Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Beltronics STi Magnum Radar Detector Review – 2018 Update

This was to be my last radar detector review. I had a whole thing planned out, but now I have been able to get my hand on a few back dated Cobra builds, so we can look forward to a few more of these before I compile my top ten. I can at least say that this is the last time I will look at a Beltronics build, and it pains me to admit that I am glad to see the back on them. More so than any other brand out there have they left me unimpressed. The STi Magnum has its good points though, more so than the majority of their builds, but the price of the model puts me right off, and considering who they are going up against in the market with this one, it makes recommending it pretty much impossible.

I have a process for reviewing a product line. When word comes to me that I am getting something new to review, I dive into it, finding out as much as I can, not only about the market, but about the tech behind it, what advances have been made, what are the different players using, and how do each of the different solutions differ from each other. Imagine my slight surprise to find out that not only do all of the key firms in the market use the same core tech, but that said tech has been pretty much exactly the same for the last several decades. So few changes have been made that Valentine have been able to sell the V1 largely unchanged for the last several decades. So why the price? Why, if the tech has become cheaper to produce, and production costs have gone down, is the price still in the hundreds of dollars? Well, turns out that while the hardware has been stagnating, the software has been flourishing. Better filtering, better identification, and longer range, all thanks to better software. In addition to the internals getting a boost, there are a few external bonuses that are keeping the prices high. App integration is the big thing in the radar detector market. A simple app can extend the range of all radar detectors ten fold, so long as they are linked to all the other detectors in use. Throw in a few GPS options and auto learning, and we have some impressive tech on display. Beltronics seem a little slow to take advantage of this side of the business, and when I tried to look through their site I was left perplexed, but I’ll get into that in more detail later.

So let’s get to the review proper, first with an unimportant look at the aesthetics of the build, and a slightly more important look at the feel of the build.

Beltronics STi Magnum Radar Detector Design and Build Quality

So let’s start where we normally start. A look at the build. The STi is an older model, and as a result the design sensibilities are more in line with the mid nineties than the now. This can work in a builds favor, as it tends to keep the price low, but that is very much not the case here. So what we are left with is an out dated look. The feel of the build is sturdy though, and I like a bit of heft to my electronics. It feels durable, and a look through some older reviews tells me that the STi Magnum is likely to last for the vast majority of folks. This is great, due to the lack of confidence the Beltronics website instills in me.

The display is can best be described as functional.I know for a fact that the likes of Whistler and Cobra have been able to use the older big LED displays and make them look modern and stylish, but here with this Beltronics build we have the clock radio font, and I am not a fan of this. In terms of look and feel this is what we might call a pass, if only just. Moving onto the STi Magnum’s mounting bracket, and we again see corners cut to save on cost. Well, I say corners cut, but what I really mean is older, less stable tech. It’s that old click lock system with regular suctions cups, I have been lucky enough to try out a wide variety of builds, and the vast majority of firms these days are using sticky suction cups and magnetic locks. The added stability is important to me, and I have to assume it will be to you too. There are third party mounting brackets that will fit the STi Magnum, and while I could easily recommend you splurge on them with the cheaper builds the firm has out, the unfortunate pricing of this model makes that much harder to do.

The STi Magnum has on board filtering for false positives, most builds do these days, but know out of the gate that no ones has it right. No matter who you go with, out of the box false positives are a way of life with radar detectors. The filtering is limited, there are other ways to eliminate false alerts, mostly through interfacing with an app, but I will go down that rabbit hole later. What I am sad to see missing in the Beltronics product line is the smart cable, or intellicord if you are Whistler. Having to lean forward to the windshield to hit the mute button during a false alert is dangerous, having the buttons attached to the cord makes it much safer, and it always annoys me when I firm does not offer a product like this.

The key selling point for this model is the range. The STi Magnum is marketed as a highway model, and I can at least attest to that. It seems comparable to the Redline in terms of range, and the Redline, from Escort, as long time readers will no doubt know, is the best long range radar detector on the market. Trying to take a bite of that market is clever, especially seen as Beltronics other models don’t seem to be able to lick anyone in their weight class. There is also the VG2 mode, rendering the model impervious to detection from radar detector detectors. The STi is light on in built features, but in terms of core use, Beltronics finally have a winner.

