Sunday, October 21, 2012

Whistler Pro-78SE/XTR-690SE Review: Whistler's best gets even better.

Updated: 23 Apr 14, By Veil Guy
Whistler Pro-78SE & Whistler XTR-690SE Review:   

Darwinism is alive and well at Whistler Group.

Those of you who have been long-time readers of my blog already know that I've been a huge fan of Whistle and this particular Whistler review has been long overdue.

Whistler's product development team has always been openly receptive to customers' [and reviewers'--ie; my] feedback for improvements and they continue to offer great performance for terrific value.

Historically, when an updated model has been introduced, there have been genuine evolutionary improvements in performance and/or features. So, it is of no surprise that the latest Whistler Pro-78SE and Whistler XTR-690SE models continue to inure in this vein.

As has been the case for some time, I have been privileged to receive an initial production model of the, (finally!) soon to be released, revised Whistler Pro-78SE for review.

These updated Whistler Pro-78SE and Whistler XTR-690SE models offer some welcomed improvements, not so much in terms of raw performance (sensitivity) increases, but in their refinements, resulting in radar detectors that are much easier to live with.

The timing of this could not have been better as my wife and I went on a business trip to southern California, affording me the opportunity to put the new Whistler Pro-78SE through its paces, in what I have come to regard as one of the more challenging areas in North America to drive with a radar detector.

So, what are these improvements, you might be asking yourself?

Well, for starters, I am thrilled to report that those annoying Ka9 falses that some Whistler owners have been complaining about over the past several years seem to have finally been excised.

It was only when a good Samaritan West coast forum member [named Freebird] and myself volunteered our time to explore the greater Los Angeles area, last year, in our vehicles and armed with specially modified detectors, that the sources of this interference were ultimately identified.   Our collective feedback enabled Whistler's engineering team to address the issue.

As it turned out, many of these newly identified RF sources were wreaking havoc within certain Whistler models (and potentially other brands as well). Even though certain Whistlers alerted with urgent levels of Ka, the frequency interference did not actually occur within the Ka-band.  

It is very important to note that during which time the effected Whistlers were being interfered, they would not necessarily alert with a Ka9 false, however their reception performance to genuine Ka-band was adversely affected, sometimes substantially so.

It is this dynamic that caused the apparent discrepancies in performance that were observable to those driving in the afflicted areas.  This was in stark contrast to the high performance levels that I had experienced on my driving routes, since my models were not inhibited by those sources of interference.

I am pleased to report that during my recent travels to both San Diego and Los Angeles, Whistler was ultimately successful in this endeavor. While this type of interference seems to have occurred in specific areas, those affected will greatly appreciate the modification, as they will now be able to experience the Whistler in a more consistent fashion.

Speaking of Ka-band, reception performance to Ka continues to impressive the heck out of me, particularly with Ka-Max mode setting.  Especially now, this mode will be of much higher utility for those who were experiencing the kind of "falsing" mentioned above, since high sensitivity and quick responsiveness now comes without the accompanying headaches.

Whistler also went to great lengths to eliminate more unconventional sources of K-band falsing.

Just as Escort/Beltronics and Valentine Research have developed methods for filtering out traffic flow sensors that are adorning some highways, so too has Whistler with the incorporation of a new filtering mode, called TFSR (traffic flow sensor rejection).

Whistler has informed me that the TFSR feature will also effectively reduce K-band falsing from new crash-avoidance systems of certain German vehicles employing either pulsed or frequency modulated K-band radar. 

This is a really welcomed new capability, as having driven behind certain Audis that continue to wreak havoc with other radar detector brands.

In the case of many traffic flow sensors, these pesky devices typically transmit for a duration of approximately 500ms (1/2 second) at intervals of 30 seconds or one minute. The problem is that proximate conventional radar detectors not only repeatedly false to K-band, but they false in a manner that mimics genuine instant-on radar--something that is very disheartening to the unsuspecting motorist.

In my recent travels, I found when Whistler's TFSR filter was enabled, the Pro-78SE effectively eliminated falsing in all but a couple of instances--when I was located in proximity to two sensors that fired in close succession. Fortunately Whistler provides the ability to add a finite amount of additional filtering to TFSR with the selection of the increased FILTER modes. When TFSR and FILTER 1 are enabled together, all falses from these sources appeared to be eliminated.

