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  • Escort Passport iQ Radar Detector Review

    passport_iq.jpgThere are numerous devices on the market today that are designed to detect various types and methods of traffic enforcement. Some detect radar signals, others detect laser beams, still others track locations of red light cameras and speed cameras, and a few of them detect a combination these. Some detectors even have GPS capabilities, expanding the scope of the detector as a multi-functional device.

    But no matter what features they offer on the inside, from the outside they are all universally recognizable from inside and outside a vehicle as a specific type of device - a detector. No matter how you install or mount it, no matter where you hide it, a radar detector still looks, acts and feels like, well, like a radar detector.

    Until now.

    Recently, Escort introduced the PASSPORT iQ.™ Yes, it's a radar detector, and Escort takes it to the max, integrating the latest radar/laser detection, speed camera and speed limit information and 3D GPS navigation technology and rolling it all up into one compact device that mounts on your windshield. But it doesn't look like one.

    It looks and feels like a GPS.

    iQ-8-l.jpgThe Passport iQ is reminiscent of your typical TomTom or other GPS navigator, complete with a 5" touch-sensitive LCD display for access to all of its radar/laser/red light camera detection/GPS navigation features. It's a bit larger than a typical GPS unit and about twice as thick, which is understandable given what is inside the shell. In fact, it's an all-inclusive, all-in-one unit, with the radar and laser detection lenses built in so discreetly you may not recognize what they are at first glance.

    iQ-7-l.jpg Given that, it's actually kind of amazing it is that small. Unless you're looking at it up close, it is difficult to tell it's a radar detector. From inside and outside the vehicle, and at just about any angle, one would think it was a GPS device. And it is, yet it's more.

    Once you actually turn on the Passport iQ and begin to study the screen, you will begin to notice that it isn't your typical GPS device. Sure, it has GPS capability and can help you find The Way to San Jose, or anywhere else in the country. But that's only the beginning.

    The PASSPORT iQ monitors all radar bands, including X, K, Superwide Ka, Ku, and instant-on POP modes with long range warning. Built-in front and rear laser sensors on the Passport IQ offer wide view 360-degree laser protection.

    If all these features aren't enough, there are more. Escort added a Micro SD Card slot, a standard 3.5mm audio jack, and a USB port to connect the unit to your computer, making the Passport iQ easy to update. It even has a reset button to clear the device from a lockup if necessary.

    All of these features sound great on paper, but does the Passport iQ really deliver them according to expectation? To find out, I set one up and put it to the test.

    First, I mounted it in my car. Escort calls their windshield mount an "Easy Mount bracket", and it was. It stuck instantly to windshield the moment it was in contact with the glass and did not let go, even before I engaged the locking clamp. The Passport iQ slid onto the bracket and locked into place easily. I plugged in the power cord, and that was it. All the features and sensors are discreetly embedded into one single device, so there was nothing else to install. The entire installation took less than thirty seconds.

    The first time the Passport iQ was turned on it took about thirty seconds to boot to the initial setup screen. I was prompted to choose my preferred language and one of three voices for prompts and alerts. Once those settings were chosen and saved, it presented me with a safety warning.

    The touch screen did not seem very touchy at first. It required more of a tap. It took a few taps to get used to it, but within a few moments I was moving from screen to screen with relative ease.

    passport_iq_main_menu.jpgOnce the initial configuration was complete, the Passport iQ went to the main menu, which consists of three primary options: Detector takes you to the radar detector mode, Map goes to the GPS display and Goto... provides options for GPS navigation, such as address entry, recent destinations and favorite locations.

    passport_iq_settings_menu.jpgThe user interface itself is interesting. The button graphics and interactive icons are generally distinct, self-explanatory and easy to understand. The screens are simple, uncluttered and easy to navigate. This is especially important while on the road, as this simple layout allows you to keep up with the display on a given screen with a quick glance. Escort clearly designed the screens with this in mind.

    screens3.jpgEscort touts the ability to select multiple screen options. This is true. However, this ability is limited to use of the screen in Detector Mode only. You can choose from two different styles, Classic and Digital, each in two different layouts. There are also options to choose between three colors: red, blue and yellow. The color changes are rather subtle. The only items I could tell that actually changed color were the speedometer readout and portions of the background. Everything else, including buttons and other graphics, stayed the same.

    You also can change the wallpaper on the main menu. There are eight different backgrounds to choose from, some of them quite scenic. Between the Detector Mode screen options and the wallpaper, I could make customization of the iQ somewhat more personal than the average radar detector, which is a plus.

    iq_ultimate-guidance.gifOperation of the iQ GPS is not much different from a typical GPS device such as a Garmin or TomTom. If you are already familiar with such devices , the procedure for entering an address and calculating the quickest or shortest route to get there is about the same on the Escort.

