Cobra RAD 480i Review: Is This Affordable Radar Detector Really … – Automoblog

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Affiliate Disclosure: Automoblog and its partners may earn a commission when you purchase the products featured in this review. The RAD 480i in this review was supplied to Automoblog by Cobra Electronics. The opinions below are my own based on my personal experience with the product.
Front and rear laser detection, different sensitivity modes, and real-time alerts via the iRadar app: just a few of the features that make the Cobra RAD 480i portable radar and laser detector a near-steal at about $150. Although it offers a good array of features for the money, our overall opinion is mixed after three weeks of driving with the 480i through Michigan, Ohio, and Indiana.
In this article, I will run through the RAD 480i “spec sheet” and summarize our three-week drive as I go along. After covering the features and specs, I will suggest a few other units if you are thinking about purchasing the RAD 480i.
The most obvious reason is to avoid a speeding ticket. If you consider the average cost of a speeding ticket in the United States (around $150, not counting the increased insurance premium), then yes, a radar detector makes sense. And with a retail price of $149.95, it’s easy to justify the cost of the Cobra RAD 480i.
Depending on your preferences and what you want in a radar detector, the Cobra RAD 480i is either amazing or lackluster. It’s best to think of the RAD 480i as a “middle ground” unit. It’s definitely a step above any base model radar detector, but beyond the iRadar app, there may not be much else to chew on if you are a “bells and whistles” type of person.
The Cobra RAD 480i detects all radar bands and laser guns and alerts you via an easy-to-read OLED display. Multiple sensitivity modes, location marking, and compatibility with Cobra’s iRadar app help make the RAD 480i a well-rounded radar detector for something in this price range.
The Cobra RAD 480i comes with a 12V power cord, suction cup windshield mount, a hook-and-loop fastener for dashboard mounting, and a quick reference guide. I prefer the windshield mount as the hook-and-loop fastener makes it impossible to adjust the angle of the RAD 480i. Unfortunately, the RAD 480i does not come with a carrying case, so I grabbed this one on Amazon (as an Amazon associate, Automoblog earns from qualifying purchases).
The Cobra RAD 480i will alert you to X, K, and Ka radar bands and laser (LiDAR) guns. Cobra’s proprietary LaserEye technology (located on the top left-hand side of the unit) means the RAD 480i can detect signals from both the front and rear. It will perform best if you mount it in the center of your vehicle (approximately) on your front windshield. Ensure the unit is as low as possible but not obstructing its view, either to the front or rear. The LaserEye should have a clear view out of your rear window to ensure maximum coverage.
The RAD 480i is also VG-2 capable, meaning it can identify the infamous “radar detector detector.” Typically, radar detectors themselves emit a low-level signal that VG-2 can sniff out. However, the RAD 480i does not give off this signal, making it “invisible” to radar detector detectors (which likely explains why the default factory setting for VG-2 is off). We only received one VG-2 notification during our three-week drive, and we could never visibly see the source. If you receive a VG-2 alert after switching it on, it will be of a similar intensity to that of a laser threat.
The Cobra RAD 480i issues a specific alert tone for each type of radar band it detects. The tones will become faster for X, K, and Ka bands as you approach the source, whereas a laser alert will be more sudden and direct by contrast. You may find the RAD 480i will issue a slow alert as you approach a hill or bridge. Be mindful if this happens, especially if the intensity of the alert increases as you climb the hill or begin to cross the bridge. Most likely, there is a patrol car waiting on the other side.
Unlike other radar detectors, the RAD 480i does not have a color display, opting instead for a black and white combo that is sofer on the eyes. The OLED display screen is one of our favorite things about the RAD 480i, especially when driving at night. Just change the brightness settings via the DIM button on the top of the unit, based on your preferences (Bright, Dim, and Dimmer).
The display screen will show you alerts according to your desired “detail mode.” In More Detail mode, the RAD 480i displays the detected band, signal strength, and frequency (pulse rate for lasers). Five squares represent the signal strength on the display screen. The more squares that appear, the closer you are to the source of the radar.
