EnlargeValentina Palladino

Dash cams excel at watching over you while you're driving, but most take a break after you park the car. A new entry in the dash cam market, the $349 Owl Car Cam, promises to keep an eye on your vehicle even when the car is turned off and you're not in the driver's seat.

Using LTE connectivity and your car's battery power, the Owl Car Cam constantly looks out for movement in and around your car and pings your smartphone if and when something or someone appears near your vehicle.

Some dash cams have external battery packs, and a scant few have LTE. But the Owl Car Cam boasts these features as ways to add levels of convenience and security that other devices can't provide. The company hopes users will be willing to fork over more money upfront or pay a monthly fee for the ability to check up on their car whenever they please—and for their car to communicate with them when necessary.


The Owl Car Cam puts on much more of a show upon unboxing than any other dash cam I've tested, and it doesn't look like most other dash cams. It resembles a primitive smartphone with its rectangular body, but its wide, tapered back removes all other nods to the computers we keep in our pockets. The smartphone-looking side faces inward when positioned in your car, putting its 2.4-inch LCD touchscreen, inside camera, two LED lights, and two microphones at your fingertips. The back of the Owl Car Cam holds its 120-degree FOV main camera, used to record the happenings in front of your car, and there's one light beacon and a reset button on its right edge.

Specs at a glance: Owl Car Cam
Price$349 (one-year bundle with camera and LTE service)
Camera quality4MP front-facing and rear cameras (1440p video recording on front, 720p video recording on rear)
Field-of-view120 degrees
Audio recording on/off optionYes
DisplayYes, 2.4-inch LCD touchscreen
MicroSD cardNo
Loop recordingYes
Operational temperature range-4 degrees Fahrenheit to 120 degrees Fahrenheit
Mounting methodBeam with magnetic ball
Power sourceOBD car port
WarningsImpact detection, break-in detection
Voice commandsYes
Mobile appYes, iOS only
RequirementsCars manufactured in 1996 or later, access to OBD port, iPhone 6 (or later) running iOS 11 (or higher)

The module holds most of the Owl Car Cam's power, but a few more parts are required for it to work at its best. Installation takes a bit more finesse than other dash cams: first, you must plug the camera's power adapter into your car's OBD port. It gets its continuous power this way, unlike other dash cams that rely on cigarette-lighter ports, which provide power only when the car is turned on.

Then, you must hide the attached cable in the thin opening of your doorjamb and snake it up and past the middle of your dashboard. The company provides a "tuck tool" that you can use to push the cable into the gap between the dashboard and the windshield to hide it and make cable management easier.

Then you choose the beam size that fits your car model, which is basically the plastic neck on which the Owl Car Cam will sit. There isn't an exact science to this, but you want the camera to live in the middle of your dashboard, upright and snug as possible in the space between the dashboard and the windshield. The company provides a few beam extensions that you can interchange to get the length as perfect as possible for your car, and they are quite easy to experiment with.

After you find the perfect beam length, you push the beam into the gap between the dashboard and the windshield. I was surprised by how easy this was to do and how the beam juts outward and curves slightly, like a snake's head protruding from the bowels of my car. At the end of the beam is the magnetic dip on which the bottom of the Owl Car Cam attaches, and, if you found the perfect beam size, the suction cup on the top side of the camera will stick to the windshield. With the beam and the suction cup, the Owl Car Cam isn't coming loose or falling off onto your dashboard any time soon.

Installation takes a few more minutes than it would with almost any other dash cam (many of those minutes consisted of me rereading directions to make sure I was sticking everything in the right place). However, the installation process is necessary for the design of the Owl Car Cam to be effective, and I ended up loving the design of the camera. You never have to fuss with it once it's installed, and even when you want to use the camera's touchscreen, the magnetic base makes it easy to remove and replace the module on a whim. Aside from angling the camera differently, I only removed the Owl Car Cam from its magnetic base to change settings like screen brightness and audio recording on/off. Settings live in a menu accessible by tapping the LTE bar icon at the bottom-left corner of the display.

I've also come to appreciate the position of the camera at the bottom-front of my windshield, rather than the top-back position of most dash cams that stick to your windshield close to the rearview mirror. The Owl Car Cam isn't obtrusive and doesn't get in the way of my driving view, whereas some other dash cams can peek out under the rearview mirror due to their bulky designs. Cable management is also more convenient thanks to the use of the doorjamb space and that tiny gap in between the dashboard and the windshield.

  • The Owl Car Cam is a black box. Valentina Palladino
  • The first unboxing—it's a bit intimidating at first. Valentina Palladino
  • The OBD port adaptor along with the Owl Car Cam module. Valentina Palladino
  • The power cable along with a collection of beam extenders. Valentina Palladino
  • The bottom of the beam slides into the area between the dashboard and the windshield, with the suction facing up. Valentina Palladino

Dash cam features

Trapped storage

We'll dive into all of the things LTE allows the Owl Car Cam to do in the next section. But first, let's examine the device as a typical dash cam. The camera records video clips while you're driving and saves the last 24 hours' worth of footage. Unlike other dash cams, the Owl Car Cam doesn't have a microSD card slot, but it does have 64GB of internal storage. I prefer having a microSD card since that lets me remove all of my footage at any time and review it on my computer, but not every user wants to fiddle with microSD cards. If given the chance to access all footage on a smartphone app or a microSD card, a huge segment of users (arguably the majority) would prefer the smartphone app.

