Thinkware X500 dash cam review
Front and rear recording with a wide range of features
Car cameras or dash cams as they are otherwise known are not a particularly new type of product, but they are one of the faster growing technology products thanks to the increasing availability, falling prices and improved features, in part driven by demand as drivers are becoming aware of the benefits of owning one (explained here).
Many different cameras exist with different price points and in this review we are looking at one of the more premium solutions from Thinkware, the X500.
Personally I have little experience of car cameras so this review is based on my personal thoughts and opinions and will not be making direct comparison with other models on the market.
The X500 from South Korean firm Thinkware comes in 2 options. The first being a camera for the front windscreen powered from the supplied cars power adapter and the second being the front camera complete with a camera for the rear windscreen and cables for a hard wire or permanent installation.
I am testing the latter and more premium solution.
The features of the different cameras vary but the X500 offers:
- A kit comprising of a front and rear camera
- 1080p HD video recording from front and rear camera
- 140 degree wide viewing angle.
- Built in GPS receiver
- Continuous recording option
- Built in microphone
- Parking surveillance mode
- Safety camera alerts
- Image stabalisation and image enhancement
To better understand features available on car cameras, please refer to our article, Car Camera Features Explained.
The process of installation is relatively simple. A basic camera could be installed and setup in as little as 5 minutes but for a 2 camera solution like this, it is not a 5 minute job. You need to allow half an hour or so to install both cameras and ideally the assistance of somebody else to make the process a little easier. You will possibly need the assistance of an auto-electrician.
The kit we have comes with the cables for this to be hard wired meaning you will not be connecting it to the power outlet in the vehicle. If you are confident with vehicle electrics then you can do this yourself, but it is advisable to get a professional to do this. This will of course incur additional time and cost.
As this was a review unit we sourced a vehicle power adapter which is the solution that is often supplied with cheaper or single camera solutions. Do consider you can not use the vehicle power adapter when your car camera is in use unless it is hard wired, so you may need to consider whether these are right for you and whether you should look at having it hard wired.
In my instance fitting was not too difficult but I do not believe the X500 is the best solution for my vehicle.
The adhesive mounting for the camera is solid but for me and many others, the logical and recommended position is to mount it behind the rear view mirror; so it is at the top of the windscreen and out of your line of sight.
Unfortunately behind my rear view mirror is a plastic housing complete with various sensors that meant I had to bring the camera further down the windscreen which did in turn mean it was affecting my line of sight fractionally and could be an MOT failure here in the UK.
I could have opted for mounting up in the upper right or left corner or the lower edge of the windscreen but I felt that the image result would be impeded and if you are going to be recording, you want to make sure you get everything in shot.
To stop cables getting in the way, the X500 has all its connections on the top. The only issue is that in my Ford Focus the angle of the windscreen along with the cables and this particular adhesive mount, meant fitting was a little awkward. The cables had a little pressure on them and I was not overly happy with the final fit.
Fitting the rear camera was a little easier as the pitch on the rear screen along with the rotating lens made the whole process easier.
To ensure you get the correct positioning, you really need someone else to place the camera whilst you view the footage as they do so. However, mount it in at the top and in the middle of the rear windscreen and you should be ok.
Running the cable between the front and rear camera that supplies the power and data feed was simply a case of poking the cable into the edges of the roof lining. A little fiddly but not too tricky, you just need to be a little patient.
The hatchback I have means that to mount it in the rear windscreen you do need to leave a little bit of excess cable to allow for the stretch as the boot is opened. This in turn means when closed there is a bit of excess cable that hangs. In most instances this may not be an issue but you need to be careful it does not get snagged.
In my case I have a dog that sits in the boot and whilst he did not damage it, you need to be considerate of this. Their heads or other loads may come into contact with it.
This will unlikely be a problem in a saloon and a neater fit will be possible.
The 3M adhesive mountings are strong and little vibration made its way to the camera. Also supplied were a number of adhesive clips for routing the power cables. A few more would have been handy to get a neater fit.
The rear camera is relatively discreet whilst the front facing camera is quite large in comparison to some. It is about the size of a compact camera, but then again this model does have a 2.7” screen.
The main camera in the front of your vehicle has a 2.7” LCD display and 4 buttons on the back. These allow you to interact with the menus and settings, most of which can also be set from the computer software.
On the right side is the main power button (which you rarely need use) and the microSD memory card slot whilst the left is home to vents.
On the bottom is a rest button and microphone.
On the front is the 2.4 megapixel lens with a 140 degree viewing angle and a speaker. Head on it looks like a compact camera.
Once the camera is installed and setup to your preference there is very little you need do with the camera, it just gets on and does what it needs to.
There are various options within the settings, many of which you will notice in our images and screenshots.
You have the option of manual recording where you decide when it begins capturing footage or continuous. Continuous uses more memory but the X500 employs loop recording technology which basically means that as soon as the memory card becomes full, the oldest recordings are overwritten. This in turn means you could go years with this recording and never need to remove the camera or the memory card unless you had an incident.
The X500 does not have a battery built into it meaning constantly being powered is not an issue, but disconnecting the power will cease recording.
A built in microphone on the X500 can pick up sounds in the vehicle and a few louder sounds from outside. You can turn this off, but it could be useful come an incident.
Recording the audio will increase the file size slightly. Our model has a 32GB memory card, but you can use up to a 64GB card.
All footage be it from the front or rear camera is on the memory card as is the software for the camera. The clips are all 1 minute in length when continuously recorded.
