Review: Cobra iRadar Atom Radar/Laser/Camera Detector
Company: Cobra Electronics
Model: Cobra iRadar Atom
Compatible: iPhone 4/4S/5, iPod touch 4G/5G
While we're not going to rate Cobra's new iRadar Atom ($200, aka iRAD 900), we've now had the opportunity to test it, and wanted to offer some insight to prospective buyers. iRadar Atom is the latest in a family of app-assisted radar detectors that began with 2011's model iRadar and continued with sequels such as the iRadar iRAD 200, sharing a common free Cobra iRadar app and similar functionality. Despite a significantly higher price tag, Cobra provides very little detail about what's new in iRadar Atom besides changes to its form factor and a promise of improved performance, the latter of which it doesn't really quantify in either marketing materials or the product's packaging.
It’s obvious from moment one that iRadar Atom is smaller than its predecessors—a size reduction of 35% is the company’s primary pitch for this version, which again mixes gunmetal metallic, matte black, and glossy black plastics to form the shell. By contrast with iRadar 200, which measured 4.22” long by 2.92” wide by 1.15” tall, Atom is 3.3” long by 2.25” wide by 1.15” tall before its mounting hardware is added. Weighing only 0.25 pounds, it’s a bit lighter than the 0.32-pound iRadar 200, yet retains a certain squat, dense feel in the hand that we found reassuring for the brief time that it was actually being held. An included cigarette lighter adapter is required to supply it at all times with power, and a front-facing USB port provides 1-Amp of passthrough energy for a self-provided iPhone/iPod charging cable.
Once again, Cobra packs in various mounting tools such as a metal and suction cup windshield mount, a metal and Velcro “dual lock,” and adhesive Velcro pads to let you place it in the interior front of your car—specifically parallel to the road surface. It goes without saying that iRadar Atom can be installed anywhere that its predecessors could go, and since it’s smaller, it could fit in tighter spaces as well. Cobra says that it’s the company’s smallest radar, laser, and camera detector, which we’d believe.
The way iRadar Atom achieves some of its small size is by offloading almost every control and display option onto the screen of a Bluetooth-connected iOS device. No specific Bluetooth version is noted by Cobra, but supported iPhones and iPods date back to the iPhone 4 and fourth-gen iPod touch. A three-position switch on Atom’s left side activates power and toggles the volume up or down, while a top-centered button can mute all audio output from a pill-shaped top speaker. Cobra includes only one light, a tiny red dot on its glossy front-facing side, to indicate power. Beyond visual signals, the unit beeps and speaks to let you know that it’s on, paired with a device, and offering alerts. Cobra’s app notably offers voice alerts as an alternative to tones, but the tones are jarring, and could really benefit from further options.
iRadar continues to benefit from improvements to the free app. Cobra leverages cellular Internet connectivity—with your permission—to automatically share your (anonymized) alerts with other iRadar users, creating a police enforcement detection map similar to the user-generated reports on Google’s recently-acquired Waze. Called the “AURA database,” the map also incorporates user-submitted reports of photo enforcement, going beyond radar and laser details.
City and highway filters can be turned on for each of the radar bands to reduce false positives, and the app can serve as a speedometer, compass, and car battery monitor when you’re not consulting the map or receiving an alert. Alerts take the form of a large on-screen letter or letters with your current speed and a signal strength indicator hinting at distance from the radar source, and you’re given the option to hit a button to manually confirm a police sighting, helping the iRadar-using community. During our testing across several states, we received expected alerts—generally soon before seeing police cars on the sides of the road—and found the settings impressively easy to toggle wirelessly directly from the iPhone.
Our only problem when testing iRadar Atom was determining what exactly was supposed to be different in performance between this model and its predecessor. As before, Cobra promises hardware X, K, Ka, VG-2, and laser tracking, the latter with “360 degree protection,” plus software-dependent notifications of additional red light cameras, speed cameras, caution areas, and known speed traps. Search hard enough in old press releases and you’ll find that iRadar Atom promises “double the detection performance” of the iRadar 200, but there’s no quantification of what that really means. The prior version detects all radar and laser guns, as does this one. iRadar 200 is pitched as a “high-performance detector,” while iRadar Atom is Cobra’s “highest performance detection platform.” Unfortunately, there’s no practical way to test the differences beyond to drive through various radar and laser traps with both units and see which does better at detecting them at different distances—something that’s beyond the scope of our testing equipment and time.
So should you buy iRadar Atom? Given that it’s visibly smaller, supposedly more sensitive, and certainly newer than iRadar iRAD 200, there are definitely reasons to consider it. On the other hand, iRadar Atom sells for $200 versus iRadar iRAD 200’s $130 MSRP, and to the extent that the actual performance differences between models are non-obvious, you’ll most likely be just as well served by the older, less expensive version so long as physical size and amorphous “double performance” promises aren’t important to you. Going forward, it would be great to hear Cobra provide real quantification of the assets in its new models, as they would help consumers to make purchasing decisions using factors other than just looks and pricing.