The dash cam is a curate’s egg of a product. On the one hand, if you crash and it isn’t your fault a dash cam provides essential peace of mind and important evidence. On the other, owning one could get you in trouble if it’s all your fault. It’s this central dilemma that Garmin’s Dash Cam 55 aims to solve – or at least ameliorate – with the addition of a clutch of extra features, aimed at helping you drive more safely.
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Garmin Dash Cam 55 review: What you need to know
The Garmin Dash Cam 55 is the smallest, neatest dash cam I’ve come across. Designed to look like a miniature action camera, its body is no larger than a box of matches and while the lens housing protrudes from the front, it does so by less than a centimetre.
The camera has a 2in screen at the rear (non-touch), comes with a removable polarising filter to cut out the glare of the sun and shoots video at 1,440p at 30fps (2,560 x 1,440), 1080p at 60fps or 1080p at 30fps with HDR enabled. Like most decent dash cams it also has embedded GPS, which it uses to overlay speed and location data on your videos, and it has an accelerometer (G sensor) for detecting and automatically protecting clips where it thinks an incident has occurred.
It lacks none of the essentials and it’s super easy to mount, too. Instead of a suction cup mount, the Dash Cam 55 comes with a tiny metal plate you stick to your windscreen. With this done, attaching the camera is a simple matter of placing it on top of the plate; a strong magnet keeps it in place and makes it incredibly easy to detach and hide away if you don’t want to leave it on show.
Video quality is very good. In fact, it’s at the same level as our favourite dash cam – the NextBase 512GW – and footage looks especially good with the removable polarising filter added. You’ll still not be able to read number plates further away than three car lengths, even at the highest resolution, but it’s a lot better than 720p dash cams.
That’s impressive enough, but it’s the Garmin Dash Cam 55’s extra features and more importantly, how well they work, that set it apart from the crowd. First up, there’s voice control. Say “Ok Garmin” followed by one of a few key phrases and it’ll perform important functions without having to take your eyes off the road and prod one of the camera’s four buttons.
In this way, you can ask it to protect the current video clip, take a photo, start recording a timelapse (Garmin calls this Travelapse) of your journey or record audio, and it all works pretty well, too.
The driver safety features are also excellent and there’s a generous selection to play with here. You get lane departure and forward collision warnings, alerts when the traffic in front of you is moving off, as well as speed camera warnings, though you have to pay extra if you want the full database.
Importantly, all the various beeps and bloops the camera makes are loud enough to hear clearly in the cabin while driving. Other dash cams I’ve used are so quiet, their driving assistance features are rendered useless.
There are things the Garmin Dash Cam 55 doesn’t do very well but they’re relatively minor. The Garmin Virb smartphone app is pretty limited, only allowing you to browse and download images and video; you can’t use it to adjust settings or look at a live preview to aid with positioning. The screen, while bright enough to read in most conditions, becomes obscured by swirling rainbow patterns if viewed while wearing polarised sunglasses, and there’s no HDMI output either.
Garmin Dash Cam 55 review: Price and competition
At £119, the Garmin Dash Cam 55 is fantastically good value, especially considering how many features Garmin crams in. It’s no cheaper than the NextBase 512GW, which can be scooped up for the same price these days but, for my money, the 55 offers a better selection of useful features while at the same time delivering excellent image quality.
Beyond this, if you want to save significant chunks of cash, you could drop to the Yi Compact Dash Cam at £35, but you’re going to take a hit in quality and features if you do. And, at this price, the Garmin isn’t exactly expensive anyway.
Garmin Dash Cam 55 review: Verdict
All in all, the Garmin Dash Cam is right up there with the very best dash cams you can buy. Video quality is excellent – at least as good as its rivals – and in most other areas it’s superior.
It’s easier to use and mount than the NextBase cameras, is smaller and less obtrusive and more clever, too. If you want the very best dash cam for sensible money, the Garmin Dash Cam 55 is the new king.
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