Review: Cobra SPX 7800BT All-Band Max Performance Ultra-Compact LED Radar/Laser Detector
Having previously tested Cobra's earlier iRadar Bluetooth-assisted radar and laser detector units, we've already noted most of the key details you'll need to know about the brand-new flagship model SPX 7800BT ($250): once again, this is a windshield- or dashboard-mounted detector unit dependent on a car's charging port for power, capable of wirelessly connecting to an iPhone for enhanced realtime alerts on police traffic enforcement activities. But the SPX 7800BT is Cobra's current flagship iRadar model — the most sensitive, capable of scanning all radar and laser bands in use — so when it's paired with realtime iPhone-acquired data from the Internet, you're supposedly as likely to be aware of police scanning as possible. But then, we've heard that before with earlier iRadars, so is it worth paying an even higher price for what's changed here?
Our answer: maybe, maybe not. From a big picture perspective, little has changed in SPX 7800BT’s box versus earlier iRadars. For instance, it’s not much bigger than iRadar Atom, which was touted for its compact size; this model measures roughly 3.7” deep, 1.5” tall and 2.4” wide — around 1/4” deeper and taller, with boxier edges. Mixing glossy and metallic black textures, it looks stealthy and deluxe by radar detector standards, contrasting with the sleek and minimalist past iRadars.
Other design elements are pretty familiar. A volume knob and power button are on the left side, while a detachable suction cup-based mount attaches to the top back, and a Velcro/adhesive dashboard attachment pad set can be placed on the bottom. The included car power adapter is still black, and the bulb continues to have a pass-through USB port to let you connect another device, such as an iPhone, so long as you self-supply the Apple cable. Four buttons are found on the SPX 7800BT’s top, but none are for Bluetooth; instead, the unit just pairs with your device manually as iOS discovers it, and once again serves primarily to pass information to the iPhone rather than receiving information from it.
What’s most obviously new in SPX 7800BT can be summed up in two phrases: “a screen” and “a voice.” In a welcome set of changes, this model reduces the blip and squawk tendencies of past iRadars, using a 1.25” color OLED display to provide basic car and alert details, alongside spoken voice warnings performed through a top-mounted speaker. The screen is small but easy to see in bright sunlight, and the speaker is similarly tiny but entirely acceptable for speech in a typical car cabin. Cobra includes automatic muting and sound calibration features in an on-screen menu, and the four top-of-unit buttons let you non-intuitively navigate the menus and more easily access screen dimming and city false positive rejection settings.
Arguably the biggest challenge Cobra faced with this particular model was justifying the inclusion of a screen. Once it’s plugged in, SPX 7800BT displays the car’s battery voltage, shifting to your current compass orientation and speed as you transition into motion — details that might well be found on a car’s existing dashboard and/or GPS system. After a period of inactivity, the screen will either go black with a KITT/sentinel-like glowing bar at the bottom to let you know it’s still on, or display a full-screen alert such as K, Ka, or X complete with the signal strength of the police scanning device if it’s available. The stronger the signal, the closer you are to the scanner, though buildings with security systems can and will throw the detector off as you pass through or by parking lots.
While we can appreciate the addition of a screen to a standalone radar detector, iPhone users might find it superfluous. Yes, iRadar’s screen is more easily mounted at eye level than the iPhone’s, and therefore accessible without the need to look down at something else; it’s also always going to be there and visible regardless of whether your phone is with you or connected. However, when considered as an iPhone accessory, a screened detector doesn’t add much, particularly given that virtually identical information can be seen on the iPhone’s own display — and larger — when the app is open. Additionally, you’ll really need to look at the iPhone itself to take advantage of the iRadar app’s map, reporting, and speed trap information. If all of the latter details resonate with you, you’ll be almost as well served by a less expensive model such as iRadar Atom, since Cobra’s app works the same way with both devices.
Cobra’s latest 4.0 version of the iRadar application builds upon prior versions with a few nice features, such as the ability to actively change the map’s perspective, see real-time traffic information, and note iRadar AURA network alert icons at greater zoomed-out distances. You can also get in-app navigation so that you can see alerts on iRadar’s map while using turn-by-turn directions, with automatic camera rotation and zooming as you’re driving. While some of these features seem like they should have been no-brainers before, they do improve the experience, and the app’s ability to add user-sourced info atop the SPX 7800BT’s live findings is certainly handy.
If there’s one area where SPX 7800BT might meaningfully jump above iRadar Atom for some users, it’s in the detection circuitry inside, though there’s room for debate over whether the benefits are more theoretical than tangible. We noted in our iRadar Atom review that Cobra leaves the specific benefits of its models somewhat vague: Atom is billed as having “ultra-performance detection” and “Cobra’s highest sensitivity radar/laser detector,” while SPX 7800BT is said to have “maximum performance,” with “super-fast sweet circuitry” and “the best possible advance warning to all radar/laser guns.” Once you look deeper into their spec sheets, you’ll see that SPX 7800BT is listed as having a variety of features that Atom may or may not lack — European Ku band detection (“be ready when it comes to the U.S.,” says Cobra), Safety Alert and Strobe Alert detection, plus VG-2 and Spectre 1/IV+ radar detector-detection and immunity. Some of the features are prospectively useful and others are stealth-focused; whether they really matter to you will depend on where you travel and how concerned you really are about traffic tickets.
As was the case with iRadar Atom, we’re leaving SPX 7800BT unrated, but our conclusion is pretty clear: this is a nice deluxe radar detector that may have an excess of capabilities given your real-world needs. If you really want your detector to have its own screen, immunity to radar detector-detectors, and/or the ability to defend against a Ku band not yet found in the United States, this is the model to choose. Otherwise, you’ll find many less expensive options in Cobra’s lineup with the benefit of iRadar app compatibility.