Our Top Pick for 2017: Escort Passport 9500ix Radar Laser Detector
Read our full review.
Ostensibly, speed limits exist for a reason. They are designed to ensure that all people driving on the roadways are travelling at a speed that allows them to react and respond to other motorists or potentially to difficult road conditions. However, that does not mean that sometimes you simply do not feel like going the speed limit—especially if the driving conditions are favorable and there is no one else on the road. In this instance, it may seem asinine for a police officer to pull you over for driving 5 to 10 miles over the speed limit. To that end, radar detection devices have been developed to provide you warning when you are being targeted or even when a speed gun is in the general area.
This has led to a veritable “arms race” between police forces and consumers which has created a wide chasm of products which are more or less effective. That is why we have scoured the internet and put together a list of the 3 best radar detectors out there as well as provided a solid budget option.
#1. Escort Passport 9500ix Radar Laser Detector
View it on Amazon: $555.99*
*Price typically updated every 24 hours. Current price may be different.
The Escort Passport 9500ix takes the crown for the Gold Pick Winner of out radar detectors, but the competition is definitely close. The silver pick runner-up Valentine is almost nearly as good in most scenarios as the Escort, but it does fail in a few areas and simply is not as good in the others where it definitively competes.
One of the knocks about both the gold and the silver picks on this list is price. However, the Escort beat out its next best competitor in this again with a recent price decrease that placed it over $100 less than the Valentine—though not long ago both models were around $500. Regardless, both are fairly impressive, but the Escort is not only more effective at the general radar detection, it also has numerous extra features which make it tough to beat.
First, the Escort has an integrated GPS system, though this is not intended to be used for navigation. Instead, the GPS system allows the Escort to keep track of the various signals it receives and their location. This is a bit of a game changer compared to the radar detection of even a few years ago. Now, whenever you pass a red-light or speed camera, the Escort will take note of its location in a database and be prepared when you are approaching the same location later. Then it will give you a signal well before you ever even get within range of the Escorts radar detection range.
Another feature that makes the Escort such an effective radar detector is the integration of the database for all the different users. This means that you do not even have to have detected a speed camera or a red-light camera from your own Escort for it to be aware of those systems if a different escort user has already logged those positions simply by detecting the radar signal. This is amazing because it creates a veritable network where every escort is basically a hub for the database and informs all the other users of the entire wealth of knowledge. In this way, the Escort works almost like its own internet specifically designed to detect, catalog, and track radar systems.
In terms of the actual detection of radar signals, the Escort has little in the way of competition. First, the escort can pick up all of the different radar signals either simultaneously or individually depending on your needs. For instance, if you are out on the highway, the chances of you needing to scan for X-Band radio waves are slim, but if you get a hit, chances are it is a police officer using outdated equipment or an engineering station taking general survey of the traffic flow. Regardless, you will get a warning that the signal has been detected. Of course, you will still be able to also detect the more common K-Band radio waves that are the most commonly used bandwidth for police officers using speed guns. Conversely, if you are in a town or larger city, chances are you will want to turn off the X-Band detection.
With all of the non-police force uses of the X-Band radio wave, you will not want to be annoyed with numerous false positives. The Escort’s numerous settings allow you to mix and match the bandwidths that you want to watch depending on where you are at the time. To make the Escort’s radar detection abilities even more impressive, this radar detector even alerts you to POP signals. This means that even if the radar gun is on, but is not actively detecting your speed until the police officer makes a specific reading, you will still know the device is scanning the general region.
Moreover, the Escort has one of the best LIDAR, or laser-based radar detection systems on the market. While this is still not the most common form of radar used, largely because they are still fairly expensive and require either to be mounted or have an incredibly steady handed user—not to mention their inability to be used through glass—it is always better to have more protection than less. However, like with all laser detectors, you will get the warning that you are being targeted only once you are specifically targeted. This means you will not be able to tell beforehand like with the radio wave detection. Still, considering the laser detection systems the police use requires 2 to 3 second of continual use to make a determination, you should still have enough time to adjust your speed and, at least, prevent a clear reading.
