest.  When you throw in, at no cost, the well-designed iRadar application, I would say this is the best Cobra yet offered for the money and one that can be taken seriously enough. While I would still lean towards a Whistler CR90 at this price point, the Cobra is a likable unit and I certainly wouldn't fault another driver for selecting this model for the interesting features and capabilities it provides. It would be nice if Cobra would continue to improve upon their accomplishments here with future models.

Drive safely!

Veil Guy
Post a Comment