Owlcam Car Dashcam Review
There are a lot of dashcams out there, so what sets Owlcam apart? It’s the cellular connectivity.
The Owlcam mounts on the middle of your windshield, wedged between the windshield and your dashboard with an arm extending the unit towards you.
The camera is not powered by your cigarette lighter; instead, it draws power from the OBDII port typically located somewhere above your gas and brake pedals under the dash. A long cable is included that needs to be run from under your dash, up the side of your interior, then across your dash. A simple tool is included to help you tuck the wire out of sight, although I couldn’t squeeze it between the left pillar and dashboard near my door on my Subaru Impreza.
The Owlcam has two cameras: one facing the road and one facing inside the car including the back window. The inside camera can be turned off by swiping your finger on the screen vertically. However, if the interior camera is active, there is no way to disable the microphone.
The Owlcam’s main selling point is it LTE cellular connectivity. This can alert you to any possible break-ins to your car virtually anywhere it has cell service. Service is free for the first year, then $99.99 each year after (pricing as of June 2019; be sure to check Owlcam’s website for latest pricing).
If your car is off and the Owlcam detects a vibration or glass breaking, it will turn on it’s two interior LEDs to light up the inside of the car (and hopefully catch the face of someone breaking into it). If it’s a light vibration, the LEDs come on at a medium brightness. However, if it is a significant vibration (one that is likely to cause damage to the car), the LEDs come on very bright and can be quite blinding to anyone inside the car. In either case, you’ll receive a push notification on your phone with a photo showing both the exterior and interior of your car.
The camera flashes a bright green LED externally to “warn” others that your car is protected, but to me, it seems to draw more attention to my car as the green light flashes frequently and seems to scream, “Hey, try to break in this car!”. Unfortunately, I could not find an option to disable it.
Typically, your phone’s proximity to the Owlcam determines if these LEDs are turned on and the alert is sent. That is, if you allow location services to be on 24/7, which is something I typically want to avoid due to the battery drain. By selecting “allow location only while using the app,” the Owlcam does not immediately detect me and the LEDs are typically shining on me when I enter the car and I recieve the accompanying alert. Once the Bluetooth on my phone syncs up with the Owlcam, the LEDs turn off and it returns to normal operation. I wish the Bluetooth was a little more responsive to avoid these false alarms.
If you’re driving and you see something you want a video of, you can say “OK presto” and the Owlcam will send you a clip of the last 10 seconds. This is useful if you witness a crazy driver or you just want to capture a scenic stretch of road or you and your friends singing along to the radio.
You can also access a live feed of your video at any time thanks to the cellular connection with the Owlcam app. Again, this video appears somewhat blocky due to the compression over cellular, but is useful if you want to “check in” on your car at any time.
My Subaru has two Eyesight cameras and the car’s manual warns about placing anything on the center of the dashboard. However, from my week of testing, I did not notice any adverse effects to the Eyesight’s performance.
You are limited to the amount of “on demand” features you can use per month. You get 60 credits per month. Each “OK presto” clip uses one credit. Watching a live video or going through your recording history uses 1 credit per minute. Intrusion alerts will not count against your monthly usage.
You can also connect to the camera directly via WiFi to retrieve video history without using your cellular credits. In my experience, this is a little buggy. Instead of connecting to your home WiFi, the Owlcam provides a WiFi network of its own that you must connect your phone to (the app does help automate this process). It typically takes me several tries to access the camera’s WiFi and view my video history, but it does work. Ideally, I would have preferred if the Owlcam connected to my home WiFi and I could access it with my home network, but this is not the case at present.
The video quality of the front facing camera is very good and records at 1440p while interior video records at 720p. Both are sufficient for seeing other vehicles, but the compression used to send the videos over cellular result in a more “blocky” resolution that makes it nearly impossible to make out license plate numbers of a quick moving car. Connecting to the camera’s built-in WiFi to retrieve the video does result in higher picture quality, but license plate numbers were still hard to make out.
The camera seems to do a very good job of detecting car vibrations and goes off pretty much every time I open the car door (due to my reluctance to enable location services in the app).
The app’s requirement of using location services all the time is a big turn off for me. Why give this app access to my location 24 hours a day when it is really only needed for maybe 60 seconds out of the day to detect when I’m entering my car? Hopefully, this can be improved in a future update to the camera or the app. Since I don’t give the app full control to my location, I receive between 5-10 notifications from the app per day reminding me to enable location services.
The Owlcam's built-in cellular connectivity sets it apart from traditional dashcams as it can notify you to potential break-ins to your car as they happen. However, the app's requirements of 24/7 access to your location and the "blocky" video quality over cellular are two areas I would like to see this camera improve in, but the current annual service fee of $99.99 is reasonable for the service it provides.
- Records both exterior and interior video simultaneously
- Interior camera can be disabled
- Push notifications notify you whenever the camera detects vehicle tampering
- Blocky video quality over cellular
- App requires 24/7 location services
- Annoying push notifications if you don't enable location services