    Most of the other standard GPS features are included in the iQ as well, such as stored favorites, recent destinations, the ability to browse for restaurants, ATMs, airports and other points of interest and other popular bells and whistles.

    However, unlike a dedicated GPS such as a TomTom, the GPS capabilities of the iQ seem a bit rough around the edges. The 3D graphic maps were okay, but did not look quite as polished as my dedicated GPS. During the test drive on a clear day without a cloud in site, the response on the GPS side seemed somewhat sluggish. It also seemed to have some trouble finding and staying locked on GPS signals in some areas, although that could have been due to interference and other factors within the area in which I was driving.

    Still, the NAVTEQ powered 3D maps are easy to read and the clear, voice guided directions with lane assist help keep you on route without having to constantly refer to the screen. In addition, the current location and route, safety cameras and speed traps can all be marked and tracked on the map and managed for future reference. Polished or not, the Passport iQ GPS is quite functional.

    Where Escort shines is in their specialty: radar and laser detection. The Passport iQ is no exception. Escort's feature packed, award-winning all-band radar detection is all there, on display and instantly accessible. It has the technology and performance of the highly rated Escort 9500ix, just stuffed in a different package. For all intents and purposes, it is a 9500ix, only instead of an LED readout, it has a full graphic user interface. It is also quite configurable.

    With Detector View I could track up to four different radar signals on multiple screens. I could also mark locations of safety cameras and speed traps and manage alerts along commonly traveled routes. The Passport iQ also uses Escort's Defender Database to provide both audible and visual alerts for red light cameras, speed cameras and known speed traps throughout North America with pre-loaded data.

    The Detector Settings allowed me to adjust sensitivity, enable or disable detection of specific bands, change alert tones, set cruise alerts and enable or disable alerts when entering states where radar detectors are illegal. You can even turn radar detection off in the Sensitivity Settings when driving in such a state (cough cough - Virginia - cough cough).

    Then there is the Meter Setting. Change this setting from the Standard Bar Graph to SpecDisplay and the Passport iQ displays the numeric frequencies of detected radar and laser signals onscreen. If you like to get techie with detectors, this is very cool.

    As a top-of-the-line radar detector, the Passport iQ worked as expected. Overall it performed very well in my tests, accurately detecting radar signals from all directions.

    To turn off the iQ, there are a couple options. Sliding the power button to the right puts the Passport iQ in suspend mode for approximately two hours, so subsequent startups within that time are nearly instantaneous. Holding the power button for two seconds shuts the iQ down completely.

    iQ-12-l.jpgAs far as the total package, Escort didn't leave anything out of the Passport iQ. The complete package includes everything you need to set it up and go: the 5" GPS/radar/laser detection device, a SmartCord, USB cable, mounting bracket, owner's manual on CD, and a Quick Reference Guide. Escort even throws in a 90 day trial of Defender® Database to get you started.

    The concept of combining GPS with radar detection and disguising it as a GPS navigator may not be new, but the fact that someone actually did it is novel, indeed. Best of all, it actually works. Minor points about the GPS aside, it's a good combination, and I would trade up a Beltronics RX65 and TomTom for one that does the work of both without hesitation.

    Escort calls the Passport iQ the "Ultimate Driving Companion." While I think that claim is a bit presumptuous (my wife claims that title but I'm not going there), the iQ does offer enough bang for the buck to be considered, in my opinion, a fairly close second.

  • Are Red Light Cameras A Safety Hazard?

    Among the many things in the new century that drivers love to hate, red light cameras are surely near the top of the list. These intrusive devices have become the bane of city driving at intersections across America. Aside from the budget busting cost of the tickets generated by these cameras, the concept of being monitored and photographed by the government while inside their own vehicle can be annoying, unnerving, and more than a little creepy to many drivers. Add to that the burden of proof placed on the poor soul unlucky enough to be caught in the snare of one or more of these traps around an intersection, and 2011 is more like 1984.

    There are many reasons given to support the use of red light cameras, and, not surprisingly, they are all staunchly defended by both local cash strapped governments in search of revenue and the companies who install and maintain them in search of cash cows. There is, however, one aspect to the whole Red Light Camera debate which I believe, from my own personal experience, is just flat out, dangerously wrong.

    Safety.

    Proponents of red light cameras claim that the primary reason for having them is to deter drivers from running red lights, which, at least in theory, reduces the number of accidents at a given intersection and makes it safer for drivers, pedestrians, everyone.