The ease of viewing and downloading video clips from a device like the Owl Car Cam cannot be overstated—if you get into an accident and want to immediately show authorities your side of the story, the Owl Car Cam's mobile app for iOS (an Android version is in development) makes stating your case quick and easy. Most dash cams don't have companion mobile apps, but some dash cams, like the $199 Garmin Dash Cam 55 and the $49 Yi Dash Cam, do, in addition to saving footage to a microSD card.

However, you can't view and download clips from anywhere with those dash cams. That's because their mobile apps need to be connected to the dash cam via the device's Wi-Fi network. You need to be in your car to reap the benefits of Garmin's and Yi's mobile apps, whereas you can view and download footage anywhere when using the Owl Car Cam.

Also, a microSD card's storage capacity is the only limitation to how much footage you can save at one time. The Owl Car Cam currently only saves the last 24 hours of driving footage, so that clip you recorded a few days ago of geese holding up traffic won't still exist if you let 24 hours elapse without downloading it (unless you saved it by using the "OK, Presto" voice command, which we'll discuss in a moment).

Other dash cams support microSD cards up to 128GB, allowing them to hold much more than 24 hours' worth of footage at one time. And since most have loop recording, the oldest footage will be automatically deleted on the card to make room for new footage. While it is less convenient to access all of that footage when it's saved to a microSD card, you're not limited to just the last day's worth of clips.

But Owl learned that the last 24 hours of footage may not be enough for some people. But for others, Owl learned, 24 hours are more than they need. The company plans to introduce a customizable setting that will allow users to change the amount of footage saved to the camera, with the maximum setting saving about a week's worth of video clips. Similar to the Android app release, the company is working on this feature but doesn't know exactly when it will be released.

Voice commands

In addition to the last 24 hours of footage, the Owl Car Cam saves the most important footage automatically, like instances in which it detects impacts, break-ins, and motion in and around the car. Those clips live on the camera and on your smartphone in the mobile app for 60 days, bypassing the 24-hour threshold for random footage.

You can save non-essential clips—like that gaggle of geese footage—manually by saying "OK, Presto" while you're driving. The Owl Car Cam only responds to "OK, Presto," which makes voice commands simple and effective. Garmin's Dash Cam 55 hears a few phrases, including "OK Garmin, save video" and "OK Garmin, record audio," giving you more specific things to do with your voice. Garmin kept the number of commands small to keep voice control from being confusing, but the Owl Car Cam makes the same feature easy to initiate by limiting it to just one phrase.

My camera only ignored my command once in the couple of months I had it installed in my car, and its voice recognition is equally as impressive. After saying, "OK, Presto," you have a few seconds to name the clip by saying whatever title you'd like. The Owl Car Cam misheard my titles twice but otherwise named all of my saved clips with the titles I wanted, such as "Morning Commute," "Rainy Day," or "Helicopter Overhead." Titles aren't required for each manually saved clip, but they do come in handy when you're scrolling through the motion-alert clips in the Owl Car Cam app, looking for a particular clip you saved that morning.

  • Properly installed Owl Car Cam. Valentina Palladino
  • Valentina Palladino
  • Minimal camera settings. Valentina Palladino
  • The tapered back of the camera faces outward, holding the main camera. Valentina Palladino

Motion detection

Depending on where your car lives when it's parked, you might get motion alerts throughout the day. Since the Owl Car Cam is technically always on, it can detect motion at any time both in and around the vehicle. When the camera detects a disturbance—which could be something as harmless as a passerby walking a dog or as serious as a carjacker—it records a clip using both the outside- and inside-facing cameras and pushes an alert to your smartphone using LTE. You can then view the video clip that the camera recorded of the disturbance if you need to give it more attention.

I was rarely near my car when I received a motion alert (which is the point of the alerts anyway). But I did notice the brightness of the internal LEDs a few times when I approached my car in the dark. These lights aren't on all the time, but they do come on for a few seconds when the camera detects motion and records a clip in low light. The lights are very bright, and that's a good thing, but they could be a distraction or unwanted surprise for strangers who trigger a motion alert when passing by your car.

This feature is most similar to "parking modes" found on other dash cams that have external battery packs that allow them to stay on and detect motion when the car is off. Once a battery pack runs out of juice, the dash cam no longer watches over your parked car. But the Owl Car Cam has the benefit of being technically "on" as long as it's plugged in to the OBD port. The provided OBD adaptor houses a special circuit board and firmware that ensures the camera will not draw more power from your car's battery than needed, so you don't have to worry about the always-on camera negatively affecting it.

The camera also goes into "guard mode" when the car is off. This means the camera is not constantly recording but it is allowed to remain ready to record videos upon sensing motion or impact.

Original Article

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Ars Technica

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