Cobra RAD 700i Review: Is This Bargain Radar Detector Worth Taking a Chance On? – Gear Patrol

Cobra’s newest serpent aims to keep you from being bitten for less cash than its competitors. Is it worth it?

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Much like Twilight fans of yore, when it comes to radar detectors, drivers tend to fall into bifurcated camps, neither of which are likely to ever see eye-to-eye. One faction sees radar detectors as the refuge of the criminally minded, a weapon used only for illegal ends; the other considers it a must-have tool for protecting one’s self from potential harm. (I’ll leave you to decide who’s Team Edward and who’s Team Jacob in this analogy.)
But let’s face it: there’s no denying that they have value. Even if you don’t consider yourself a chronic speeder, odds are good you break the legal limit all the time just by keeping up with the flow of traffic — and while you might consider yourself safe in the herd, that’s what the zebra who gets caught by the lions thinks right up until the cats sink their fangs into its throat.
Of course, a good radar detector comes at a price: literally, several hundred dollars. Sure, when weighed against the levy of a speeding ticket and the disapproving glare from the gecko as he hikes your car insurance rates, it seems pretty reasonable — but it’s still a hefty chunk of change for many folks to pay in advance, especially if there’s no guarantee it’ll save you (only your right foot can do that).
But what if there was a decent, affordable option out there? With the new RAD 700i, that’s what Cobra is trying to achieve — offering a radar detector with features like GPS-based alerts and app-based Bluetooth connectivity in a package that’s closer to the price of an Apple Watch SE than an iPhone 15. I tested it out for several days ahead of its September launch; here’s what I learned.
The RAD 700i certainly does what it sets out to do: it detects police radar quite effectively, so long as the source is ahead on the road you’re traveling. At $250, it’s less than half the price of top-rated detectors from Escort and Valentine One, which makes it a tempting option. I’d personally suggest saving up for one of the top-tier detectors with 360-degree radar and laser detection and greater range; that said, if you’re on a budget and simply want some layer of protection against police radar, this Cobra will fit the bill — just so long as you stay mindful of what it can and can’t do.
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In order to put the Cobra to the test properly, I rigged it up alongside my current radar detector of choice, the Escort Max 360c MKII, and took it on a 300-mile road trip. Along the way, I drove past several police cars either awaiting speeders or in the process of busting them, and in every case, the RAD 700i and the Max 360C MKII both detected those potentially dangerous Ka-band emissions. The Escort, without fail, sniffed them out first, but the Cobra always chirped to life well before the bogey came into visual range.
In all honesty, this reduced sensitivity could occasionally feel like a benefit. While the Max 360C MKII would often startle me by chirping about Ka-band sources located far away from the highway, the RAD 700i would stay quiet for everything other than actual police located somewhere up ahead on the road. (This is partly on me, as my paranoid self prefers to drive around with the sensitivity on my Escort cranked up high.)
While the 700i does a fine job at pointing out the five-oh blasting radar waves your way up ahead, it’s not very good at telling you if they’re coming up behind you. That’s because, unlike most high-end detectors, it only has a radar sensor up front, rather than one in front and one in the rear.
Having dual sensors enables radar detectors to not only notice any cops sneaking up on you from the stern — it’s happened to me on multiple occasions — but also to indicate which direction a radar source is using arrows, a feature found on many such fancy detectors. It’s a feature that’s much handier than you might expect, especially if — like yours truly — you drive like Maverick constantly on the prowl for bogeys and ready to react as quickly as possible. Knowing which way a threat is coming from reduces cognitive load, which is always a plus when under stress. The 700i’s forward-facing radar is plenty for most circumstances … but most isn’t all.
After having handled a fair number of Valentine Ones and Escorts over the years, I was a little surprised at the feel of the Cobra. Next to the pleasant heft of the more expensive brands, it felt more like a Cracker Jack toy than something meant to protect you from (fiscal) harm. And while the 12-volt power cord’s ample length is greatly appreciated — anyone who’s ever had to battle with the coiled cable of an Escort or V1 while tying to reach the air vents knows what I mean — its materials look and feel much cheaper than those more expensive detectors.
Granted, all that doesn’t affect its capability; as stated, it’s still fine at sniffing out police radar in your direction of travel. Plus, that light weight means it’s probably less liable to rip the suction cup mount off the windshield once the rubber loses potency, as it inevitably does over years of exposure to heat, sunlight and oxygen.
The biggest issue I had with the RAD 700i was tied not to its sensitivity or feel, but rather, its usability: it can be damn hard to see what it’s saying. Even with my non-polarized sunglasses, I had trouble reading the display on a sunny day even with the brightness cranked all the way up. Between the lack of contrast and the relatively low resolution, reading it often required squinting and leaning towards it … which is not what you want to be doing at 75 mph.
Granted, in time, you might adapt — it also serves up audible alerts, and once you learn what the various visual cues look like, you can sometimes figure out what it’s telling you. Still, it proved enough of an issue to make me consider whether I’d stick with the RAD 700i if it were my own personal device. If your eyesight isn’t the best, it’s something to keeping in mind. (But hey, if you don’t like it, that’s what returns are for.)
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