However, you can simplify things via the Less Detail mode. Here, you will only receive three bars based on the intensity of the radar alert: one for low, two for medium, and three for high. You can access these modes via the Menu button on top of the unit. More Detail is the factory setting, and it’s the setting we prefer.
The Cobra RAD 480i offers four different sensitivity levels: High, Medium, Low, and Auto. You can toggle through them by hitting the SEN button on top of the unit. They function like this:
We didn’t have the best luck with the Auto Sensitivity mode, opting instead for Low or High, depending on where we were. Even if you are connected to the iRadar app, you can still manually change the sensitivity. While driving in Auto mode, especially on roads like I-94 and M-10 through Detroit, we would often receive a barrage of false alerts. Switching to Low, however, corrected this.
As a specific example: There is a busy section of M-10 that separates the New Center and Virginia Park neighborhoods here in Detroit. Many things could potentially set a radar detector off in that particular area, most notably Henry Ford Hospital and a police precinct (no joke; Detroit’s 3rd precinct is right there on West Grand Boulevard). In Auto mode, the RAD 480i constantly alerted on this stretch of M-10, even though there were no threats (patrol cars are pretty easy to spot in this area).
To experiment, we ran through the same area (both north and southbound) in Low sensitivity. It was a stark contrast. The Cobra RAD 480i went from making a lot of racket to nothing. Maybe we would have switched to Medium in this area in hindsight, but the Auto mode was definitely too jumpy. Even though we were driving at slightly higher speeds, we were still in Detroit proper – or rather, we were still doing city driving. As such, we opted for Low sensitivity.
Auto sensitivity wasn’t much better for us on the open road either. We went to a family wedding in Bryant, Indiana, about a 200-mile drive from Detroit. In Auto mode, the RAD 480i alerted to every road construction zone and flashing sign on I-75 through Michigan and Ohio. Further road construction in Indiana sent the RAD 480i into a frenzy. It’s not that the RAD 480i is a bad unit, but if you drive through a lot of road construction zones by where you live, you might want to consider another unit. The RAD 480i might drive you nuts.
Otherwise, we suggest not using Auto mode and keeping it more simple: Low for city driving and High for when you are on the open road. To lock out a false alert, no matter where you are driving, hit the MARK button on the top of the unit.
According to Cobra Electronics, the RAD 480i has best-in-class range detection, thanks to its digital signal processing technology (here is a link to a cool engineering lecture on how digital signal processing works). Other reviews we read before our three-week drive supported this as well. And without a doubt, the detection range of the RAD 480i is excellent – like freakishly good for something in this price range. Several times, while driving through Ferndale and Royal Oak on Woodward Avenue, the RAD 480i alerted us to patrol cars during heavy rush hour traffic; patrol cars we would not have seen otherwise.
The RAD 480i is compatible with Cobra’s iRadar app (hence the “i” in the name). With the iRadar app, you can either report or receive real-time alerts as generated by an entire network of users. iRadar alerts include red light and speed camera locations, speed traps, air patrols (we received these warnings in Ohio), photo-enforced locations, and other caution areas.
Should you receive an alert while connected to the app, the type will show on the OLED display (like a red light camera or speed trap, for example). From there, a black warning bar serves as a “count down” of sorts, working from right to left. The closer the bar moves to the left, the closer you are to the iRadar alert.
What’s really neat is how the Cobra RAD 480i can simultaneously display iRadar alerts with the countdown bar alongside other standard radar alerts with the signal bars. It might sound confusing as described, but the OLED display of the RAD 480i is crystal clear. Although the screen is small, it’s very easy to decipher between multiple threats at the same time.
Through the iRadar app, you can view an alert history, set over speed reminders, and manage different devices (a number of other Cobra products are also compatible with the app). The iRadar app will take a toll on your phone battery, so it’s a good idea to have a charger with you for longer trips.
When it comes to the more affordable radar detectors offered by Cobra, there are two to consider: the RAD 480i and the RAD 380.
