Last updated 2013
Editor's note: the Escort Solo S2 has been replaced by the Escort Passport Solo S3
There's an unexpected downside to the declining popularity of smoking:
the location of the cigarette lighter in many of today's cars is
clearly an afterthought. On some models there's no lighter at all;
it's an option. Obviously the folks who make these design decisions
don't use radar detectors.
For example, recently we drove a high-end German sedan whose lighter
was cleverly located at the back end of the console, apparently
chosen for optimal convenience for rear-seat passengers, never mind
the driver's needs. When we stuck a radar detector onto the windshield
and went to plug it in, the cord proved to be about three feet too
short. Given the choice of either driving this super-sedan at the
legal limit all day or re-engineering its electrical system, we did what any sensible driver would do: we re-engineered the electrical
Half an hour later, having tapped into the power grid and
rigged an extension cord, we departed on our maximum-rpm trip.
Fortunately there's a more practical solution for these crisis
situations: a cordless detector. Never more than a niche market,
for years this segment has consisted of only two models, the Escort
Solo and the BEL Express (Model 946). But the arrival of
an Escort Solo S2 and a second new model, the Sensoro Traveller II,
from newcomer Precision Navigation Inc., has energized this sleepy
chunk of the market. (See our latest story Mini-Test: Three New Cordless Models) of cordless radar
Curious to see if the state of the art in cordless
models has kept pace with the rest of the industry, we rounded up
samples of all three and spent two weeks evaluating them. And for
the sake of comparison, we also tested a last-generation Escort
Solo to see how far technology has advanced.
But before we begin the nuts-and-bolts session, let us mention
that cordless operation exacts some compromises. That's because
everything revolves around battery life. While it's possible to
design a battery-powered detector with every bit of the performance
and features of a corded model, it would suck down a set of Double-A
alkalines in roughly the time it takes you to back from your garage
into the street. This forces designers to walk a tightrope, balancing
battery longevity with sensitivity.
To do this, every cordless has a duty cycle; it's shut down a certain
percentage of the time to conserve the batteries. We're talking
milliseconds here and you won't notice the duty cycle in operation
but there's definitely a reduction in sensitivity, especially on
Ka band. That's because the extraordinarily wide band, 2600 Megahertz
wide to be exact, some 52 times broader than X band, takes detectors
a considerable amount of time to scan, looking for a signal that
could be anywhere in there. The duty cycle only hinders this process.
Net result: lower sensitivity and less advance warning.
Think of this as two different tests since three of the models
tested, the BEL Express ($199.95 suggested retail), Escort Solo
($199.95) and the PNI Sensoro Traveller II ($179.95), are competitors.
The fourth, the Escort Passport Solo S2 ($349.95), occupies the high end
of this segment and with its unique features and at nearly twice
the price, really has no direct competition. For our first test,
here are the results, listed respectively in last to first place.
Test One: Cordless models under $200
Third Place: Escort Solo
Lest we create confusion, please note that the Solo and Solo S2
are completely different and we're talking here about the Solo,
a Nineties-era model that has reached the end of its lifespan. We
considered skipping the Solo for this reason but felt it might be
useful to test it alongside its replacement. Solo owners tend to
be loyalists, many of them loathe to trade-in a proven performer
for a newcomer. Not that they'll
have a choice much longer as Escort ended Solo production some time ago and
the only samples you'll find today will be on eBay and similar venues. For this reason we won't take time
to extol the old Solo's virtues and mention its shortcomings; we'll
merely list its test scores. Judge for yourself if the Solo S2 delivers
on Escort's promise of vastly improved utility and performance.
Second Place: PNI Sensoro Traveller II
The Traveller II (we have no idea why the word traveler has gained
an extra L in this application) is from the company that dominates
the market for those clever rear-view mirrors with integral outside
temperature gauge and compass. Their entry into the detector market
was happenstance. "We were looking for new applications of
our sensor technology and thought it would work well in a radar
detector," said company president Becky Oh. The result to date
is a three-model lineup, the low-end, corded Alpha and the Traveller
II and new SteelEye cordless models, the latter two both based on the same platform.
Three top-mounted buttons control all functions. On the top of
the case, farthest to the left is the button for the four-step dim/dark
mode, lending a nice degree of adjustability to display brightness.
In the middle is the manual mute button (sorry, no auto mute on
this model; you'll have to reach over and hit the button to
silence an extended alert.) Farthest right is the city/highway switch.
There are two jacks on the right side of the case, one to accommodate
a power cord, the second an external speaker or earphone. On the
left side of the case near the front is the power/volume button.
