Review: Escort Passport SmartRadar
Cost-effective alternative to pricey, built-in radar detectors
by Radartest staff
Editor's note: Discontinued in 2016
Radar-laser antenna hides behind the tint on the upper windshield. The system is operated by remote control, offering the advantages of a remote (built-in) model like the Escort 8500ci Plus at a fraction of the cost.
Not everyone prefers to hang a radar detector on the windshield, announcing its presence to the world. A remote model like the Escort Passport 9500ci or its twin from subsidiary Beltronics, the BEL STiR Plus, handles that issue with discreet components. Their radar antenna mounts in the grille area and tiny controls are concealed in the cockpit, leaving no evidence that the vehicle is countermeasure-equipped.
But invisibility comes at a price, increasing the allure of the far less-expensive Escort SmartRadar. Unlike a built-in remote model, its radar antenna mounts inside on the glass, usually above the rear view mirror, where it's hidden. A compact control-display module operates the system remotely.
Redundant controls are also built into the unit. A multi-function button on the right side controls audio volume and muting; next to it is a USB jack. On the left, a similar button handles power on/off; it also glows green to indicate power-on, blue when paired with a smartphone via Bluetooth. There are also landline-style jacks for 12-volt power, a serial data port and an external display.
SmartRadar control-display module on mirror. Other mounting options are available.
The thumb-sized display/control module has an eight-inch-long power cord whose phone-style RJ9 connector plugs into the SmartRadar module. It has a red LED display and along its lower edge, buttons for power, audio volume/muting, display brightness and operating mode.
Its short tether requires mounting it on the mirror and there's a bracket included for this. Aside from blocking some rearward vision, the red text display can be a visual distraction, particularly at night. It also informs anyone within eyeshot that the vehicle is packing electronic protection. Detector-poor drivers and many cops find this of great interest.
Escort SmartRadar operates as a stand-alone system, automatically switching on at engine start, off at shutdown. Without the display however, only its audible alerts, including voice alerts, are furnished. Without Escort Live and a smartphone, Escort Passport SmartRadar acts like a conventional high performance radar detector.
On the all-important Ka-bands, Escort SmartRadar outperformed its GPS-enabled sibling, the Escort Passport 9500ix. Its K-band range was also a pleasant surprise.
Add those to the equation, however, and SmartRadar comes alive. Bluetooth enables the detector to communicate with the smartphone—either iPhone or Android—and its Escort Live app. With GPS and the Internet on tap, the phone now controls the detector and communicates with the Escort Live network.
With the Escort Live app running, trouble spots are displayed on a map, warning of radar traps, reported cop sightings and other perils. It likewise uses GPS to note the ID and location of nuisance signals, allowing them to be locked out by the user. For many, this feature alone is worth the price of admission.
Escort Live's potential is intriguing and we went to elaborate lengths to field-test it in our First Annual, Every-Other-Year Radar Rally.
We verified Escort Live's effectiveness and with a growing user base, it could become the best early-warning system since CB radio.
Over a year-long period we evaluated SmartRadar using a several vehicles of varying types. We also checked its prowess at spotting radar, using one of our desert test locations. The Hill/Curve Test site is a worst-case detection scenario, the radar vehicle hidden in the middle of a steep downhill S-curve. With the radar beam aimed uphill, at nearly a right angle to the target car's path, hardly any microwave energy is directed at the detector.
Surprisingly, the $299 Escort SmartRadar had performance equal to the $799 Escort Passport 8500ci Plus. Compared to the $449 Escort Passport 9500ix, the SmartRadar showed 122 percent better K-band range. The gap even widened: 144 percent greater range on 34.7 GHz Ka band, 169 percent better range on 35.5 GHz Ka band, outstanding numbers. Too bad Escort decided to axe it from the lineup.
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