Another advanced feature of the signal detection is the Escort’s software which utilizes artificial intelligence to learn the difference between genuine signals and those that are false positives. For instance, most radar detectors will not the radio wave from a garage door opener. The Escort will note this too—at first. However, after using the Escort for a period of time, the artificial intelligence will come to recognize the radio wave signal from the garage door as a false positive and subsequently stop alerting you. This means that the longer you use your Escort system, the more effective it gets at not only detecting legitimate police signals but rejecting potential false positives as well.
Moreover, the Escort is smartphone connectable. However, to make things even easier, the Escort can connect to your smartphone through Bluetooth rather than having to be connected directly by a USB or some other type of connecting wire. Once your smartphone is connected, your access to the database becomes a “live streaming” event whereby you do not need to wait for the Escort database to log the potential threat. Instead, your Escort will receive the signals from other smartphone connected uses and you will form a network within the network. This real-time updates are simply incredible as it means you can get alerts for a police officer minutes before you ever arrive on-scene or are within detection range
The Escort has an impressive range in its own right, but that is a reactive model that requires the user to be present during the threat and respond appropriately. Escort is taking that one step further and providing warnings before you are ever able to physically become aware of their existence. With its heavy integration of GPS, artificial intelligence, and databases, this radar detector is simply one part of a vast web. Welcome to the future. Welcome to the Internet of Things.
#2. Valentine One Radar Detector
View it on Amazon: $453.94*
*Price typically updated every 24 hours. Current price may be different.
The Valentine One Radar Detector can be seen as the “old man” of the group. This company first started producing radar detection systems in the early 90s but has made it a point to constantly update its models to keep ahead of the curve. The Valentine One is no exception to this rule.
This radar detection system is not quite as impressive as the Escort, but it still provides more than enough warning, range, and options to ensure that you get from point A to point B without any involuntary stops along the way. The Valentine provides detections from all of the traditional radar signals including the X-band, K-Band, KA-Band and the Super Wideband Ka. However, this radar detector takes that one step further and is also able to detect the KU band. However, this is a bit of a moot feature in the United Where no police forces use the KU band. However, if you are a motorist in Europe, then this is definitely the radar detector for you as their police forces do utilize this radio wave bandwidth. Still, since the radar necessary to produce the KU band will literally occupy the entirety of a hatchback trunk, American drivers need not concern themselves.
That is an important distinction, because as was noted earlier, the Valentine is cool $100 more expensive than the better performing Escort. Still, if you are in Europe, that $100 is small investment compared to the security of knowing that you can detect one of the more common radio wave frequencies used by your local law enforcement. Still, the price point is not the only area where the Valentine comes up a bit short. One glaring issue that the Valentine faces is detection of laser signals from behind. While the Escort will provide more than enough warning that your vehicle is being targeted by a police officer’s laser peed gun, the Valentine will give you almost no warning. This is a bit disconcerting, especially considering the fact that the Valentine markets itself as a 360-degree system. Of course, for radio waves, that claim is true. Thankfully, most police officers still use radio wave-based radar guns, but if you come across one that is using a laser from behind, you are essentially a sitting duck.
Still, for other purposes the Valentine is an excellent option. Much like the Escort, the Valentine will alert you when there is a Ka POP radar in the area so that you can be extra cautious. Moreover, this is even one of the few categories in which the Valentine actually performs better than the Escort. Of course, the difference between the two is negligible and definitely should not be a deciding factor when it comes time to choose between the two.