There is always a down side, and with the Beltronics builds it is a large, and glaring, one. There is no first party app options from Beltronics. You can look into third party options, but not being able to integrate directly with an external device hurts the long term viability of the build. With other models in this price range you have Bluetooth direct connection to apps, auto updating the integrated GPS and smart learning functions, increasing the range of the app with all of the combined knowledge of all the other radar detector users with a compatible model. You can see how this then pales in comparison, and the pricing section may well end up ruling out the STi Magnum entirely for you. You can just buy into the iRadar or the Escort app, and make use of their auto updated maps, but you do not gain access to all the other lovely features. And if you are paying either firm anyway, buying one of their more integrated builds is the better option in the long run.

The laser detection is here, and is as limitedly useful withe the STi Magnum as I think it is in general. All the laser detection systems being touted by radar detector firms are about as useful as each other. And to me, the fact that laser speed guns use a far narrower point to point system, the only time the laser detection goes off is when you have been hit. It can pick up refraction, just like the radar, but the range is so much shorter, usually viewing distance, making the warning more useful, but not by much. There are better options for protection against LIDAR guns, and I will talk about them in the legality section.

Continuing my trend of being unimpressed with the Beltronics series, the STi Magnum has such potential. This could have been the low cost feature lite, easy to use alternative to the Redline, instead we have a model that is overpriced, and under featured.

Beltronics STi Magnum Radar Detector Legality and Pricing

So, a fair few folk have asked about the legal issues surrounding radar detectors, so I dug in and found that, for the most part, they are completely above board. In the US at the very least. Sorry international readers, but pretty much everywhere else these things are against the law. In the US they are legal in all but two states, Virginia and DC. You also cannot use one on a Military base. Be careful if you live near the border, as Canada have a ban on radar detectors as well. If you are in a commercial vehicle,weighing more than 10,000 lbs, you are banned from using radar detectors anywhere. In both California and Minnesota there are restrictions on what can be put on your windshield, under obstruction of vision laws, so be sure to find an alternative mounting location if you need to travel through either, or you are there already. I mentioned earlier that I have a problem with LIDAR detectors, and their relative uselessness. Now, overtime the detection hardware and software parsing may get finer and finer until it is just as good as radar detection, but until then you are going to need an alternative.

Here is where all hope for the STi Magnum is lost. The feature set might be light, but the core function, a long range radar detector on par with the Redline, might have been attractive if the price was close to the other Beltronics options, in the $130-$150 range. That is not the case, you can expect to pay far closer to $400 for this build. Considering the lack of features, and the fact that it is on average only $20 cheaper than the Redline, and the Redline comes with all the benefits that Escort can provide, it makes the STi about as desirable as its name.

The Beltronics warranty on the surface looks good. They offer 1 year of coverage, on par with all the other players in the radar detector market, and I would be happy to leave it at that. If only the site, their online presence wasn’t so suspect. their site is a mess. Missing pages, wrong listings, and a nightmare to find anything. It does not fill me with confidence in the slightest. Whistler had many of the same issues that Beltronics has, low feature models, no app, non-competitive prices, but they more than made up for it with their excellent customer service. Beltronics don;t even have that.

Beltronics STi Magnum Radar Detector Conclusion

Another miss for the firm. This entire series of reviews of the Beltronics range has been a travesty for the company. My issue is mostly due to he fact that it wouldn’t take much to propel them up to competitiveness again. Lower the price across the board, write a simple app and invest the money made into marketing to increase the app users. Hell, inside a year the firm could become a powerhouse, instead what we have are a bunch of mediocre models, pricing themselves out of the market. It might have been fine five or six years ago, but the market has moved on. And what about that font, right? Magnum with nice big Gold letters? Can’t believe I went this whole review without bringing that up.

Barry W Stanton
Irish born writer who drinks too much caffeine and reads too much Terry Pratchett. I enjoy long walks on the server and Korean cuisine.


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