Review: Escort iQ Satnav/Radar Detector
GPS navigation plus radar/laser and red light camera protection
By Radartest Staff
There's no denying the attraction of a gadget that offers satellite navigation plus protection from radar, lasers and red light cameras. But there's no surfeit of candidates: that description fits a single device, the Escort Passport iQ
The Escort iQ features a 5-inch (measured diagonally) color LCD touch-screen and it looks similar to competing portable satnav systems. But its thicker profile conceals its integral radar/laser detector borrowed from the Escort Passport 9500ix, arguably the best windshield-mount GPS-enabled radar detector.
Finding room inside the compact housing for the radar detector electronics must have been a herculean task, but the payoff is a totally concealed radar detector. This will be particularly attractive to those who drive in no-detector areas and prefer not to advertise that they're packing an illicit device.
An internal rechargeable lithium-ion battery powers the nav system functions for a limited time in the absence of vehicle power. When running on its battery the iQ does not provide radar/laser detection; only the nav system portion will operate. Measures were taken to conserve and monitor battery life, among them a bicolored battery charge LED that glows green when fully charged and red when completely discharged; it flashes alternately red/green when nearing fully-charged status. A multi-mode power switch toggles between power settings. With power cord connected to an always-on 12-volt source, the switch must be used to power-off the iQ. Unplugging the cord will send the unit into Suspend Mode; this shuts off the power-hungry LCD screen while keeping the iQ on hot standby. Eventually it will deplete the battery, making it necessary to use the power switch to completely kill the power consumption.
When linked to the switched power source commonly found in most imported vehicles, turning off the ignition puts the iQ into Suspend Mode for two hours, after which it automatically shuts off to prevent vehicle battery rundown. A third switch position completely locks down the system. A touch-screen icon is used to shut off the detector circuitry and leave only the navigation functions operational.
The iQ comes with a SmartCord whose integral mute button silences the audio but can also be used to operate the Mark Location function. In the latter role we found it to be faster and easier than using the touch screen controls.
The iQ's radar detector feature set is very similar to that of the Escort Passport Max, as well as the BEL (Beltronics) Pro 500 and BEL STiR-Plus, all GPS-enabled models. Like those, the Escort Passport iQ employs Escort's Defender database of camera locations. This proprietary database is kept updated religiously and proved itself class-leading in accuracy, an issue of some importance since a GPS-enabled detector won't warn of a camera if nobody bothered to enter the data. In our 18-month test of this and competing databases, the Defender trounced the rival Cobra Aura database and laid waste to Trapster and similar apps. Read more >>>
A user can add locations to the database by pressing a screen icon; the marked location can be tagged with one of two choices, red light or speed camera. Database updates are downloaded via the USB port, a quick process once the Escort Detector Tools application has been downloaded and installed on a PC. There's also an SD card port for future firmware and software updates.
Installing an Escort Passport iQ isn't unduly difficult but it must be sufficiently high to keep the radar antenna in its lower housing clear of obstructions. We tested the iQ in a variety of new vehicles including a Land Rover LR3, Toyota Prius, Jaguar XJ, Ford Explorer, Dodge Charger SRT8, Corvette Grand Sport and Lexus CT200h. We found that smaller cars with their more limited windshield real estate exact some compromises in mounting locations. But a bigger factor was the location—or the lack thereof—of available power ports. Some manufacturers apparently believe that no one could possibly need 12-volt power within a stone's throw of the windshield.
Upon vehicle start the iQ's startup screen offers three function options: Detector, Map or Go To. The last option leads to a six-item menu of standard nav system search options, e.g., favorites, address, recent or browse. The other options are self-explanatory: Map mode allocates most of the screen to navigation tasks while Detector mode uses it for the bespoke function, along with essential route guidance information.
As an expensive piece of windshield-mounted electronics, iQ owners would be advised to remove the unit when leaving the vehicle unattended. This is no different than with a high-end radar detector, but the iQ's size and weight make installation, removal and concealment more difficult.
