As an editor working for an independent publication, I also have a secondary day job; and while it would be irrelevant to disclose any more information than that, it should be known that I’m one of the millions who commutes to work every week. Of course, there also comes the traffic tickets that guarantee anything except being pleasant or cheap to deal with.
That’s why radar detectors like the Cobra SPX 7800BT can be a necessity, whether you’re driving around town or on the highway. As this compact example combines the merits of keeping you informed for avoiding those expensive infractions, but also a wealth of up-to-the-minute information through Bluetooth and optional iRadar app.
A very brief explanation. Law enforcement radar guns are able to “see” how fast a vehicle is going by transmitting a microwave pulse, and when pointed at another moving object it’s able to compare the reflected frequency against its own; or in this case: roughly calculate how fast a car is going. In defense, Radar detectors like the SPX 7800BT are able to look for those beams in action before you encounter them, and sense different types of incoming signals too.
For reference, consumer-based radar detector laws can vary based on region; while it’s technically legal to use these devices, a few places like Virginia, Washington D.C., and military bases have banned them outright, and are illegal to operate in commercial vehicles. Just keep those points in mind depending on where you live.
The 7800BT, like any other detector can pick standard X-band, K-band, Ka-band, and “future-ready” Ku-bands currently utilized by European enforcements, albeit sparingly. You also get the ability to detect various LIDAR laser guns, RDD (radar detector-detectors) of the Spectre (I and IV) and VG-2 varieties, and able to differentiate between FCC-approved safety alert warnings such as ambulances, and strobe hazards.
Basic installation involves snapping the 0.29lb unit into the suction cup mount or use the hook and loop Velcro fasteners for DIY dashboard fixing, with the device working only when the ignition is on and the vehicle is running. For some added piece of mind, the cigarette adapter includes a USB port that simultaneously charging your tablet or smartphone, of course, you’ll need to bring your own respective cables along for the ride.
As a run-of-the-mill radar detector among $200 options, this works as a moderate deterrent for everyday commutes and can “distinguish” up to 15 radio bands — a boastful distinction made by Cobra themselves, so make of that what you will. By itself, the SPX provides voice and chime annunciation warnings that changes volume based on proximity, false signal and highway alert rejection, and stealth/emergency shutdown functionality against current law enforcement radar detector detectors. All of these abilities come as standard and are displayed on a 1.5-inch OLED screen, which doesn’t seem big but is surprisingly clean and legible for its dimensions.
And all of that comes before the optional Bluetooth pairing and iRadar app (iOS/Android), in case the detector wasn’t enough of a safeguard. The potential advantage in downloading the app gives you a window of established and recently reported speed traps and traffic cameras of the day, via the unit obtaining data from other Cobra owners that have driven through that area, it’s a decent “word-of-mouth” system if Johnny Law happens to be fond of laser guns or conveniently camp in known speed limit drop-offs where ticket revenue can easily be generated.
However, the SPX can be vague when it comes to locating signals, as it doesn’t differentiate if the threat is in front or behind you, just that a radar gun is being used somewhere. We also found the range was merely average even when the landscape is flat and featureless, it’s an unusual quirk that will have you seeing a cop well a few hundred feet before the warnings go off at times. The iRadar app, though great for eking out that extra bit of usefulness brings its own little annoyances such as keeping your attention away from the road and taking its sweet time just loading. a decent idea somewhat ruined by its awkward need for device tethering.
Regardless, the Cobra SPX 7800BT Radar Detector does work as advertised most of the time. You get some nice features but it’s occasionally brought down by the lag in performance, and a clumsy mobile app that’s not always up to speed. If your budget can’t exceed $200, this is a basic tool against the tyranny of unnecessary tickets.