The X500 also has GPS on board which means when using the software the footage will be played back along with your exact location, which makes for great evidence should you need it.
Also included on the X500 is safety camera alerts which is useful. It gives you advance warning through an audible sound and another alert when you are in the safety camera zone. It will too tell you the speed limit.
As part of this database it alerts of known mobile safety camera zones which is again helpful but in some circumstances I found I was continually reminded of these because the database has so many programmed. For example one road that I drive along is well known for its cameras but in the space of about half a mile I get three warnings. Better to be safe than sorry?!
You could turn them off if you prefer.
I should also note that this feature is not available in all countries.
These warning are given via the speaker which is loud enough, but can be difficult to hear if you are playing music through the car stereo at a reasonable volume.
The display is set to automatically turn off, I strongly advise against interacting with the camera when driving, but if needed, you can view the footage in real time on the cameras screen and potentially use the rear camera as a reversing camera in some respects.
The display shows the time and speed. Do make sure that the time and date are correctly set in the camera as this could be key when used as evidence.
Before commencing the review I was made aware of a software update and quite frankly completing the update is a piece of cake. Once downloaded from the Thinkware website, I copied it to the microSD card using the supplied card reader, put the card in the camera and within a few minutes the camera had detected the update and installed it. Hassle free.
Video Recording & Samples
Both the front and rear cameras record in full HD at 30 frames per second and in my opinion coupled with the technology that improves the image quality in low and bright light conditions the results are very good. They could be better but they most certainly serve the purpose for which they were intended.
You will notice also the footage is very stable. This is in part due to the stabalisation software built in and the design of the fittings which ensure vibrations are limited.
Recordings are saved to the memory card with a particular filename and format.
The file name may look something like this:
REC_2014_02_16_10_05_15_F or REC_2014_02_16_10_05_15_R
If you do not see the pattern, it includes the year, month, day, hour, minute, second and whether the footage is from the front or rear camera.
If you do choose to record anything manually, these files are not overwritten when the memory card is full. When you select manual recording it will save 10 seconds prior and 50 seconds following the button press.
When the camera detects an impact (irrespective of recording mode and assuming it is powered), it will automatically store the previous 10 seconds of footage prior to recording as well as the next 10 seconds. This 20 second clip will then be saved in a secure location on the memory card. If there are multiple impacts it will record for a maximum of 1 minute.
It will only be saved here if the impact exceeds the G-sensor configuration set by you. Thus it is worth setting it low just in case.
Of course if you have continuous recording set this will be on the memory card, but this clip will not have been saved to a secure location.
For complete peace of mind there is some internal storage in the camera and you can turn on Dual Save with will store the previous 4 and following 2 seconds on impact as a clip on the cameras memory as well as on the memory card. If the memory card should fail you can then copy the file from the internal memory.
If you have hardwired your dash cam you can enable the option to record videos whilst parked.
If an impact or motion is detected when parked, 10 seconds of footage will be saved prior and following the impact in a secure location on the memory card. This clip will be extended up to 1 minute with multiple impacts.
There are two settings for ensuring the vehicles battery is not depleted in parking mode. You can set a time period for which is will be online for or by the voltage of the vehicles battery. Thus if the battery voltage drops too low, the camera will be shut off.
The camera automatically adjusts the image to achieve the best image results but you can tinker with the brightness of the front and rear camera if you choose.
Here are some video samples.
The programmes are similar yet different in terms of their look on the different platforms. The MAC software looks better but the PC software is more functional.
You need to remove the memory card from the camera and put it into the provided card reader. With the software installed on the PC you can view the files.
Installation of the software is not necessary if you do not want to. You can navigate to files on the memory card in a computer like you would a memory stick, but the software is a bit more intelligent in that is brings up the GPS data on a Google map along with your speed and easily allows you to switch between front and rear camera recordings.
When in the software you can view files from 4 locations on the memory card. Those that are in the continuous recording folder, those in the manual, parking and location.
When playing back the footage the video is stamped with the date and time, the data of G force is also being recorded along with audio if you have the mic turned on along with your speed, based on GPS data.
You can zoom into footage, pause and save particular clips.
Here is a screen cast of the software that gives you an idea of how it works and looks.
The X500 option on test here comes in at £250 inclusive of VAT whilst the front camera only is £200.
You can obtain cameras for less than £100 and Thinkware offer the H100 at this price, which we will be reviewing soon. The drawbacks are some of the features they offer and the quality of video recording.
What you decide to pay will depend on the value you put on such a product.
For those who do a limited amount of driving spending £100 may be ample. However for those often in their vehicle a £250 investment may be very worthwhile and provide peace of mind.
Some insurers offer discounts for having such installed so over a few years it could pay for itself not to mention if you do need to use footage in an incident.
For my first experience of a car camera I feel that the Thinkware X500 is a great solution.
It has all the options you could really need and in my mind the front and rear recording offers brilliant peace of mind that everything is captured should something happen.
Spend the time setting it up properly and you will be rewarded if and when you need to use it.
With parking mode options along with the ability to turn vocal recordings and more off you remain in control.
Continuous recording seems like the ideal solution and the impact recording which saves the files in a secure location makes it simple to access when you need them not to mention the dual save technology which should be used.
Whilst the installation was a little fiddly, nothing was hard and the provided quick start guide and online manual made everything rather simple.
I cannot say the X500 is the best solution out there with my limited experience, but if this is what I have to benchmark others by then they have a high standard to meet.
Whilst we hope we have answered all your questions, some common questions are answered in our Car Cameras FAQs post.