Thursday, July 11, 2024

Cobra Electronics SPX 5300 Radar Detector Review

Only the one one radar detector review to write after this, and I will be sad to see the end of them. Granted, there is still the top ten to collate, but after that I’ll be back on the one offs, which are never as interesting to me. Today is another look at a legacy Cobra build. One of the best things about models like the SPX 5300 is the fact that due to being as old as they are the price per unit is incredibly low, while core function and consumer protections are still excellent. Cobra have made a name of themselves in my book, a look through their entire product range reveals a model for all customers, whether you are after the cream of the crop, chock full of features and integrations, or something low key, does the job for as little as possible. The SPX 5300 falls closer to the bare bones builds than the modern masterpieces, put Cobra have had a good design team for the last decade, so even older builds like this are stylish and feature packed.

My standard practice when I review a product line is fairly set at this point. I spend a few weeks looking into the industry, the consumer base and of course the technology on display. With pretty much every other range I have reviewed there has been a natural progression of tech, a rich history to discover. With radar detectors that is only true up to a point. I was shocked to find that the core hardware has remained pretty much the same for the last few decades. Granted, when I thought about it for a while it made sense, I mean radar waves haven’t changed since the dawn of light, so why change the hardware overmuch. It did make me question a few things in the radar detector market though, namely the justification for the very high prices some firms are charging for their models. I maintain that it is true that hardware has somewhat stagnated, Valentines’ V1 is evidence of that, but the software and integrations in radar detectors has flourished. When you pay top dollar you are getting better filters, more advanced software, and of course other hardware jammed into the box, like GPS and Bluetooth. The real boon is the app integration. A good radar app can turn even the cheapest build into a powerhouse, and I think we will see a lot of the in box enhancements that have been made over the last five years or so fall away in favor of cheaper community sourced app features. The SPX 5300 might lack on board GPS and Bluetooth, but Cobra have one of the most advanced apps on the market, and it transforms this otherwise simple model into something well worth considering.

So let’s take a look at the build first.

Cobra SPX 5300 Radar Detector Design and Build Quality

One the the things I tend to harp on about with regards to the aesthetics of older radar detectors is how much they look like clock radios. Older radar detectors tend to use that big LED display, with the red dots etc. It’s unsightly. One of the things that Cobra have always been good at is making their use of the same tech appear sleek and even modern. To me at least. I don’t know why other firms didn’t go the same way, the simple choice to use more than one color of LED. Not only doe sit look better, but it gives you more information at a glance as well. You know what kind of signal is being picked up immediately. The overall look of the SPX 5300 might seem a little over-designed to a modern eye, and there is certainly some truth to that, but there is at least sleek lines and an easy to read display. Cobra really knocked it out of the park that generation in terms of look.

There is some nice heft to the SPX 5300 as well, I like a bit of weight to my electronics, especially electrics that I intend to travel with. It makes it feel more robust, better able to stand up to a few knocks, though knocks are few and far between in the world of radar detectors. The plastic feels of high quality, and there is no rattle to the build, a flush radar detector is a key indicator of quality. Obviously if you hear any rattle when you shake the build then that is a sure sign of factory damage, and you should use your warranty, or other consumer protections.

The mounting bracket is less impressive than I would like. It is a simple click bracket and suction cup build, and while they tend to be up to the task, I prefer using something a little more stable. The price of the SPX 5300 makes it cost effective to pick up a third [arty bracket, and I suggest you do. Get yourself a magnetic lock and sticky suction cups for maximum stability. You can buy one, and access to the iRadar, along with the SPX 5300 for well under $100.

Dealing with false positives is part and parcel of the whole owning a radar detector thing, and I have seen a number of solutions to it. Ranging from external muting, auto features and filtering. The SPX 5300 combines a few of these, but it lacks a key one that I feel is a mistake. They have a core filter setting, and while it is good, no one has a perfect software solution to false signals. The one here is passable. Second they have a auto mute mode, and I am a big fan of this. More of a band aid than a true solution, but a good one. The big missing piece is the lack of a smart cable from the firm. A smart cable has buttons on it, allowing you to switch modes and mute manually on the fly. Having to lean over to the windshield in order to mute or switch modes is a hazard, and should not be the default option for any radar detector.