The latter is a thumbwheel switch, low-tech perhaps but vastly superior
to the dual-purpose momentary switches of the BEL Express and Escort
Solo that are much slower to adjust.
The Traveller II is simple in design, with a visual display that
uses differently colored icons for status information, band ID and
signal strength. The latter is indicated audibly by beep frequency,
visually by numbers 1 through 4. The display is more resistant to
glare than the others' although it can wash out in sunlight. But
to its credit, the Traveller II's icons are larger than those in
the BEL Express and far more readable under difficult lighting conditions.
Band ID is denoted by X, K, Ka and L icons and by voice alerts.
One unique feature: the voice alerts are in both English and Spanish.
And the owner manual is bilingual as well.
We were not overwhelmed by the quality of the audio band ID: X
and K band sound almost identical although Ka band is reasonably
distinct and laser won't be mistaken for anything else. This makes
the voice alerts useful to more quickly learn the audio and know
what type of radar Ol' Smokey is blasting your way. (Tutorial
mode accomplishes the same task.) For this reason we'd consider
the Traveller I, its non-voice sibling, to be a somewhat less desirable
The maximum volume of the audio alerts won't pose a danger to
the structural integrity of fine crystal but for truly noisy environments--including
motorcycles--an earphone or external speaker should help out measurably.
The Traveller II has four City modes: City 1/2/3 progressively
lower sensitivity while City 4 shuts it off entirely. We tested
each of the four settings and found only about a 10 percent reduction
in range for City 1 through City 3, a small enough difference that
two of the four settings are largely superfluous.
We found the Traveller II to have a reasonably complete set of
features but are mystified by the absence of so basic a function
as auto mute, something to be found nearly universally on models
at half the price. It does, however, have auto shutoff and powers-down
after about 45 minutes of inactivity, a very useful feature.
Squaring off against radar, we found X- and K-band performance
to be outstanding. It led the pack on both X and K band at the Curve
Test site and scored another first place on X-band City at the Straightaway
Test site. K-band performance at the latter site trailed the old
Solo's by about 700 feet but exceeded the BEL's by about half that
Detection of Ka-band proved to be problematic however. In one test
it only belatedly detected the radar at 81 feet--some 3300 feet
after our speed had already been locked-in--and in the second, it
failed to detect it entirely. This unit also found laser beams somewhat
elusive. When dash-mounted, a laser beam aimed at the front license
plate often went undetected, making the Traveller II one of the
less effective laser countermeasures we've seen.
a Traveller II is a generally pleasant experience but the quality of
the experience might suffer if you've the misfortune to run afoul
of Ka-band radar or lasers. [Click
here to see the complete test scores]
First Place: BEL Express (Model 946)
In the world of radar detectors, a run of several years is considered
exceptional, making the Bill Clinton-era BEL Express one of the
longest running cordless models ever. Not that it's showing its
age. Its feature set, for instance, is thoroughly contemporary and
it comes with some clever and unique accessories tailored for motorcycle
The unit is operated with four primary controls. A trio of buttons
atop the case handles three-step dim/dark, audio muting and city/highway
functions. Power and volume are controlled by a single momentary-on
button on the left side of the case. As with the others, the auto
shutdown feature helps conserve battery life. There is no provision
for a power cord.
The cordless Express is clearly tailored for the motorcycle crowd.
Standard are a clip-on 90-degree deflector and earphone speaker
which, used in concert, permit the user to place the detector in
a shirt pocket, letting the deflector bounce incoming radar and
laser beams into the antenna and the speaker to announce them inside
the helmet. (Those who insist on riding sans helmet--also known
as FODs or future organ donors--will be forced to either rely totally
on the visual alerts or to install a powerful auxiliary speaker.)
Visual band identification chores are handled by red X, K, Ka and
L icons for radar band, laser and for signal strength. These are
adequate in brightness for most occasions but the power-on and mode
status indicators--pale green and pale yellow--are simply invisible
during daylight. For this reason you'll never know if the unit is
powered-up or not, a constant aggravation, particularly for the
The quality of the audio band ID is a legacy of older BELs--something
we griped about for years--and less distinct than we prefer. Fortunately
the tutorial mode helps speed up the learning process. And then
there's the windshield mount that comes as a multi-piece kit and
requires twiddling with a set screw for adjustment; only an engineer
could love it.
We're less ambiguous about its performance. In one test, on X
band it trailed the winning Solo by some 1,600 feet in Highway mode,
slightly edging out the Traveller II. It tied the latter in X band
City at the other test site and trailed it marginally on K band.