As with any increase in filtering "delay," one has to consider this double edged sword for the bands affected by such a feature as it can increase the likelihood of ignoring a quick trigger. Such is the case for the TFSR mode in that there is a minimum length of time the X or K band signal needs to be available for qualification in order to ignore the pulsed traffic flow sensors mentioned above. This additional delay appears to be not as long as some other brands offering a “traffic sensor rejection” feature. Ka band is not affected by the TFSR feature. [more on this in a future article]

I have come to really appreciate Whistler's CITY mode. Unlike other detectors, which wean effective reception performance to X-band (and perhaps K-band) when selected, Whistler provides three city modes.

The first mode, doesn't affect apparent sensitivity at all, it merely alters the nature of the detector's alerts. Instead of receiving typical X-band and K-band alert tones, at varying Geiger rates, CITY mode alerts with two quick high-pitched tones and then immediately goes to mute on the alert.  If and when the signal strength is high enough, reminder tones will briefly alert.  I really came to appreciate this feature driving on the high-density highways of southern California.   No more needing to reach over to mute these annoying alerts.

CITY1 mode reduces low level alerts to X-band and CITY2 model eliminates X-band alerts entirely. Think of CITY mode as HIGHWAY mode with alternate alert tone sequences.

The one drawback, in my opinion, is that all radar bands alert in this fashion, including Ka-band. The thinking there was that in high-density areas, there is a greater likelihood to encounter [cheap] radar detectors for extended periods of time [like in heavy traffic] that can cause falsing to Ka-band.

My preference would be for the CITY mode to only affect X-band and K-band, the predominate sources of falsing around town, and reserve Ka-band to the other modes of FILTER1 and FILTER2.

Another area of reception that I would like to see improved, is the rate of falsing to X-band and K-band sourced around town. In an apparent contradiction to itself, even though the sensitivity to both X-band and K-band is less with the Whistlers than higher sensitivity models from Escort and Beltronics, the rate of falsing was greater even when driving with the Escort 8500 X50 Black, in highway mode, in those same areas.

This occurs, I believe, because the Whistlers X and K band coverage is wider than that of the more expensive Escort, Beltronics, and Valentine models causing them to alert to X and K that is just outside of the tolerances otherwise required.

Behold a thing of beauty

The new Whistlers now feature a high-end display.  Gone are the LED displays of yesterday. Instead the new Pro-78SE and XTR-690SE now utilize OLEDs and in my opinion, they are the nicest displays that I have yet seen on any dash mount radar detector.  

One of the mild criticisms that I have made over the previous years of the blue and red LED displays was the size and appearance of the displays' plastic covers. In my opinion, they were excessive and looked disproportionally large. In their place is a screen that utilizes an anti-reflective coating that when coupled with the OLED screen makes for the most impressive viewing experience ever.

Even in direct sunlight, the display was easily readable and in the evening, the aquamarine-blue pixels were very easy on the eyes, unlike the displays of blue LEDs. You've got to see it to really appreciate it. The text is quite large too, making it very easy to read, even for my aging eyes. I expect the XTR-690SE to be equally impressive in RED.

I can only speculate that a multi-colored OLED display is in Whistler’s future. In my opinion, this would be a welcome addition line and something that I have been wishing for a good number of years.

Don't expect to see any price increases for all of these improvements. Expectations are that these new models should begin shipping in the coming weeks.

For those interested in getting high-performance on a budget, these two new Whistlers are made to order and come very highly recommended.

Happy and Safe Motoring!

Veil Guy

Saturday, September 08, 2012

Escort SmartRadar Review: A "remote" for your windshield

Escort Smart Radar /w Display and EscortLive!

Escort SmartRadar Review

Updated: 23 Apr 14, By Veil Guy

There's little doubt in my mind--as far as radar detector manufacturing goes--that the last decade belongs to Escort and its sister company, Beltronics.

Since the early 2000s, both companies have produced some of the most notable products in the history of this industry.  And the pace of their new technology offerings has come at a fast and furious pace.