However, another area where the Valentine lags behind is in the design department. Not only is the actual product somewhat antiquated with is matte black finish, it does not have the smooth curves and polished shine associated with some of the fancier radar detectors out on the market. Moreover, the display and controls of the Valentine are incredibly simply. Though, this can actually be a bit of a blessing in disguise—even if it fundamentally limits the Valentine’s maximum feature capability. In this way, you can think of the Valentine as an incredibly effective radar detector, but it will not be linking up with other drivers or connecting to a larger database to keep track of all the regular radar signals and their effective threat levels.
This, unfortunately creates a bit of an issue with false positives. In fact, because it lacks the more advanced software out there—even that offered by lesser radar detectors—it will be difficult to eliminate false positives. This can become a headache and may not make this radar detector worth the benefit of simplicity. While there are different settings that can effectively remove some of the radio wave bandwidths from detection, most notably the X-band, this is a more involved process. Still, you can minimize the x-band detection, but you will ultimately be left to determine what is a false positive and what is not on you own.
Still, the Valentine offers excellent range, though not better than the Escort, and is able to track multiple signals simultaneously. You can adjust the detection settings so that the most probable police signals are focused on, but you will never be able to reduce the false positives to a level with which even professional reviewers were comfortable.
#3. Whistler Cr90 Laser Radar Detector
View it on Amazon: $147.62*
*Price typically updated every 24 hours. Current price may be different.
In this list, we are fortunate that all three winners are solid options. In this regard, some of the differences between what separates the options will come down to which product offers the most bells and whistles rather than which product performs the general, expected function best. While there is some divergence in that realm as well, rarely will you run into a situation where any of these three winning options are simple unsuitable for your needs.
The Whistle has the benefit of being the cheapest option among our winning picks. This is the first radar detector made by the company that is windshield mounted. It is the top radar detector from the company’s CR-series and also offers nice sleek design that is very attractive and will generally match the interior of even some of the nicer models of consumer vehicles.
This radar detector has an integrated GPS system, which makes it especially good at determining what region you are in and what preprogrammed setting you should use. The Whistler also has a feature which alerts you to the stop light cameras. Unfortunately, you will have uninstall the radar detector and hook it up to a PC with a USB cord to regularly update this feature.
Alternatively, you could bring a laptop with a Wi-Fi signal to your mounted radar detector and upload the updates there. Regardless, there is going to be a bit of a hassle involved.
Another knock on the Whistler is the menu. For one, you are only able to navigate the menu in a single direction. This means that if you accidentally pass the section of the menu you are looking for, you will have to cycle through the entire menu until you get back to the section you want. While this should not give you any difficulties if you are not actively driving at the moment, it does present issues for those who are in motion. Though, in fairness, it is best advised that you do not fiddle with any auxiliary devices while simultaneously operating a motor vehicle. Of course, many of us do anyway, so this may be a factor you want to consider before purchase.
This radar detector though is actually fairly sensitive considering its price point. Unfortunately, this can be as much of a curse as a blessing. While it is great that you will be alerted promptly whenever a police officer is scanning your vehicle, it can become a real pain to constantly be on edge and respond to the numerous false positives that this radar detector can signal. Part of the reason for purchasing a radar detector in the first place is to give yourself some peace of mind while driving. Rather than have to watch every corner and constantly scan the side of the road, you have a radar detector do that grunt work for you, so you can drive in peace or pay closer attention to the traffic if the situation calls for it. However, if you are constantly getting false positive signals from your Whistler, you will still end up constantly checking corners and the side of the road for the source of the signal. This will become even more frustrating when you are unable to locate the absent police officer. Still, if you read the manual and take the time to precisely set up the Whistler, you can mitigate the number of false positives to a minimal amount. Of course, without being able to understand the arcane instruction manual, this device will essentially cause you more headaches than it alleviates, nullifying it reason for existence.