But the Express scored an important coup: it was the only one of
the three able to reliably detect Ka band radar. It was equally
proficient in detecting lasers. In all, the BEL turned in by far
the most consistent test scores and was the only sub-$200 cordless
model to which we'd entrust our driving privileges.
Escort Solo S2
Okay, it placed first in a field of one. But performance is heavily
influenced by price and for a fair comparison, we couldn't have
the Solo S2 squaring off against models at half its price. Plus,
we love testing a class of detectors graced with a single entry:
no losers, no angry calls from manufacturers, no attacks from miffed
consumers. And the new Escort Solo S2 clearly falls into a class
of one, both in design, features and price.
In appearance the Solo S2 won't be mistaken for any other detector.
Its compact case is low in profile and platinum-colored, a poor choice for a piece of windshield-mounted mobile electronics. The top of the case generates a
noticeable amount of windshield glare in bright sunlight, meaning you'll do well to mount it off-center, to avoid the mirror image reflected into the windshield.
All but one of its controls are on the front, which is dominated by a liquid
crystal display. The LCD is flanked by a trio of status LEDs on
the left plus the power switch. To the right is a pair of volume
buttons and a third for mode selection. Each button is covered with
a rubber-like non-slip material and operates with a well-damped,
expensive feel. The volume buttons are very small and difficult
to operate on the fly although the mode button can be depressed
with thumb or forefinger. Those with XXL-size digits will probably
elect to simply hold the unit in their hand, tap the button and
return it to dash or windshield. That freedom is one of the advantages
of cordless operation.
The large mute button resides front and center on the case top,
no doubt the best--and only, considering the minimal front-panel
real estate remaining--spot for it. It doubles as a battery-level
indicator: press it and an icon depicting battery life is displayed
in the LCD, a clever and highly useful feature.
The LCD is momentarily backlit whenever a function button has been
pressed and it also stays lit for the duration of an alert. The
rest of the time it's off, to save power. Like all LCDs, it struggles
to overcome sunlight and reading it can be a chore. We suspect that
many would gladly give up some battery life in exchange for a high-contrast
red dot-matrix text display. As it is, we'd recommend keeping the
Solo S2 directly in your line of sight for best visibility.
When the optional power cord is attached and the volts are free
(it takes the $29.95 SmartCord whose plug has integral alert and
status lights, plus a mute button), the display stays lit, as do
the status LEDs. It also displays vehicle voltage, if you're curious
about the state of your car's electrical system. Operation with
the power cord also permits selecting from five varieties of status
Band ID is displayed by X, K, Ka and Laser. Signal strength is
shown by a bar graph that lights progressively, left to right, and
audibly by beep frequency. The audio alerts, like those of most
Escorts of recent vintage, are highly distinctive and, with Loud
Tones option selected, easily loud enough for any cockpit short
of a AA fuel dragster.
The Solo S2 has 10 user-programmable options. Among the more useful
is the choice between three-level manual display brightness, full-dark
or auto mode. City Mode offers standard, low-sensitivity and X-band
disabling; K and Ka bands can also be turned off. (X band can safely be shut off in most areas to decrease false alarms. But if you're not certain what bands are in use, let our computerized DetectorSelector assist you.)
Alternate sets of tones help tailor the alert sounds to the user's audible acuity, useful since no two brains interpret sounds identically. Also standard is a fast power-up option, to skip the lengthy self-test sequence, and auto shutoff. The latter warns of imminent
power-down after 15 minutes of inactivity; pressing any button acts
like a snooze alarm and resets the power, followed by a self-test
sequence to verify its good health.
If you're pestered by laser ambushes, the S2 can also be linked
to Escort's ZR4 Laser Shifter Defense System ($499.95), one of the
more bulletproof laser jammers
The Solo S2 is unquestionably the most sophisticated, high-performance
cordless radar detector on the planet. But having witnessed the
lackluster Ka-band sensitivity of its forebear, the new Solo would
need to deliver better performance--by an order of magnitude--to
win us over.
After a week spent field-testing these cordless models, we'd say
it's succeeded. Compared to the old Solo, X-band performance is
up 194 percent and K-band by 236 percent. In the Straightaway Test
where the old Solo totally failed to notice Ka-band radar, the S2
spotted it from 5,325 feet away. And its laser scores led the field.
This would be superior performance for a corded model; for a cordless
detector it's little short of an engineering miracle.
The new Solo S2 isn't perfect but it's a quantum leap forward in technology