Nextbase iQ dash cam

Nextbase iQ review: First test of 'the world's smartest dash cam'

High tech features make this a giant leap for in-car crash recorders, though it will benefit from further software updates, reckons Will Dron

It’s easy to casually state that the roads are like the Wild West these days, with driving standards apparently having fallen off a cliff, but the alarming thing is that the stats seem to back up the claim.

A survey by Compare the Market in January 2022 found that almost two in three drivers experience road rage while behind the wheel, with nearly a third reporting they had experienced a face-to-face confrontation with another driver. 

Of course, it behoves a maker of dash cams to get their own data on the perils of poor driving (and then tell journalists about it at the reveal of its latest product) and Nextbase — which today launches its new iQ dash cam — has plenty of findings to worry us.

According to the British firm, which claims to be the world’s largest and most awarded dash cam manufacturer, 72 per cent of drivers have had a near miss in the last year, 32 per cent of which could have been life threatening; more than half of motorists see instances of dangerous overtaking on a weekly basis; and 35 per cent see instances of cars ignoring road signs on a weekly basis.

The company also reported a two-fold increase in videos showing cash-for-crash incidents — whereby scammers pretend to be hit by your car in order to claim compensation — being shared through its app to insurers in the first six months of 2023 compared with the same period a year earlier. This is apparently being driven by the cost of living crisis.

So dash cams are a good idea if you’re a sensible driver, you’ll have gathered. They record a video of the road ahead while you’re driving, saving them in bite-sized clips usually around 30 seconds long, so that if the worst happens you’ve got video evidence for the police and insurers. Insurers love them, for obvious reasons, and you may find that you get a discount on your premium if using one.

But a quick look at Amazon shows there are plenty of options out there for buyers; what makes the new Nextbase iQ so special?

Let’s assume that the clarity of video recorded by the forward camera is top notch (it is, in crystal clear resolution up to 4K, depending on spec, with the hardware and software designed in-house).

The second built-in camera, facing into the cabin, may not be something that everyone has at the top of their must-haves, and might be considered overly-intrusive, but bear with me — I’ll come on to the major benefit of having it. Just know for now that the camera quality is also excellent.

There’s also nothing new in the fact that you can buy a separate camera to attach to your rear windscreen, meaning it’s possible to have three cameras recording to one memory card for all-round coverage.

Even the fact that the iQ packs a parking mode, to record people breaking in, isn’t a breakthrough feature in the world of dash cams.

Here comes the smart stuff

It’s how it works that is really clever, and the new features made possible by the powerful sensors packed into it that make the Nextbase iQ groundbreaking.

Let’s start with that parking mode — called SmartSense Parking in the iQ. Rather than waiting for the sound of a window breaking, or the rocking of the car, the iQ uses radar sensors (much like a Tesla in Sentry Mode) to detect movement outside the vehicle. That’s why the interior camera, with its 180-degree viewing angle, is a major selling point — it can capture nefarious characters coming up to the window before they break and enter.

Importantly, you can even set the sensitivity of the radar in four directions around the car via the app, in case, for example, you’re parked on a street and cars passing on the road side are setting off alerts every few seconds. A simple slide of the finger allows you to dial down the sensitivity on that side of the car.

SmartSense Parking is likely to be a really appealing feature because car thefts are accelerating as fast as bad driving — according to figures from the AA they were up by a quarter (25 per cent) last year. And it’s not just stealing of cars that’s a problem — parts are increasingly sought after by criminal gangs, too, such as catalytic converters and wheels.

If you wondering if the iQ runs out of power when parked, well, no… and yes. The iQ doesn’t come with a 12v (cigarette lighter) or USB power cable because Nextbase knows they don’t supply power once the car is locked. Instead, there are two options for owners: hard-wiring, which involves running a cable into the car’s fuse box and is best left to the professionals, or connecting to the car’s diagnostic port (‘OBD’ ports have been mandatory on all cars since the early 2000s).

This is how I connected our test iQ to our car, and the installation process, including downloading the app to my phone, connecting to the device and installing it in the car took less than 10 minutes. Tucking the power cable away behind the interior trim using the provided pokey tool took another few minutes.

Either way, the iQ is able to draw power directly from the car’s 12v battery, and will do so until it detects the battery has reached a minimum charge level. At that point the iQ powers down, so that you’ll always have enough power in the battery to start the car’s engine. Nextbase says that, thanks to radar being very low power draw compared with regular motion detectors, the parking mode should last for weeks, depending on the health of the battery and how often events are triggered.

By connecting to the OBD port, though, a second concern is raised: does the iQ also access data from the car? Apparently not. Nextbase says it made the decision not to do so, partly for privacy reasons (GDPR doing its job here), but also because to do so may invalidate a car’s warranty. And that would not a happy customer make.

So that’s vehicle security, but there’s another new feature which is all about personal safety and most definitely shifts the needle in dash cam tech. Witness Mode is a voice activated system that starts a 30-minute recording that is saved directly to the cloud, and sends an alert via text and email to up to two of your contacts.

The idea is that if you’re feeling unsafe driving through a particular neighbourhood, or have stopped at traffic lights and can see someone you don’t like the look of approaching your car, then you can not only make sure the footage is saved online but can also allow your nominated contacts to live stream the situation.

This is also offered explicitly as a tool for people worried about being stopped by the police. When asked if they had a particular case involving a police stop in mind when developing Witness Mode, a Nextbase spokesperson said no, but several high profile cases — in America, particularly — had been noted.