Regardless, the Whistler was designed to be a relatively easy plug-and-play radar detector that genuinely does have a dizzying array of options a setting to fiddle around with—assuming of course that you have either the proficiency or patience to figure it out. Moreover, this radar detector, like many others, incorporates the antenna in the casing which makes it more difficult to spot and generally look nicer. It has 6 filter modes, 3 city modes, and a highway mode. One area where this radar detector perform exceptionally well is with laser signal detection. Of course, most police are still using the K-band radio wave frequency, so the utility of this benefit may be diminished depending on the affluence of your region. Either way, for a third place finisher and still an “almost budget pick,” this is a very capable radar detection system.
#4. Cobra XRS9370 High-Performance Radar Laser Detector
View it on Amazon: $67.99*
*Price typically updated every 24 hours. Current price may be different.
Not everyone has a couple hundred laying around to be spent on a luxury item that, if you are being honest, can be avoided simply by following the speed limit and obeying stop lights. Still, the drop off between the first, second, and third place entries on this list and the budget pick is not as steep as you might suspect but still more than you are likely comfortable with if you purchasing this device.
Quite simply one of the main issues with this radar detector is its ability to detect signals based on strength. Obstructions will give the Cobra fits. While this may not be a big deal on long stretches of open road, police officers are not in the habit of advertising their position in the most obvious of spots. Instead, speed traps will regularly be set around curves or at the base of a hill where a driver is likely to note their presence by sight alone. Unfortunately, this is also one of the situations in which the Cobra is weakest.
While the Cobra is more than capable of detecting unobstructed radar signals up to a range of 1 ¼ miles, which is fairly impressive considering its price point, it simply cannot cover up the fact that you will be most vulnerable in the likeliest of situations when you need it to be doing its job. Still, when it is unobstructed, it is not a poor choice. The Cobra is able to detect all 14 bands of radar or laser frequency that is used by law enforcement. So, at the least, it still provides the expected adequate protection in the situations for which it is suited. Moreover, this protection is a 360-degree radius, which is especially impressive at this price point.
The design is nothing to brag about but neither is it dated like the Valentine. Moreover, like the Valentine, the Cobra’s display is somewhat minimal in that it indicates the strength of the signal and the general type of bandwidth. As an added bonus, the Cobra does pick up the KU-band radio signal, so European shoppers do not have to be stuck with shelling out hundreds of dollar for the Valentine. Of course, depending on which country one is in, it is just as likely the hilly contours or winding roads will present just as much of a problem there as it does in the United States.
Another area of concern for the Cobra is detection—and not it detecting radar signals. On the contrary, this issue with the Cobra refers to police officers being able to detect it. While the Cobra does provide protection from being detected by the common VG-2 or Spectre I models. However, the more advanced Spectre IN will nab the Cobra every time. This means that if you live in a region where radar detectors are illegal, you would do well spending a little bit more to avoid detection of your illegal device.
Not every state has the same laws regarding the use of radar detection devices. Some regions will simply confiscate your radar detector, while other may levy you with a hefty fine. It is always important to do research for the region you live in before purchasing a radar detector. Moreover, it is a good idea to also research the nearby regions surrounding the one you live in as well. Chances are you will eventually drive through the surrounding regions at some point in time, and ignorance of the law is rarely a valid if ever an admissible excuse in court. For example, radar detectors are illegal on every military base. Part of this is based on the possibility that the radar detector may create signal interference, depending on the model and its capabilities, which in turn can cause mayhem among the electronic equipment on base.
This is especially important on Air Force bases where radar is a vital utility necessary for the effective functioning of the base itself.
Traditionally, radar detectors signaled when a speed gun was pointed at your vehicle, but as technology to catch motorists have changed, so has the radar detection product. While the police still use speed guns, the devices themselves are no longer as standard as they once were. For a time, speed guns used a radio wave signal, much like FM or AM except the frequency was different, to determine how fast you were moving. However, different speed guns relied on different bandwidths—generally X, K, or Ka bands.
Many of the most current devices utilize laser signals and their reflection time to determine how fast an object if moving. Regardless, you will want to consider the capabilities of signal reception when choosing a radar detector.
