A dash cam is something you hope you won’t need, but if you do, you’ll likely be glad you have it. These compact cameras record the road ahead (or behind), and in the event of a collision, can provide video evidence for other drivers, police and insurance companies.
There are many types of dash cams and camera systems available, from simple forward-facing cameras to dual cameras aimed at rideshare drivers; you can find both with and without built-in-displays and with or without onboard navigation systems.
To help you figure out the best solution for your driving needs, we sourced ten popular models, installed them in our car and evaluated them on ease of installation, image quality, playback functionality and overall usability. After comparing all our testing and research data, we landed on these two options as the best overall.
A dual-channel camera that includes front and rear video cameras, this Nextbase unit was the easiest to use and delivered the most impressive image quality in our testing
Although it doesn’t have a screen, the budget-friendly Scosche camera has by far the easiest mobile app to use, and promises quick and easy video playback whenever you need it.
$300 $255 on Amazon
If you’re looking for a high-quality dash cam that provides both front and rear coverage, is reasonably easy to use and won’t take up too much windshield real estate, this Nextbase model is a great choice. Although I had positive experiences with other Nextbase models I tested, the Nextbase 322 strikes a practical balance between the more full-featured $500 Nextbase 622 and its compact but connectivity-impaired sibling, the Nextbase 222.
Installation was a breeze with the Nextbase 322, and mounting and connecting the rear camera to my back windshield was easier than I expected. A supplied little plastic crowbar helped to slip the wiring behind my interior panels. Unlike some other cameras that were a hassle to remove from their mounts, the Nextbase 322 connects to the “Click & Go” mount via a magnetic dock, making it really easy to remove whenever you like.
The touchscreen controls walk you through the initial setup process (much smoother than scrolling through options with push-button controls as on some competitors’ cameras) and made on-camera playback fairly simple as well. I really appreciated the 2.5-inch size of the screen, which is small enough to not be too distracting while driving, but large enough to easily locate, select and view individual video clips without dealing with the app.
I’ll be honest, using the Nextbase mobile app (no subscription required) was a bit frustrating at first, and requires you to re-connect to the Wi-Fi whenever you open it, but I found that to be par for the course with most dashcam apps (apart from the superior Scosche app). Once you’re connected, the app is convenient to use, and thanks to the GPS capabilities of the Nextbase 322, each video file is accompanied by a real-time map (viewable in a separate window within the app, or as coordinates in a caption if you download the video) of your route, complete with your current speed (in MPH or KPH), providing a clear and reasonably comprehensive record of where you were and how you were driving in the case of any traffic incident you may need to document
The overall quality of the video and audio footage is crisp and clear; the 322GW records at 1080p in the front and 720p in the rear when recording simultaneously. You can also zoom in on the footage as it plays, a nice feature if you’re looking for specific details in an image.
Unfortunately, the Nextbase video player desktop app (available for Windows or MacOS) is a bit lacking, and although it allows you to play and zoom in on your footage on a bigger screen, its buggy interface sometimes refuses to recognize any GPS data. Also, while nighttime footage is generally clear, as with other cameras, the reflection of my headlights and other light sources blew out bright areas and reflective surfaces, making it a challenge to see details like license plates and street signs. Since this effect seems to be an issue with night-vision mode on dashcams in general, I wouldn’t necessarily count it as a strike against the Nextbase 322.
$120 on Amazon
One of the most important things I discovered during my testing was that if you’re going to go with a screenless dashcam, the accompanying mobile app needs to work extremely well. The Scosche NEXS10032-ET app blew away the rest of the competition when it came to app functionality and overall usability. Why? Unlike the other cameras we tested, the Scosche NEXS10032-ET saves video files locally to your phone’s memory, so unlike the competition’s apps — which all required frequent Wi-Fi reconnections and multiple steps to download and view footage stored in the cloud — the Scosche app was always ready to play files instantly, wherever I was, without any waiting.
The 1080p video was nice and crisp, and the night footage was easy to make out as well. Thanks to the integrated GPS, the Scosche NEXS10032-ET also provides an overlay with a static map of your route with each file. You can’t track your position in real-time with the footage as you can within the Nextbase app, which would have been nice — it just displays a map of your completed route.
