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Don't Get Nabbed For Speeding

November 30, 2010

Rex Roy The technology war between the police and speeding motorists is decades old -- but never dull. One side or the other is always upping the ante to keep the game of cat and mouse interesting.

Radar remains one of the most common means for police to enforce speed limits, so logically, radar detectors remain popular. But traffic law enforcement is expanding to include camera devices and red-light intersection cameras. Companies that produce GPS navigation devices have edged into the market by programming their units to warn drivers about the location of these law enforcement tools.

While radar detectors and GPS navigation units are effective implements, until now, a driver who wanted to be fully equipped with the latest electronic countermeasures needed both. But just in time for the holiday driving season, Escort has introduced an innovative new product that singularly meets the needs of the modern speeder.

Escort, a company that has been producing radar detectors since 1978, recently introduced a radar/laser detector housed in a windshield-mounted GPS navigation unit. (Dash-mounts are available for states like California and Minnesota where windshield mounts are illegal.) Escort calls their new device the iQ.

Radar detectors have been fixtures on the tops of dashboards since the early 1970s. Most detectors require a clear view of the road to operate effectively, which makes them easy for police officers to see. While using radar detectors is legal in non-commercial vehicles everywhere except Virginia, Washington, D.C., and on military bases, don't expect to get a break on a ticket if you get pulled over and your detector is visible. That's why radar detector users have always valued low-profile units that are easier to conceal or harder to identify.

Enter the iQ. Sporting a bright, 5-inch LCD, the Escort iQ is bulkier than many thin-profile stand-alone GPS units. Packaged within its 1.5-inches of thickness are radar and laser detectors plus GPS electronics loaded with data and tens of thousands of points of interest provided by NAVTEQ, a major supplier of mapping software for mobile devices.

Operating as a navigation unit, the iQ performs well enough. It is not, however, a top performer. Many dedicated Navi units have higher resolution screens (the iQ's is 480 x 272 pixels) and cleaner graphics featuring 3D renderings of major landmarks. The iQ also lacks voice recognition, so specific route-to addresses must be manually entered on the unit's touch screen. A representative from Escort noted that some of these issues may be addressed in future releases.

But the reality is that drivers won't buy the $650 Escort iQ for how it performs as a stand-alone nav system. Drivers want it because it's a stealth radar detector. In this area, the iQ delivers radar/laser detection that's on par with the company's popular Passport 9500ix.

The iQ sniffs out the four major types of radar frequencies: X-Band, K-Band and Ka-Band. The unit also has forward and reward looking laser detectors that should perform well given the in-the-open mounting position of the iQ.

Various screens display "threat detection" in different graphic forms. Paging trough the options, we appreciated that even when the screen is in "detector" mode, GPS route instructions remain visible at the top of the screen. Additionally, all screen modes display the current speed limit and your actual speed. An adjustable "over the speed limit" audio alert keeps you aware of whether you're speeding. This is especially helpful when driving on roads where there are frequent limit changes, a typically high-risk scenario for speed traps.

Known locations of red-light and/or speed cameras are pre-programmed into the unit. A pay-as-you-go subscription to Escort's Defender Database keeps the information fresh. The GPS also makes it possible for the iQ to learn of and then ignore known false signals (automatic door openers at the drug store, for instance).

One of the best features about the Escort iQ is the way it signals a radar/laser threat; a subtle red LED hidden in the frame of the device illuminates and a pleasant chime rings. These warnings are clear to the driver but don't disturb passengers or rudely interrupt an otherwise calm driving experience. Radar detectors have long used fireworks-like light shows coupled with obnoxious buzzers as warnings. The iQ's solution is a mature alternative.

Importantly, if the iQ is in GPS mode, someone unfamiliar with the device could be staring right at it and not realize that it is indicating a an active radar/laser signal. This is the perfect visual scenario if you get pulled over. Maybe you'll get a break after all.