Highlights include:

To this most distinguished list, we can now add the Escort SmartRadar windshield-mount Bluetooth integrated radar detector.   With its built-in Bluetooth capability, the Escort SmartRadar can directly communicate to a dedicated iPhone or Android-based smart phone application, called Escort Live!EscortLive! provides real-time speed trap and photo enforcement threats from both other Escort Live! users and their class leading Defender database.

Escort was kind enough to provide me an early production model of the SmartRadar slightly before its general introduction to the public to get my take on their latest high-tech detector. 

After driving with it for a good number of months and many thousands of miles, the Escort SmartRadar has become one of my very favorite of radar detectors.  And this is true even if I don't operate it in conjunction with the accompanying EscortLive! application.


What I especially like about the SmartRadar is its packaging.  It does not look anything like a conventional radar detector on the windshield.  It has no built-in display, no buttons per se to control it, just a single nondescript power button on its side.  The dimensions approximate my EazyPass transponder.

Since the detector has no built-in display (although an external one that is included can be attached), it can be mounted very high up on the windshield (out of reach and out of mind) behind the rear view mirror making it nearly impossible to view from outside of the vehicle and making it essentially disappear from within.

Another advantage of extreme high-mounting is that the SmartRadar detector is less likely to overheat or 'cook' in the sun especially when your vehicle is parked as the mounting position tends to move it out of the way of the direct sunlight.  Just be careful to make sure that the SmartRadar detector has a clear line-of-sight below the "shade-band" across the top of the windshield as it can reduce the detector's sensitivity.

One controls the operation of the SmartRadar with its accompanying smartphone application.  All operating characteristics of the detector are fully customizable.  And since the settings are permanently saved to the detector, I find the SmartRadar can be operated in what I call a headless mode--that is stand-alone--without its display and without running its smartphone application.  I have found that the audio qualities of the SmartRadar detector are so good that one doesn't need to have to look at or even touch it, it does just fine on its own, out of sight and out of mind, until of course, you need it.

In fact that's my preferred way of running it.  Any time I wish to make setting changes or get the extra protection of GPS protection and the crowdsourcing of EscortLive!, I can simply fire up the application to easily change the settings of SmartRadar.


Like most of detectors from Escort (and Beltronics), the SmartRadar is based upon their venerable M4 platform, which provides exceptional reception performance to Ka-band police radar, excellent reception to K-band, and good reception to X-band (especially important to NJ and southern Ohio drivers).

I also found the SmartRadar police laser detection capabilities to be especially good.  In fact, I believe I was able to do the near impossible with this detector--avoid a police laser trap using only my wits and no other countermeasures, such as Veil or a laser jammer.

Some time ago, I was traveling with my wife to the NEK in Vermont on I-79.  I had taken a long and slow route across the state of New York and was running well behind in time, when I hit the freeway.   I needed to make up some serious time,  so I did.  My 5 series Bimmer was in the shop getting worked on, so I had a loaner 335i convertible.  The time was nearly 8pm and it was beginning to get dark.  I wasn't sure if laser was in use, but I assumed it was--as most states do.  Knowing that I was especially vulnerable, having no countermeasures, I consciously thought of taking an evasive maneuver if I ever got hit with laser.  I had kept this in the fore-front of my mind.

Sure enough, nearly an hour later, the SmartRadar alerted to laser!  No other car was around me and I new I was traveling well above the posted limit.   I immediately took evasive action and quickly changed lanes while breaking rapidly!  Knowing that, in the evening, the preferred targeting spot of police laser is a headlight, I believed if I could rapidly change lanes, the officer would have to re-aim the gun, all the while giving me precious more milliseconds to slow down.

In my case, I was all alone and I knew it.  The SmartRadar continued to alert to laser as I scanned ahead to find my would-be predator and then I found him!  Tucked off the side of the highway, eclipsed by trees, a young officer was standing outside of his patrol car hand-holding what appeared to be an LTI police lidar gun.  As I passed him, I looked to see if he was running to his vehicle, for the eventual pursuit.  And you know what?  He did not!  He did look at me though as I passed him.

To be on the safe side, I kicked it up a notch and darted off the next exit just to be sure and to allow for things to cool/settle down a my brakes and my heart-rate!

I certainly don't recommend that any one do this, because of the potential risks.