It’s important to note that local storage is great for immediate access, but is limited by your phone’s storage. You can select how much of your phone’s storage the Scosche is permitted to use (you are required to reserve at least 20% of the phone’s capacity for video, though you can push that to 50% or 70% if you feel like you’ll need it). Once you hit that limit, older files are deleted and replaced with newer ones. If you’d like to permanently save footage, you can either save the footage to your phone, email it to yourself or upload a clip to the Nexar cloud service (the Scoshe cameras use the Nexar cloud back end) — all simple processes done through the mobile app. Irregular road events like hard braking or collisions are automatically backed up to the cloud, which provides a mirror of your phone’s storage with no subscription required (cloud files are maintained so long as you keep them on your phone; if you delete them from the app, they’re deleted from the cloud backup as well).
There is a catch, however — footage saved to the cloud has the same 1080p quality as other options, but it isn’t full-motion video. Rather, it’s only available in time-lapse format, at 1 frame per second (this makes the files much smaller, but sacrifices details of fast motion). Full backups of your video files are also saved to the camera’s microSD card (a 32GB card is included, though the camera can use up to a 64GB card). When the card is full, the camera deletes older fields to make space for new. So, make sure to consider your phone’s available storage capacity when considering the Scosche NEXS10032-ET.
While installation was fairly simple and straightforward for all the cameras I tested, the Scosche NEXS10032-ET also took the top spot in this department. Its power cord, designed to be concealed behind the interior trim of your car, was designed with small rubber bumps placed roughly every 6 inches. These bumps prevent the cord from slipping back out during installation, a frustrating experience that required starting the process all over again with some of the competition.
A drawback to a screenless camera like this one is that if your phone battery dies, or is damaged in a crash, you won’t be able to view video immediately. In that case, you’ll need to remove the SD card and wait until you have access to a computer and video player, or (assuming the incident in question triggered an automatic upload) access the cloud footage through the Nexar web app online.
Do I need a dash cam with a screen?
No, you don’t. Screenless cameras also tend to be smaller, and since you don’t really need to interact with them very much, you can position them behind the rear-view mirror, totally out of sight.
But, if you do go with a screenless camera, you need to understand that the only way to upload and view video footage is either through a mobile app, or by plugging the camera or its microSD card into your computer. So, if you do choose a screenless model, the mobile app needs to be reliable and easy to use.
If you want more playback options, and to avoid relying entirely on your phone (which could conceivably be damaged or lost in an accident), go with a camera that has a screen. Not only do screens allow you to quickly scroll through files and view playback, they’re also convenient for adjusting controls, like toggling the audio recording on and off or changing the length of loop recordings.
Plus, since the screen provides a live feed of the recording view, you can ensure that the lens is positioned and aimed correctly when you first install it and keep tabs on it over time. A screenless camera can possibly get bumped or shifted out of position, and you won’t know until reviewing footage. These screens do tend to take up more room on your windshield and can be more distracting (although some allow you to turn off the screen while driving) though, so keep that in mind.
If you do choose a camera with a screen, a touchscreen is worth considering. Unlike cameras that use push-button controls that require you to scroll through settings with arrow buttons, touchscreen models make it much easier to quickly access settings and playback options, providing an alternative to sometimes-cumbersome apps.
Do I need multiple cameras?
Dash cams with additional cameras (also called multi-channel dash cams) tend to cost more, but they can be worth it if you want to ensure you have a comprehensive recording of your car’s occupants or surroundings. Cameras mounted to the back window can capture rear-end collisions (which, according to the National Law Review, are the most frequent type of car crash), as well as incidents that occur when you’re not in the car. If you have a hard-wired camera that’s able to power on when it detects the motion of an accident, it can record the license plate of a car that accidentally backs into you in a parking lot or might be able to capture enough of a visual to track down a hit-and-run driver who hits your vehicle when it’s parked on the street.
In-cabin cameras are another option, and record what’s happening inside the car. These are probably going to be most useful to rideshare drivers who want to have proof of any incidents or issues that occur with (or involving) their passengers. Depending on how they’re positioned, in-cabin cameras can also potentially capture incidents through the side windows that front and rear cameras would not. Also an in-car recording could (at least theoretically; more on that below) come in handy if another driver or police officer accuses you of being on your phone during an accident or while driving.
It’s worth noting that additional cameras will fill up your SD card more quickly, and to compensate, even cameras advertised as featuring HD or higher-resolution video will typically reduce video quality to save space when using multiple cameras. For example, although the Vantrue N4 advertises a 4K front-facing camera, that will drop to 1440p when all three cameras are operating.
What features should I look for in a dash cam?
After my testing, as well as researching and interviewing car insurance and legal professionals, I would consider GPS capability to be the most important feature to look for in a dash cam. Since GPS-linked footage can provide a time-stamped record of your speed and the location of your car before, during and after a collision, you can provide a more comprehensive picture of any accident than with video alone.
That being said, the accuracy of speed data provided by your GPS may come under scrutiny in court, since many things can interfere with a device’s ability to receive precise GPS location data, and those can potentially affect the recorded speed. GPS devices are also not good at responding to fast accelerations and decelerations, or changes in direction.
Despite this issue, the general advice I received from insurance and legal professionals was this: The more information you can offer to prove you were in the right (or that another driver was at fault), the better — but to make your case, you’ll likely need a lawyer and perhaps experts well-versed in the workings of GPS and video technology to convince a judge.
A “parking mode” setting is another useful feature. Cameras with this feature will automatically power on when they sense an accident, ensuring that they capture footage of hit-and-run drivers. This feature is available on all the cameras we tested, although in every case you’ll need to provide a constant power supply to the camera, which requires purchasing and installing a hardwired connection to your car’s battery (none of the cameras we tested included a wiring kit as standard). If you park your car on the street at night, or at long-term airport parking, this could be a good investment.
Even for cameras with onboard screens, the ability to connect and review footage on a dedicated mobile app is very useful. This provides a backup playback option to your camera and allows you to view footage on a larger screen. Video files and trimmed clips can then be downloaded and shared with yourself or insurance companies, via email, before you even get home. Without an app, you’ll have to either rely on the camera screen or remove the SD card or camera from your car and upload the files to your computer for viewing.
Just be sure to carefully review how these apps store and delete footage. Some will automatically provide long-term storage, while others have a limited window to save footage before it’s deleted and require additional monthly subscriptions to extend the timeframe. Neither of our top picks require a subscription for long-term storage.
Do dash cams actually help you?
In the event you’re involved in a collision or other traffic incident, a dash cam can gather evidence that supports your account of events — but should you need to prove that in court or convince an insurer, it’s important to know that they’re not a magic bullet.
Even if you’re not at fault for a traffic incident, and have video footage and GPS data to back that up, when it comes right down to it, video recording will only be as helpful as your insurance company or the legal system you’re working within. Before you think about how you might use dash cam recordings, you’ll want to talk to a lawyer — as dash cam manufacturers recommend.
It is possible that having a video recording of an incident can speed up a claims process, or dissuade another driver from fighting you in court (although a very small percentage of traffic cases actually go in that direction) but they’re going to be best used if you — or your lawyer — are prepared to present and make use of video evidence in court.
As long as the footage can be authenticated that it came from your camera and has not been edited or altered, and clearly shows the incident in question, dash cam footage is nearly always admissable in court.
And finally, remember that dash cam footage can be used both ways. After being submitted to police or presented as evidence in traffic court, it could potentially end up incriminating you.
Legal relevance aside, many potential dashboard camera purchasers wonder what impact the devices might have on their insurance premiums. None of the major US insurance companies offer any kind of discount for having a dash cam. The only company that currently does, Branch Insurance, offers an 8% discount, but their limited coverage and negative reviews make them tough to recommend. That said, having a dash cam can help prevent your rates from going up after an accident, which could provide substantial savings in the long run. According to two 2021 studies by The Zebra, a no-fault accident will increase your annual rate by $67. An at-fault accident? $561.
How we tested
Considering that you’ll most likely be using it after a collision, when your adrenaline is pumping and your stress levels are high, it’s extremely important that your dash cam is easy to use. Taking the controls and playback functionality into account — whether that was on the camera itself or with a phone app — we judged each camera on how intuitive and straightforward it was to quickly and easily pull up and play footage.
While installing each unit in our car, we evaluated how easy this process was, as well as if there were any additional accessories that made installation more convenient. We also noted any differences in their power cords, like if they provided additional USB ports, which could be handy if you’re already using your 12V port for your phone power. We also noted whether or not the cameras could be easily removed from their windshield mounts.
We then drove our commute with each camera for two days, making sure to include night drives to judge their ability to capture footage in low-light conditions. We also evaluated how much space they took up on the windshield, and whether or not they were distracting or impaired our visibility.
We judged all available methods of video playback for each camera as well. We reviewed footage on camera screens, mobile apps and any video players that could be downloaded to our computer. We evaluated each camera’s image quality during both day and night drives, doing our best to judge their ability to provide the clarity needed to identify things like license plates and street signs. We also noted how much information was provided with the footage, like GPS-enabled speed and location data.
Finally, we took any additional features into account, like parking modes that automatically turn on the camera in the event of a hit-and-run, voice commands for hands-free use and whether or not you can zoom in during playback.
Other dash cams we tested
$300 $260 on Amazon
This three-channel model provides front, rear and cabin-facing cameras, giving you about as much as you can hope for in total video coverage. The best part of this camera is the fact that the resolution of the front camera is so high — 4K 2160p — that even after you connect the other two cameras, it only drops down to a still-impressive 1440p resolution. Unfortunately, the Vantrue N4 lacks a built-in GPS, and a separate mount must be ordered to add one. This means that, out of the box, your footage lacks a record of speed or location data. Plus the Vantrue N4 also cannot connect to the Vantrue phone app, limiting playback to either the camera itself or your computer.
$230 $140 on Amazon
Although this Vantrue model includes both a front and rear camera — a decent deal for under $200 — its strange, angled design and lack of Wi-Fi connectivity kept it firmly out of my top spot. Vantrue recommends that you mount it behind your rear-view mirror, which helps keep the bulky shape from cluttering up your windshield, but also means that you can’t really see the screen or use any controls unless you remove it from the mount. This would be less of a hassle if you could view footage and use the controls via the Vantrue phone app, but since the S1 lacks any Wi-Fi capabilities, you’re out of luck. It does have GPS though, so you will have speed and location data when viewing footage on the Vantrue Video Player on your computer.
$170 $105 on Amazon
The smallest camera with a screen that I tested, this 1 3/4-inch-square Vantrue model had a modern, minimal look, and took up almost no room on my windshield. This did make it difficult to make out any details while replaying footage on the tiny screen, though. Footage viewed on the Vantrue mobile app was crisp and clear, although the app did require me to connect and re-connect every time the car turned off, which wasn’t very convenient. It includes GPS, so the footage viewed on the phone app provides MPH speed and a real-time GPS map of your route during playback. It also includes a small remote that you can mount to your dash, which you can use to either take a quick photo or toggle the microphone on and off.
$100 $80 on Amazon
The ultra-low price of the no-frills Vantrue N1 Pro could make it an attractive option for some, but its lack of Wi-Fi and GPS significantly limits its functionality. You won’t be able to use it with a mobile app, and the compact, 1-by-1.25-inch screen makes video playback even less convenient. You’ll need to use the Vantrue Video Player on your computer to view the footage on a screen large enough to really make out details. Even then, the only additional data you’ll get is the date and time — no location data. It doesn’t exactly have the sleek, high-tech look of our other models, but if you’re on a budget, it could still be a fine option.
$90 at Amazon
Another budget-friendly model, this Nextbase camera is the scaled-down version of our top pick, the Nextbase 322GW. It has close to the same image quality as its older sibling, with 1080p at 6 fps versus 1080p at 30 fps, and provides the same valuable “Parking Mode” feature. It has the same 2.5-inch screen too, but it uses push-button controls instead of a touchscreen. This wide screen is especially important because, with no Wi-Fi, the Nextbase 222 can’t connect to the Nextbase mobile app. If you’re looking for a dash cam with a screen for under $100, this is definitely the option we’d recommend.
$550 on Amazon
If price is no object, and your priority is maximum video coverage, this Nextbase dual-channel camera could be just what you’re looking for. The beefed-up older sibling of the Nextbase 322GW, this camera includes a front and rear camera, as well as a 128GB SD card, something not always included with a dash cam. Its 4K image quality is about as high as you’re going to find on any dash cam, and will allow you to make out more details in playback footage than any other model. We were especially impressed with the “enhanced” night vision capabilities, which made low-light footage crisp and clear, whether you’re watching on the camera screen, mobile app or the Nextbase Video Player on your computer.
$300 $270 on Amazon
This screenless Garmin camera provides both front- and cabin-facing cameras, but with a frustrating mobile app and no dedicated video player for your computer, its playback options are limited. Of course, just like any camera, you can simply remove the SD card and download footage to your computer that way, but for nearly $300, we expected a bit more functionality. Our biggest issue with this model was the fact that after 24 hours, unsaved files are deleted. This can be extended to seven days with a $5 monthly subscription, or 30 days for $10 per month, but considering the already-high price and the fact that no other cameras have this limitation, the extra cost might be a dealbreaker.
$130 on Amazon
This tiny screenless camera is by far the smallest model I tested, and could be a suitable option if you want to ensure you have minimal distractions while driving. If you install the wires well, it could be completely hidden behind your rear-view mirror. The Garmin mobile app is used to adjust controls and play back video, but its frequent Wi-Fi connection issues and frustrating wait times spent sitting in your car waiting for files to download were the primary reason it wasn’t considered as a top pick. It also includes the same unfortunate 24-hour storage limitation as the Garmin Tandem. It does feature voice controls though, which are convenient for saving files or taking a photo while keeping your hands on the wheel.