The RAD 380, the little brother of the RAD 480i, retails for $99.95. We spent several weeks driving with the RAD 380 and were genuinely impressed by its performance. The RAD 380 is a no-frills unit that detects police radar and laser guns; it’s all of the benefits and none of the mess. There are no apps or fancy tech features to worry about; if you just need an extra set of eyes, the Cobra RAD 380 is a perfect choice.
Although the visible displays are different, the main selling point of the Cobra RAD 480i over the RAD 380 is the iRadar app compatibility. The question is whether or not the extra $50 is worth it for the iRadar app. To answer that, it depends on what apps (if any) you are most likely to use when you drive.
I personally enjoyed the iRadar app while driving. I think having the real-time alerts and reporting them for other drivers to see is worth the extra $50. However, I rarely use apps when I drive, other than Google Maps on occasion. As such, for this three-week drive and subsequent review of the RAD 480i, Cobra’s iRadar app had little competition on my phone. My wife, however, frequently uses Waze and believes the iRadar app is not worth the extra $50. For her, apps like Waze offer more value and functionality than the iRadar app, so the RAD 380 is the better pick.
Cobra RAD 380 (top) and Cobra RAD 480i (bottom).
Yes, the Cobra RAD 480i is worth the money, but whether or not it’s the best radar detector for you is another question. It will ultimately depend on what you think you will realistically use each day. While more expensive units like the Uniden R7, K40 Platinum 100, and the Escort MAX 360c have their perks, buying something at that level, with that many features, might be overkill if all you want is a little extra peace of mind.
Based on our experience between the Cobra RAD 380 mentioned above and RAD 480i, the RAD 380 issues fewer false alerts. While I do like the iRadar app, the RAD 380 seems to offer better overall performance when compared to the RAD 480i. The RAD 380 rarely, if ever, interrupted us with false alerts. The RAD 480i, on the other hand, seemed to struggle with false alerts, especially in Auto Sensitivity mode.
Even though the Cobra RAD 480i is still one of the best picks in this price range, there are other nice radar detectors that retail for under $200. Within Cobra’s product family, we would likely opt for the RAD 380 over the RAD 480i. As for the competition, the Uniden DFR9 is worth looking at in this price range.
Otherwise, you can grab the RAD 480i through Cobra’s official website for $149.95. Although it will depend on your preferences, the iRadar app is a nice bonus. Beyond that, the Cobra RAD 480i is an affordable radar detector with a sleek display and tremendous long-range detection to match.
Carl Anthony is Managing Editor of Automoblog and a member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association and the Society of Automotive Historians. He serves on the board of directors for the Ally Jolie Baldwin Foundation, is a past president of Detroit Working Writers, and a loyal Detroit Lions fan.
The Cobra RAD 480i detects all radar bands and laser guns and alerts you via an easy-to-read OLED display. Multiple sensitivity modes, location marking, and compatibility with Cobra’s iRadar app help make the RAD 480i a well-rounded radar detector for something in this price range.
Cobra Electronics provides a one-year warranty from the original date of purchase. The warranty covers defects in workmanship and materials. Cobra will repair or replace your radar detector free of charge (you do pay for shipping, however).
Yes. The correct name for the technology that most people refer to as laser is actually LiDAR, which stands for Light Detection and Ranging. LiDAR operates much like radar. Its signal spreads out like radar, though not as widely. The Cobra RAD 480i has no trouble detecting LiDAR.
One possible explanation is a dirty power outlet or cigarette lighter socket. Make sure these areas are free of dirt, dust, and corrosion. A loose power cord or connection on the unit itself could also be to blame. Make sure to double-check the connection from the primary power source. Otherwise, the Cobra RAD 480i is designed to be maintenance-free. If these simple troubleshooting techniques don’t work, we recommend getting in contact with Cobra. 
The Cobra iRadar app is available for free from Google Play (Android) or the App Store (Apple). You will need to create an account to use the app.
For the most part, yes. However, radar detectors are illegal in Virginia, Washington D.C., and most of Canada. Radar detectors are also illegal in any commercial vehicle weighing over 10,000 lbs. Otherwise, as a private citizen, unless you live in Virginia or D.C., it’s okay to have a radar detector in your vehicle. This guide to radar detector laws in the United States will help if you have additional questions.


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