Instead, of course, I recommend driving with a laser countermeasure of Veil and a laser jammer (if one is allowed in your state), and relax knowing that you will have more time to safely slow down when targeted.

Three things, I believe, allowed me to successfully avoid getting seriously nailed:
  • 1) The presence of mind to be able to react at a moment's notice
  • 2) The inexperience of a young officer hand-holding a police laser unit
  • 3) The operation of radar/laser detector adept at detecting and quickly alerting to police laser
While the M3-based (highest-end) detectors from Escort and Beltronics, still possess an absolute sensitivity edge, this little diminutive detector, especially when mounted high on the windshield, can oftentimes keep up with the big-boys, the Passport 9500ci, and Beltronics STiR+.

What the SmartRadar gives up in sensitivity to radar to these high-end remotes, it mostly gets back in mounting position, relative to the lower mounted high-end remotes.  It is not uncommon to find the SmartRadar out-alerting, if only by a little bit, its more powerful siblings because of its high mounting advantage.  Very impressive indeed.


Here, the SmartRadar really shines.  The accompanying EscortLive! application takes the SmartRadar to a whole new level of performance.  Real-time sharing of traffic enforcement with other EscortLive! users and always up to date photo enforcement Escort Defender alerts, puts this detector in a class by itself.

If you find yourself slugging it out in urban areas where false alerts can punish you, beyond locking out those signals, the SmartRadar's alerts can be tamed by selecting a mild chime alert.  Around town, that is my preference.  On the highway, though, I want to know the alert tone, so I immediately know what I am being targeted with, so I change the SmartRadar to alert with standard alert tones.


Features that I would like to see improved or added...

Audio alert ramp

The choppy and non-linear alerting style of the audio signal strength is still present.  This is something I first commented on years ago with the Escort Passport 9500i.  I simply don't understand why this behavior has not been improved as it makes it harder to properly gauge the real proximity of the threat, an essential feature.  The Escort Passport 8500 X50 (black) still retains the silky ramp-up that every detector should have, so I see no reason why this behavior could not be addressed.

Battery consumption of EscortLive!

I find the EscortLive! app to be a real power hog, particularly with my iPhone.  If the iPhone is not plugged into the cigarette lighter, it will quickly run out of battery.  I even found that the iPhone appears to struggle somewhat in charging during operation of the EscortLive! application and the back even gets quite warm...meaning it's burning some serious CPU cycles to operate.  I believe this is an area that needs to be improved as other "cloud-computing" applications, don't appear to take nearly the same amount of power consumption to operate.  It will be interesting to see how the iPhone 5 and IOS 6 handle the app.

Truth be told, this is another reason, why I don't run that app all of the time.  RadarActive, while not integrated into the detector as seamlessly as EscortLive!, is much easier on power consumption.

Further, and this I understand is a limit of the iPhone (and not Android-based smartphones), EscortLive! must be in the foreground to provide all of its capabilities.

I will delve deeper into the ins-and-outs of EscortLive! in a future article...

X-band reception

Unfortunately the trend with most detectors has been to de-emphasize X-band reception.  

I know false alerts are a pain and X-band alerts are nearly always false (unless of course you drive in the state of NJ or in another handful of states), but I still appreciate high-levels of sensitivity to it.   Will most drivers notice?  I suspect not.  In fact, X-band can be disabled in most parts of the US, as K, Ka, and laser rule the day.  Know your area and what forms of traffic enforcement are used.

Remember, a detector, no matter how good is only a tool to enhance your situational awareness, not replace it.

Customized Profiles

Not so much as an improvement, but as a novel feature request:

This is an idea that recently came to me, when my wife commented that she preferred certain settings to mine.  This, I believe, would be an entirely new feature that has yet to be seen in any detector.  And that is quickly selectable customized profiles that aggregate a series of setting changes.

For example, when I drive around town, I prefer the easy-on-the-ears chime to the standard alerts as well as reduced sensitivity to X-band, but on the highway, I definitely want standard alert tones and full-sensitivity so I know what I am being hit with (as early as possible)  so I know how to react accordingly.


These quibbles aside, the new Escort SmartRadar is ground-breaking--a detector for the astute 21st century driver.

Highly recommended.

Online discussion: Escort SmartRadar Review by Veil Guy