Cobra iRadar 200 (for iPhone and Android) review

Cobra's latest radar detector, the iRadar 200, offers a compelling companion smartphone app, but we still wish the unit itself had a longer range.

The Cobra iRadar 200 ($129.95 list) delivers a compelling experience—if that’s possible for a radar detector—thanks to its companion smartphone app, which tracks your location, current speed, and direction. The iRadar 200 works by itself without the app (albeit with an extremely limited interface and no display). Unfortunately, in my tests, the iRadar 200 didn’t have particularly long range, and it still trips over false alarms. But you can fine-tune the app to reduce the latter, and considering the relatively low price, the iRadar 200 is a good value.

Design, Setup, and Interface
This time around, I tested the iRadar 200 on an iPhone 5, instead of the Android-based iRadar iRAD-105 I reviewed last year. The package contains the iRadar 200, a DC power cord, a clamp with two suction cups that affixes the detector to the windshield, a generic phone mount and dock, and a pair of manuals—one for Android and one for the iPhone. This means Cobra can now sell just one iRadar 200, instead of having to distribute different SKUs for iOS and Android users like it did last year. Another nice touch: The DC power cord includes a USB port, so you can charge your cell phone through it as well as power the detector.

The new unit is nicely crafted, with a soft-touch housing on top and bottom, and faux brushed-aluminum accent trim around the sides, as opposed to the all-black, glossy plastic of last year’s model. There’s an old-school volume knob on the left side that clicks the unit off at the end of its travel, along with a hardware switch that toggles iOS and Android usage, and a power cable jack. A bright status LED on the front panel lights up red when not connected, and blue when paired with your phone. The top panel features an oversized Mute button, and further back, a mono speaker for voice prompts and alerts.

Setting up the iRadar 200 is as simple as pairing it with your phone. As soon as you’re successful, the phone will prompt you to download the app; install it, fire it up, and you’re ready to go. The interface is pretty barren, but the Dashboard view is probably the most useful, as it displays your current speed and directional heading, as well as any current alerts and, less usefully, the current voltage coming from your car’s battery. You can switch between City and Highway modes from this screen; the Highway mode increases sensitivity, while the City mode reduces it in an effort to lessen false alarms from garage door openers and security systems.

The Map view shows the location of any company-curated alerts stored in the system. I generally found this view pretty uninformative, as my position was constantly changing; usually it just looked like it was following me along on Google Maps with nothing to see nearby. The app activates your phone’s GPS radio even when not showing the map view, so if you don’t plug your phone in, you’ll drain its battery within a few hours; you’ll definitely want to make use of the extra USB port. Finally, a Settings view lets you configure all sorts of alerts, with multiple pages of options.

Performance and Conclusions
Cobra claims the iRadar 200 detects 14 different radar types, including X, K, and Ka-band radar, VG-2, and six kinds of laser guns, with 360-degree protection from all sides. On the road, the iRadar 200 performed in line with what I’d expect of a low-end detector. I tested it on a trip between Philadelphia and Baltimore for PCMag’s Fastest Mobile Networks project, driving a new Fusion Energi on loan from Ford.

During the trip, I saw plenty of X-band alerts, all of which turned out to be false, and a few Ka-band alerts (photo radar) with no obvious source except for one, where I could see a camera sitting on top of a highway exit sign. What’s nice is that you can mark these alerts as false as they occur by tapping on the screen, so that you don’t hear the same alert in the same spot every day on your commute. Clear voice prompts and a dramatic shift in the UI display made it easy to see quickly what the particular alert was for. Sometimes I’d cruise by a cop parked on the side, and the detector wouldn’t go off at all, but not every officer is clocking motorists at all times. I also saw one K-band instance with two cop cars sitting together; unfortunately, it didn’t light up on the detector until I was practically on top of them. I didn’t get pulled over, but that was worrisome, and mirrors the experience I had last year with the iRadar iRAD-105.

The iRadar app didn’t seem to mess with the iPhone’s other features; I was able to make and receive calls while using the detector, as well as stream music while connected to the Fusion Energi’s Ford Sync system. But the biggest problem, as with last year’s iRadar RAD-105, is the user-reported alert feature. On the plus side, the app also delivers red light camera and speed trap warnings. But many people seem to have called in various alerts, because I kept seeing this dialog pop up and hearing the alert sound. Very rarely did they ever correspond to an actual source visible in the road.

Overall, the iRadar 200 is compelling, thanks to its lower list price, functional app, and slightly improved feature set over the first version. But the detector itself doesn’t perform as well as it should. For the best actual radar detection, I’d still recommend a Valentine One, Escort, Beltronics, or possibly even one of Cobra’s regular detectors over the iRadar 200. The smartphone app is a nice idea, but the detector itself has to be reliable first, and the iRadar 200 falls just short of that mark.


Verdict
Cobra's latest radar detector, the iRadar 200, offers a compelling companion smartphone app, but we still wish the unit itself had a longer range.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc