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Technology Today - March 2012
By Robert Sanborn

CES 2012 Escort Live

I am a long time user of the Escort Passport iQ combination GPS and Radar Detector and just love it. It keeps me going where I want and need to go, maps are easy to use, and the radar feature is top of the line.  But one of the things as I wandered around the Consumer Electronics Show was the notion that social networking is becoming even more part of our everyday lives and when Escort announced Escort Live, a social network for Radar detectors, I had to take a look.  It is a technology that works with your Smartphone, in my case, my iPhone; to connect you dynamically to the internet to alert you, and conversely to alert others, when a new speed trap or other radar unit appears that is not already in the database.  What a powerful tool for those of you that travel a bunch. It turns your iPhone into a radar detector with a mapping function.

The package I received included the Passport 8500 X50 Red Radar/Laser detector and the new SmartCord Live real time ticket protection power cord. This cable is made for the iPhone 4 and the iPhone 3GS. This new cable replaces the one in the box that came with the Radar unit. And, before you use it, you need to go online and register it.  This means setting up an account with Escort but all they want is the serial number of the unit, and a user name and password you create.  Keep both of those handy as you will need them later when you do any updates.

The SmartCord is the amazing device that makes it all possible.  It plugs into your car’s 12 volt charging socket and it has a mute button to silence the audio alerts, an alert lamp to give you a visual indicator in case you turned the sound down, a power indicator and a Bluetooth indicator, and to my delight, both a regular USB connection near the top to provide power to my iPhone while driving as well as a mini-usb jack near the bottom of the plug as well. Finally, there is a new “Report” button to alert the Cloud when you spot a radar unit.

Setting up the Passport 8500 X50 is like most any other detector, take it out of the box, plug in the power cord, connect to the unit, attach the windshield bracket, and you are ready to go.  It can be that easy to get going and for most people, that is all you need to do to set it up in the standard mode.  Once set up, on, my trip around the city, it worked like a charm, and can be as quiet or intrusive as you need it to be.  The settings and volume buttons are easy to work with so if I move it from my quiet car to a noisy van, I can easily change the controls to suit the automobile.  This unit had the red LED lights that were easy to see in all kinds of conditions and worked very well.  The 8500 X50 retails for around $299 in the red version.  Check it out further on their web page at www.escortradar.com  To buy it with the Escort Live connection for either your iPhone or Android Smartphone, it is just an additional $40.  If you already have the detector, you can buy just the SmartCord individually for $99 which includes the iPhone app and the online subscription for a year.

While a bit more expensive than many other radar detectors out there, you really get what you pay for with the Escort. The most important part is the extremely high quality of the radar protection it provides covering all the operating bands including laser. You can go from simple detection modes that tell you and show you what band and how close to displays of the actual frequency and signals that are coming in. There are also tons of options for this highly programmable unit from the brightness and tones to power and sensitivity controls.  Really, a world class radar detector.

Connecting it to my iPhone was pretty easy as well.  Using the new SmartCord, you just connect it to your iPhone via a Bluetooth connection.  Once connected, it went online and discovered that the 8500 needed a firmware update and thanks to the quick release catch on the windshield mount, I was able to take it off and punch in the unit’s serial number to get it updated. Once connected, it then goes through an excellent tutorial as a quick start guide to give you an idea how it works and most importantly, what to do when you find a new speed trap not in the database.  Hit the road and it will advise you of any new locations as you come to them. It also advises you if you are over the speed limit as well and the map view spots your location and your speed limit. If you see a trap not in the database, you can hit the plus symbol that allows you to mark it either as a cop, mobile camera, speed camera, red light camera, speed trap, or other trap.  Just as valuable, is that you can lock out false signals from garages to automatic doors so that they don’t appear on the database.

I like the app that was installed on my iPhone as it is easy to use and get familiar with. Easy to set up so that if you want to change some of the settings, the tools icon is right there as well as the icons for alerting others of a trap you just found to quickly seeing the history of the traps it detected. You can go from the map view to the dashboard view to the travel mode.  Probably the only problem with this technology is that it does drain your iPhone battery as it needs to be kept awake during your traveling so you better have a car charger unit available for it as well. The good news here is that with the USB charging connectors on that SmartCord, I connect my iPhone to the one right on top and that took care of the charging issue. 

On the road, I could use a holder or mount for the iPhone. In one car, a cup holder works just fine but in my van, I need something for the dash. You do need to keep the iPhone handy in case you need to report a sighting through Escort Live and especially if you want to keep track of the map features and your location as you travel. The other reason is that when a reported hot spot is coming up, it shows up first on the iPhone display and the detector won’t read it until you are actually in range.  If you don’t, make sure you have a good non slip case on your iPhone to keep it where you put it down.

Using the map display is very easy and looks like many you see with GPS units so you can easily see where you are, how fast you are going,  what direction, and what the radar situation is. A big advantage here is that you can zoom into the maps for a clearer view of where you are.  You also get audible signals when the unit is discovering a radar unit uplinked by someone else on the network.  If you happen to be someplace and detect a radar/camera/speed trap that should be on the network, the little blue uplink icon allows you to identify what you have found to be broadcast to other Escort Live users. You can even find a history of the radar’s detected on your travels with info not only on the radar type, but where it was found.  You can even upload those results as well. You can easily change settings for brightness and the background color of the map display. Want a little music from your iPhone while traveling, you can also activate the music at the same time the Escort Live is running.  Very cool.

While traveling, if you come up to a location that was reported via Escort Live by someone else, the radar detector says “Live Ka” and the verbal warning comes up on the iPhone like you see above. It tells you what kind of radar unit, how long ago it was reported, and how close you are getting to it.  The one time it happened to me, the iPhone told me how close I was getting and in my case, the police car had moved on to another location.

Another handy tool on screen is the double car icon at the top left that shows you a snapshot of the traffic conditions. An overlay map pops up with lines showing the fast moving traffic in green, moderate in yellow and slow traffic in red. Go back to the map button to show you where you currently are.

My only quibble with using the unit was that the application constantly tries to keep connected even when the radar detector is turned off and it loses the Bluetooth connection; it still continues to drain the battery in the iPhone. You can log off the application but then the next time you turn it on, you have to enter your user id and password. The  recommended work around is to shut down the app on the iPhone and if you do that rather than logging off the application, the next time you start it up, it remembers the user id and password and makes getting connected that much quicker.  I would like to see a quick shut down on the app rather than use Apple’s five step approach to close an app.  An interesting point is that it doesn’t seem to use that much of my cellular data plan either. I have had my unit running quite a bit as I run errands all over and the data use is minimal. I look forward to seeing how well it does on my next major road trip next month. Having said all that, I just received an update for the Escort Live app on my iPhone and have noticed immediately that it bounces back and forth between the windows much quicker.

You also need to download the manual for both the 8500 and the Escort Live iPhone. While nearly all of the controls and icons on the screen are pretty evident to what they are, there were a couple that I just couldn’t quite figure out (Center Map & Traffic icons). In fact, the Traffic icon can be one of the more important things to know as it will give you current traffic conditions and let you quickly spot the traffic bottlenecks. From the Dashboard screen there is even a music playing control though unfortunately for my two cars, I don’t have a way of connecting the iPhone to the sound system.

As you see from the screen shots above, receiving notice of a live radar is very straight forward and in a couple of cases, I saw the report but the 8500 radar unit never chirped. Could be that they moved or I was just far enough on the fringe not to pick up the signal.  Reporting a radar signal to the cloud is easy as tapping the Report button on the screen or hitting the report button on the SmartCord.  You can also report the radar even if the detector doesn’t register it by using the small blue Mark/Report icon on the bottom of each of the screens. You then classify what kind of report it is and you are done. The other part of the reporting is to “Lockout” a false signal. The Fresh Market near me sends a false signal every time I drive by but by locking it out, that takes care of it.

What you end up with is a world class radar detector, the Passport 8500 X50, but also the technology to dynamically update the challenges you will find as you travel. Add to the maps, the location capability built into the Smartphone, and you can see why this was awarded the CES Innovation award for 2012. If you have your Escort Radar Detector, check online to see if you can just upgrade to the SmartCord for around $99.  It will be money worth spending.

Robert Sanborn



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