We found the Escort iQ to be an accurate, user-friendly nav system. In navigation mode, radar alerts are displayed in the lower-left corner as X, K or Ka. (If set to Expert Mode, the same as Spec Mode in Escort radar detectors, it also shows the numeric radar frequency, an extremely useful tool, but only for involved drivers willing to act on that knowledge.) The iQ displays up to four simultaneous radar signals, showing the relative signal strength of each. Compared to a radar detector, the iQ's larger screen allows it to display this information more comprehensively.
Icons show vehicle speed, the posted limit and detector operating mode. Others denote red light and speed camera locations with a separate icon for each, telling the driver whether the camera monitors only red light violations or speed-on-green as well. We found this last item generally useful—at least when the driver could be troubled to assimilate the information. While testing, we approached a known red light camera intersection and noted that it was about to turn yellow. A full-throttle downshift lit the rear tires of the company supercharged Ford and it was clear we'd easily make the light. But our arrival at the other side was greeted with a blinding flash: No red light violation; we were popped for 57 mph in a 45 zone.
There's a choice of screens in Detector mode to display the same information in slightly varying configurations. All supply current speed, the posted limit and direction of travel. A choice of three background colors—red, blue or orange—allows some customization but the difference is purely cosmetic.
The 5-inch LCD display offers generally good readibility but suffers from the same limitations as the LCD screens on other mobile electronics: it's difficult to read with polarized sunglasses and it can wash out in direct sunlight. At night it directs a significant amount of light in the driver's direction and while the intensity is 10-step adjustable, even the lowest setting may strike some as intrusive on long trips. This is most noticeable on the open road, where the ambient light level is very low.
This issue merits attention because in detector mode, the Escort iQ depends upon the screen for both operation and information-delivery chores. Changing audio volume, for example, entails a series of screen-taps to navigate among screens and return to the original screen. With practice the process consumes a few seconds. In contrast, the same task on one of our favorite midpriced models, the Escort Passport 8500 X50, requires less than two seconds and it can be done without looking away from the road. And though the icons are large, there's no tactile difference among them, requiring some accurate hand-eye coordination to effect changes.
There's no audible band identification; initial alerts are provided by a generic tone. To denote the type of signal being received, a synthesized female voice purrs "K band," for example. For more information the driver must study the display. Unlike with a radar detector, there's also no variable beep-frequency to depict signal strength (proximity to the radar). That piece of data also is shown on-screen as a bar graph or alternate visual display.
In our field tests the Escort iQ's radar-detection performance proved to be excellent, a legacy of its M4-platform heritage. At our Hill/Curve test site it spotted every radar from over 2,500 feet away, a showing nearly identical to that of the Escort Passport 9500ix. In town, the Escort iQ exhibited the same alacrity as the Escort 9500ix in eliminating false alarms, quickly identifying and locking-out non-police radar signals.
During our eight-month-long evaluation there was much head-scratching over how best to characterize the Escort iQ's personality. The consensus: it's a good nav system for power users who also want the radar-detection capability and red light protection.
It's also the sole candidate for those shopping for a single device to handle both missions. It protects from radar, lasers and red light cameras equally as briliantly as the Escort Passport 9500ix and its clone, the BEL (Beltronics) Pro 500. Those with limited windshield real estate will like the iQ's compact design. Travelers in particular will find favor in its dual-role capability. And those who drive in no-detector areas with iQ can brazenly cruise along with what appears to be merely another Garmin or TomTom affixed to the windshield.
Those folks will be pleased to learn that our Escort iQ could be spotted by the Spectre (Stalcar) RDD (radar detector detector) used to ferret out illicit detectors, from no more than 74 feet away under ideal conditions (Escort Passport 9500ix: 207 feet; Cobra XRS-9970G: 319 feet). This doesn't guarantee immunity from the RDD, but certainly helps to even-up the odds in their favor.
This hybrid design ambitiously attempts to bridge two product categories and it acquits itself well, but some compromises are evident. For example, it must be mounted high enough on the windshield to give the radar antenna in the lower housing an unobstructed view of the road. And the standard SmartCord coiled power cord may not be long enough for some vehicles. Fortunately, a fix is available in the form of the Direct Wire SmartCord whose thin, eight-foot-long cable can reach the unit anywhere on the glass and can be tucked under trim panels, out of sight.
As a unique product, the Escort Passport iQ offers the dual benefits of stealthy, high-performance radar-detection capability coupled with an excellent nav system.
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