    Opponents of such devices say they are only there to generate revenue for local governments and red light camera companies, and actually cause more accidents than they prevent. Many concerned and frustrated drivers turn to photo enforcement defense to protect themselves and their wallets from such threats.

    Numerous studies have been performed on this very issue. Some studies show that red light cameras decrease the number of accidents and fatalities at intersections where they are installed; other studies show an increase. In other words, the results are mixed. Based on the collective data from all of them combined, the outcome of each study seems to depend somewhat on the study itself: who performed the study, how the study was performed and, most importantly, who funded it.

    According to some of these studies, red light cameras and the red lights that accommodate them are tweaked to deliver maximum revenue potential. Whether that allegation is actually true or not may necessitate a study of its own. However, at least a few of those studies seem to be corroborated by the drivers who encounter red lights equipped with cameras and report that the duration of yellow caution lights at such intersections often drops from the traditional five seconds, down to three seconds or less.

    Consider also that for some reason (whether intentional or not) some of these cameras seem a little trigger happy when the lights are still yellow and there is little doubt why some drivers are a bit suspicious when it comes to true motive for these contraptions.

    Numbers can be manipulated, but facts are facts. The fact is, I feel more at risk of having an accident at an intersection equipped with these camera traps than one without. I feel it. It's that sense of heightened awareness and foreboding that at any second, the light can change and put me in the dangerous position of either risking a ticket or risking an accident by trying to avoid one.

    Here is a classic example of why I think red light cameras actually serve to cause accidents instead of prevent them. This is a true story.

    On the afternoon of December 31, 2010, my family and I drove from Charlotte, North Carolina to Wilmington to ring in the new year with my sister, brother-in-law and young nephew. With me was my wife, my 12 year old daughter, my 11 year old son and his dog. The three hour trip covered city and highway, starting with a long stretch of road that was a little of both.

    This latter portion of road, while technically built as a highway, went right through various towns, and the first third of those had a number of red light intersections. They were generally not equipped with red light cameras and I didn't worry about them. I didn't run any, either. Aside from heavy traffic flow, the trip to Wilmington was largely uneventful.

    Then we entered Wilmington. The sun had set and it was now early evening. As soon as we entered town, we encountered red light camera traps. We felt trapped, because they were at nearly every intersection along our route. Suddenly I was on high alert.

    Green lights went yellow and almost instantly changed to red. It seemed as though all these intersections were rigged to catch any driver they could whether that driver intended to run a red light or not. I slowed the car down and approached each intersection carefully, ready to brake at the first sign of a yellow light. Yet I still had to maintain a reasonable speed to prevent disrupting the flow of traffic and angering drivers behind me.

    The yellow lights did not last long but I was cautious enough to anticipate the changes and stop in time. In fact, I was so focused on the lights I found it difficult to concentrate on the rest of the road. The red light cameras themselves were a major distraction.

    While we were waiting at one light, I glanced at the intersection a few blocks ahead. The lights at that intersection turned yellow. A car ahead of us entered the intersection just as the lights went red. Flash! Flash! Flash! The entire intersection lit up as if it were high noon. Great, I thought. If all the lights on this road are timed properly, I should be able to make it through that light on the next cycle while it's still green.

    We got the green light at our stop and we moved forward. A few moments later the light at the next intersection turned green as well, and I thought we had it made.

    I was wrong.

    Just as we approached the light, it turned yellow. I was well within the speed limit, but we were so close there was no time to stop safely without violently slamming on the brakes. Worse yet, there was a car right behind me with no sign of slowing down. If I suddenly stopped, he would not be able to react in time and likely plow right into us. On the other hand, based on what happened to the last car, I knew I wouldn't make the yellow light.

    My first reaction was to hit the brake, but logic overruled instinct. I had to make a split second decision: either run the light and get a ticket I could not afford - or slam on the brakes and get hit from behind, hurting or possibly even killing those in the car behind me, myself, or, worse, the ones I love.

    I decided to keep going. As I passed underneath, I looked up. Yellow turned to red just as the traffic light passed over the windshield and out of sight. My pulse quickened, I held my breath, and turned my gaze back to the road. For a moment my mind went blank. I stared straight ahead, waiting for the dreaded three flashes of light to flood my peripheral vision.

    If the flashes came, I didn't notice them. We made it safely across the intersection without causing an accident. I haven't received a ticket in the mail yet, either, although we all know that doesn't necessarily mean anything.

    All I know is this. In one brief moment I had to decide whether to prevent a ticket and have an accident, or have a ticket and prevent an accident. When it comes to red light camera traps, you can be punished for doing the right thing. You can lose either way.

    You can have the studies. My position on red light cameras is based on my actual experiences with them. I find them dangerous, not only to my rights, but to my safety - and the safety of those with and around me.

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