Manufacturers create a police car by taking the base model and removing standard equipment to lower the cost. Then they upgrade the important bits to make it a tougher, better-performing car.
Occasionally a radar detector manufacturer uses a similar approach. For example, when Whistler rolled out the Pro 68SE, it proved almost identical in appearance to the Whistler Pro 78SE, but is priced considerably less. Our past tests show the Whistler Pro 78SE to be a top performer at its price point and it's one of the few radar detectors we'll sell to a friend. (A time-honored axiom for long-term retail happiness: Never sell a radar detector—or a car—to a relative or friend, particularly one who lives within a day's drive. Not unless you're absolutely certain that it will live a long time while performing up to their expectations. Violate this rule and you'll never hear the end of it.)
Naturally we were curious to see how much performance and utility Whistler sacrificed in the Pro 68SE to get its street price down to less than a C-note. To find out, we spent a few months driving with the Pro 68SE in a variety of environments. Then we tested it at our two desert test sites.
On the road, it's an easy piece to live with. The all-black housing is mercifully devoid of chrome or brightwork, substantially reducing annoying reflections in the windshield on sunny days, an attribute shared with the Whistler Pro 78SE, the Whistler XTR-690 SE and Whistler XTR-695 SE.
Unlike its big brother, the Whistler Pro 78SE, the Whistler Pro 68SE makes do without a text display, using icons of different hues to handle information-delivery chores. Operating modes are depicted by big blue letters while radar frequencies are pale green, red or orange for Ka, K and X band, respectively. Laser alerts are blue. Perhaps not quite as stylish as an LCD display, but just as effective.
Display brightness is adjustable with a dim/dark mode. Dim reduces brightness by about half; in Dark mode the mode indicator remains at this setting but when alerting, the display goes dark for the duration of the encounter, plus another 20 seconds. A pair of blue, laser-bright LEDs also appears during alerts. These can be deactivated or set to flash either alternately or steady-burn. We liked the degree of adjustment in the visual alert system. Drivers who prefer not to advertise the detector's presence after dark will likely find favor with the setup as well.
Audio alerts are by tones that are sufficiently distinct to be easily interpreted. One of the more useful menu options is a pair of filter modes that progressively increases the degree of signal processing done before an alert is sounded. This slows the microprocessor's response time marginally but significantly decreases false alarms.
Three city modes help to reduce urban false alarms. City raises the threshold of X-band alerts to help ward off signals from radar-controlled automatic door openers. City 1 raises the bar another notch and City 2 deactivates X-band entirely.
The Whistler Pro 68SE also permits selective laser and radar-band deactivation and, not having seen an operational X-band radar west of the Mississippi in the past decade, we shut off X band. But using City 2 is a better solution for those driving in Ohio and New Jersey where state police continue to use X-band radar.
For example, an urbanite in those states may want to drive in the city with X band shut off, knowing there's no risk. But if the same driver hops onto a freeway, X-band radar becomes a factor again. By using City 2, instead of having to enter menu mode and reactivate X band, the driver can just tap the mode button twice to engage highway mode, the unit ready again to detect all three frequencies.
Like with the alert system, the degree to which the driver can tailor this detector's behavior is welcomed by serious drivers.
At our Straightaway/Hills test site the Whistler Pro 68SE displayed a commendable level of performance for a budget-priced radar detector. It detected X and K band radar from 5.4 miles away, the limit of the test course. It showed equal alacrity in spotting both of the most common Ka-band frequencies.
At the Curve test site it was within feet of the pricier XTR-690SE on X and K bands and dead even on 34.7 GHz Ka band. It trailed the high-end Whistler by 18 percent in Ka-band 35.5 GHz detection warning range. It's worth noting that at the same site, it had more range than the $369 Cobra XRS-9970G on both X-band highway and 34.7 GHz Ka-band. Like the Whistler XTR-690SE, the high-end Cobra 9970G gave 18 percent greater range than the Whistler Pro 68SE on 35.5 GHz Ka band.
Does this mean the Whistler Pro 68SE is set to cannibalize sales from the upmarket Whistlers? Probably not. The big guys have features absent on the Pro 68SE—a text display, voice alerts and an audio output jack, for instance—and it naturally trails them in performance. But this is still the best performance we've seen in a radar detector at this price point in the past decade. Although a no-frills model, there's enough content and performance to make the Whistler Pro 68SE well worth a look by those shopping for decent performance at a rock-bottom price.