It’s not quite there… yet

There was only one problem with Witness Mode when I first tried to test it — the Voice Control feature wasn’t working. That was down to a firmware update over the weekend, I was told, which also prevented me from being able to connect to the camera at all via the app for a time. I was advised to press the reset button on the top of the device using a paper clip, and that resolved the issues, but it was a wobble that suggests there may still be a few kinks to iron out with further over-the-air updates.

I also noticed that Witness Mode, once I got it working (with the wake-up command “Hey Nextbase” rather than “Hey, iQ”, as stated in the app), didn’t list the recording as an “event”. Hopefully Nextbase will read this and ensure that those clips are labelled more obviously in the app. What’s more, my contacts were able to live stream the cameras at least 50 minutes after the event, yet there was no obvious way for them to download the footage.

Voice Command supposedly also allows owners to play music, place calls, send directions to your navigation app and more, which all sounds great but it wasn’t immediately obvious how to do that, so I didn’t test it.

Nor did I test two other really intriguing features of iQ, but not through my own laziness… they aren’t active yet and are set to be rolled out in around two weeks from now.

The first is called Guardian Mode and is designed to send you an alert when someone else is driving your car and breaks a preset rule, such as going over a certain speed or driving beyond certain designated boundaries — useful for keeping tabs on valets or younger members of the household.

The other is RoadWatch AI, which as the name suggests scans the road ahead and uses artificial intelligence to track the speed and trajectories of other vehicles, pedestrians, cyclists and more. In the event of a collision, the system should even be able to create an animation of what went on in the lead up to and during it.

And for obvious reasons I didn’t try out an apparently life-saving feature, which is carried over from the most recent Nextbase Series 2 products, called Emergency SOS. This, in the event of a serious accident (categorised by completing a checklist of 18 criteria), sends an alert to the emergency services that includes your exact location (using What3Words) and other critical details.

That may work as planned (I should hope so) but a few other things did not. For my test of SmartSense Parking mode, I parked at home and waited until the following morning to perform my criminal act and peer in through the windows. Although the video I recorded (below) clearly shows me doing so, there was no indication to me that the iQ was recording at the time — the ring of LEDs should glow red, as a deterrent to potential thieves.

And when I went to the new Nextbase iQ app to check the recordings, these also hadn’t been noted as “events” — clips deemed important enough to lock on the SD card and send to the cloud, for security.

The chances are high that these are things that can be fixed either in the settings or via firmware and software updates, which are included with the iQ over its lifetime. Clearly the cameras did record me, so the radar was doing its job.

And while those clips are not recorded as “events”, but should be, there are some clips that shouldn’t, yet are. During one hour-and-a-half drive the camera recorded two “impacts” that were nothing of the sort. I did find in the app that there are three levels of sensitivity, so I dropped it down from normal to the lowest setting.

Hit us with the costs, then

Of course, all this tech doesn’t come cheap. And you might not be surprised to know that if you want all the features all the time, there’s an ongoing payment for the privilege.

The Nextbase iQ itself comes in three versions based on video quality: the entry level “iQ 1K” model comes with 1080p video from the front and cabin cameras, and costs £349; the mid-spec “iQ 2K” model gets 1440p video from both cameras and will set you back a further £50; while the range-topping “iQ 4K” keeps the same 1440p cabin camera but gets (surprise, surprise) 4K video from the forward-facing unit — yours for £449. The optional rear cam works with all three, has 1440p resolution and costs £149.

It’s worth noting that while these couldn’t be described as cheap, there are even more expensive dash cams out there with far fewer features. Nextbase also makes it easier with interest-free payment plans via its website.

But you do need to factor in the subscription costs. You can avoid them altogether, though you’ll only get access to the app, firmware updates, Voice Control and real-time text notifications, which doesn’t make a lot of sense given the power of the product.

For Live View videos, SmartSense Parking, Witness Mode, Roadwatch AI, Guardian Mode and 30-day cloud storage, you’ll need to pay £6.99 per month. A top tier plan for another £3 per month on top adds multiple user accounts, Emergency SOS and Automated Incident Back-up. Pay annually and you also get an extended warranty.

Think of it like taking out a phone contract, though, and no doubt many will view a monthly charge as perfectly reasonable, and importantly you can cancel the subscription at any time. I suspect many iQ owners will feel much happier knowing they are fully protected, though.

They’ll be sold in the UK exclusively at the Nextbase website and in store at Halfords for a few weeks, before opening up to sales on Amazon.

Verdict: Nextbase iQ dash cam review

The Nextbase iQ has been four years in the making but even on launch day it’s still not quite firing on all its cylinders: we’ll have to wait another couple of weeks to find out if the RoadWatch AI and Guardian Modes work as advertised, and there seem to be a few niggles that could do with fixing via over-the-air updates.

That said, the hardware is without doubt a brilliant bit of kit, with superb video quality and packed with features that will help owners feel like they and their car are safe, whether in motion or parked up. And despite the complexity of the device, the iQ is really easy to install and set up.

The prices need to be looked at in the context of the features on offer, and even before all the features are unlocked, and with improvements that could be made over-the-air, the Nextbase iQ is probably the best dash cam on the market today. With all the features in the mix and a few minor tweaks to the app, it really will be leaps and bounds ahead of the pack and the best way to help protect you and your car.

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