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 handles that issue by virtue of its discreet components. The bulky radar antenna mounts in the grille area and its tiny controls are easily concealed in the cockpit, leaving no evidence that the vehicle is countermeasure-equipped.
But invisibility comes at a price, increasing the allure of a lower-cost model small enough to be tucked away unseen, such as high on the glass, behind the dark tint found on many windshields.
The Escort SmartRadar aims to satisfy that need. Its radar receiver housing measures 3.4 x 3.2 inches (length x width) and just under 1.25 inches high. In contrast, the Passport 9500ix, Escort's flagship GPS-enabled windshield-mount model, is two inches longer and a bit less than a quarter-inch narrower. The two are nearly identical in height.
SmartRadar is much shorter overall than the Escort 9500ix (left), allowing greater flexibility in mounting locations.
Among factors in determining a mounting location, length is among the more critical. The Escort Passport 9500ix, for example, can sometimes be windshield-mounted high, next to the headliner, but on some vehicles its GPS antenna then is blocked. In others, the permanent shadow prevents its auto-dimming display from functioning. The top-mounted controls, if they can be reached at all, must be operated using Braille.
The SmartRadar's smaller dimensions somewhat ease the mounting hassle. It can be windshield-mounted with its suction cup bracket, same as a conventional radar detector. A similar bracket, sans suction cups, can be bonded to the glass using its double-sided tape.
In comparison to a conventional detector, there's less concern about reaching the controls, principally because it has almost none. 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 requires 12-volt power using one of two wires included: a Direct Wire cord and a nine-inch-long cord that ends with two bare probes, one each for power and ground. These are intended to be inserted into the power plug found on the back of many auto-dimming mirrors.
Some vehicles in which we tested SmartRadarómost 2012 and 2013 Lexus models, for instanceóhad no accessible power plugs. These Lexus models and all of those with manual-dimming mirrors require use of the Direct Wire cord. This must be routed across the upper windshield header and down to the fuse box. Escort advises professional installation and we concur. Routing the wire isn't particularly difficultóbut tapping randomly into a power circuit in many of today's computer-controlled vehicles can be very unwise.
SmartRadar control-display module mounted on rear view mirror
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 text 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.
Fortunately, it can be dimmed or shut off, although the tiny buttons defy easy operation. Using an optional Direct Wire SmartCord, we found the display can also be mounted elsewhere, on the center stack, for instance. This allows using the latter's mute button instead of fumbling for the SmartRadar's. We suspect that the module is supplied mainly as a convenience, Escort knowing that most will opt for using this detector in conjunction with Escort Live and a smartphone.
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, SmartRadar acts like a conventional high performance radar detector.
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.
Escort Live alert history on iPhone 4G
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.
In concept Escort Live is similar to NORAD, buried deep inside Cheyenne Mountain and charged with tracking every airborne object. In the Escort Live command center, giant monitors overlaid with spider web grids of national roadways display pinpoints of light, each denoting an alert location. A cruiser reported rolling eastbound on I-70 at Indiana milepost 115? Got it covered. Some 35.5-gigahertz-frequency Ka-band radar activity on I-25 just north of Walsenberg? That would likely be the CSP; they're on it.
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, an event we're confident no mentally-competent group will attempt to replicate—and one crossed off our future-projects list long before the event was over.
We did manage to verify Escort Live's operation and reporting accuracy, however, and with enough users on the road, it could become the best early-warning system since CB radio.
While testing we found that save for very short hops, smartphone-enabled driving means running the phone on vehicle power. With only Escort Live running and display brightness at its lowest setting, we routinely exhausted the fully-charged battery of our iPhone 4S in less than 2.5 hours, quicker if encountering frequent alerts or when other apps were running. Fortunately, the Escort Live SmartCord plug has a USB jack for this purpose.
To no one's surprise we noted that on sunny days, viewing the smartphone screen while wearing sunglasses was a challenge. Glasses off, the elegant Escort Live user interface can be viewed and operated with reasonable alacrity. At night, living with the glare from a smartphone screen is another issue to be considered. Those already accustomed to driving while interacting with a smartphone are unlikely to be daunted by any of this.
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.
We began evaluating SmartRadar late in 2011, using it in a dozen vehicles of varying types over nearly a year. During this time 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. Some surprises were in store.
SmartRadar showed 122 percent better K-band range than the Escort Passport 9500ix. And the gap widened: 144 percent greater range on 34.7 GHz Ka band, 169 percent better range on 35.5 GHz Ka band. Most impressive was its balanced performance with near-equal range on all four bands.
In fairness, we tested a very early production unit furnished by Escort itself. But until we stage a rematch with a randomly-selected unit from inventory, these hotshot performance numbers will remain on record.
One useful Escort Live feature is the log of alerts it automatically records on the phone. This makes it possible to retrace one's steps and view the specifics of each encounter—time/date stamp, location, radar frequency and other data.
Even an artfully concealed SmartRadar can be sniffed out by the Spectre RDD (radar detector detector) used by lawmen in Virginia and other no-detector areas to spot illicit radar detectors. For these areas we'd suggest an Escort Redline, Escort 9500ci, BEL STi Magnum or BEL STiR Plus, all invisible to the RDD. Still, it's hard to resist envisioning an RDD-proof SmartRadar, though the Escort marketing gurus havenít mentioned the possibility of such a combination.
The Escort SmartRadar has some compelling virtues: Escort Live compatibility, compact size, alternate mounting options and excellent radar-detection performance chief among them. The $449.95 tariff is another plus; an Escort Live-compatible Escort Passport 9500ix, for instance, is retail-priced $50 higher. (But its GPS is always on duty, not requiring Escort Live and a smartphone, and lowering the comparative price.)
Positioned midway between high-end windshield-mounted and custom-installed remote radar detectors, Escort SmartRadar is a unique product with equally unique capabilities. Coupled with Escort Live, it offers a ticket-avoiding combination of high performance and ultra-low-profile installation.
"...great performance, compact size, intriguing features"
- SmartRadar receiver
- Mirror and DirectWire power cords
- Windshield suction cup mount
- Windshield 3M double-stick mount
- Installation-operation CD
- Quick-reference guide
- Escort Live compatible
- Free Same-Day FedEx Shipping
(Counterclockwise, from lower right) SmartRadar radar/laser receiver, remote display/control module, mounting brackets and power cords (cords also shown below)
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