The “Internet of Things” is a wonderful paradigm where all of your general appliances, and even some of the more specialized products, have been integrated with smartphones. This actually can have numerous uses.
First, you may not be the individual driving the vehicle with the radar detector—perhaps your child or significant other is driving. If your radar detector has smart phone integration, you can be given a notice when the vehicle is targeted by a police officer. This can either give you a sense of how the person is driving your vehicle, or it may even give you a heads up if trouble is afoot.
Another benefit of smartphone integration is the ability to both send and receive warnings to and from other drivers about locations where vehicles have been targeted by speed guns. This allows a network of information to tell you which roads are likely to have an officer watching them and where you need to be careful.
This generally coincides with the legal consideration. However, this consideration is specifically for those who live in an area where radar detectors used in a moving motor vehicle. are illegal, but they still wish to purchase one anyway.
Technically, there are other possible uses for radar detectors which are entirely legitimate, even if the law forbids you from owning and using one in your operational motor vehicle. Regardless, when choosing a radar detector, you will have to decide whether you want a corded model, a cordless model, or a remote mounted model. Corded models are usually mounted to windshields by suction cup and pug into the 12-volt outlet. Cordless radar detectors generally rely on battery operation. Moreover, they are also more easily mounted or dismounted and can be transferred from vehicle to vehicle much more quickly. The remote-mounted detectors require a bit more installation, but they are far less likely to be spotted by thieves or police officers who are not thoroughly searching the vehicle.
This is probably the most obvious consideration. Depending on the signal of the police officer’s speed gun, you will be given more or less warning when you approaching a watched section of the road. The X-band is the smallest and weakest of the 3 radio wave signals used. For police officers, it has an effective range of about one half mile. However, this band is not often used any longer as many other radio wave controlled devices—like the automatic doors of stores—also use this band. The next largest is the K-band. This is the most common type of police radio wave used. This has an effective range of one quarter to 2 miles.
This means that you should generally have a bit of time, though not necessarily as much if the officer is on the short end of the range. The Ka-band is the largest radio wave that police use in their speed guns. However, this band is actually more commonly used for automated speed traps that merely take pictures of speeding vehicles. This method has a much smaller range, but this is due to the necessity of the radar potentially recording multiple vehicles simultaneously.
Modern radar detectors can often detect this bandwidth from one quarter to one half mile away. Lasers work differently and are a pulse based device. This can make them more difficult to detect, but police generally use them about one fifth to 1 ½ miles away from them. This gives you plenty of time to detect the laser, though you are unlikely to be able to slow down too much before the signal is sent back. However, if you are driving in busy traffic, then this should still be enough time to react accordingly.
As mentioned before, radar signals are not only used for police guns, but for commercial and industrial purposes as well. If you are driving along a long stretch of highway in the country, this is not an issue. However, if you are driving in the city or another urban area, this can become a problem. Essentially, your radar detector may detect all of the various radio wave signal sources and seemingly go crazy alerting you with what are known as false positives.
Some of the better radar detectors will take this fact into account and allow you to program your radar detection device to respond differently in different situations. Some radar detectors allow you to remove certain bandwidths from detection, like the X-Band which is not really used for police speed guns any longer. Other options include the radar detector scanning the signal and making its own determination as to whether or not the source is a police officer or a commercial or industrial source.
Conclusion (Wrapping it up)
When it comes right down to it, there really is little contest between the Gold Pick Winner Escort and its competitors. Granted, in terms of raw detection ability, the Valentine can more than keep up—though it does still fall a tad short in comparison.
Due to the heavy integration of databases and the real-time streaming of live networking through smartphones, you will simply not be able to find a more complete or robust system than the Escort. Of course, you will still be paying a pretty penny for it, and if that is not within your budget, the Whistler is still a solid option. If all else fails, the Cobra will make do, though you should not be surprised if it fails you when you need it most.