This is an older build, so the range is not quite as refined as more recent ones. On the highway we are looking at around 2 miles or warning, maybe a little more depending on the density of signals. In the city you are looking at a little under a mile, again depending on conditions. This is far from terrible, and there are other filter modes you can try to push just a little more range out of the build, but I feel it is best to err on the side of caution. Beyond the core functions there are the VG1 mode, and an alert variant of same. This allows you to know for certain when someone is using a radar detector detector. The safety mode shuts the detector off in the vent of discovery as well, always nice to see. Pop mode is here as well, being better able to detect the slightly newer point to point radar guns, the ones that use a narrower wave length, and thus are harder to pick up with the default settings. They are getting less and less rare these days, but it is still best to verify what is being used in your area. The internals all operate on low noise signal amplification, which is what allows it to so effectively fly under the radar, aheh, of so many detector detectors.

One of the best things a company can do is release an app. There are so few on the market that have app integration with their builds, and it is a mistake. They allow even the meanest of builds to punch well above their weight. The downside of the older SPX builds is the lack of Bluetooth, and so for the most part they cannot take advantage of the more advanced features of the iRadar, Cobra’s app. Well, I have found a nice way around this, the RA-PSB cable. It allows direct integration between the older legacy Cobra radar detectors and the iRadar. At its core iRadar is sa community app, it receives information from all the other Cobra users on the road and updates, in real time, a GPS based mapf of where ever you are. This allows you to extend the range of your build by a fair amount. When we plug in directly it will also disable the static false positive locations that are defined on the app, and also warn you again other speed detection methods in use in your area. Finally, you will become a part of the community too, updating with your own information. I cannot overstate ho important the iRadar is, but unfortunately, if you go for a legacy model you will have to buy access yourself. The price is pretty low, and seen as the SPX 5300 is so cheap you are not left too light of pocket, but it is one of the few downsides to going old school in the world of radar detectors.

Now a word on my least favorite feature. All the big firms are pushing LIDAR detection, so all of my reviews have this section where I break down exactly why I think it should not be taken into account when you buy your radar detector. LIDAR is a far more difficult thing to detect. The beams are very narrow, the refraction is very slight, and so by the time your warning system goes off you are, usually, already hit. Now, with the refraction you might get lucky and get a little bit of warning time, but no more than a few vehicle lengths ahead. There is no equivalent of POP mode for LIDAR. All that said, there is a solution to the issue. Two actually, but better if you combine them. The iRadar app will track where laser speed detection is in use, which is great, and the second is more of a legal grey area, so I will go into that in the legality section of the review.

Before the advent of the RA-PSB cable, all the legacy builds were merely competent radar detectors, with a minor edge due to the basic functions of the iRadar. Due to said cable, the SPX range, and the ESD, are way more viable as day to day radar detectors. I would prefer something with a bit more range if I’m traveling long distance, but for 90% of my driving needs this is perfect. There are other models on the range though, and which you want will depend on a few things. Primarily the price.

Cobra SPX 5300 Radar Detector Legality and Pricing

The law surrounding radar detectors is fascinating, and goes back more than 80 years. In the US they are mostly legal, there are a few restrictions, but abroad they are illegal. Be careful if you live near the border, as not even Canada allows these things to be used. There are two states that ban the use of radar detectors outright, Virginia and DC. They are also prohibited on US Military bases. If you drive a commercial vehicle you are not allowed to use on anywhere. Finally, if you live in either California or Minnesota then you likely know about the obstruction of vision laws that apply in both states. Neither state bans owning and using a radar detector, you just have to find an alternative place to put one and you’re fine.

Radar jammers are a whole other matter. They are pretty much universally illegal. LIDAR jammers are different though, and are not currently subject to any specific legislation. They block laser signals for a short time before shutting off, allowing you the time to course correct. For full coverage I recommend pairing a radar detector with a laser jammer, as the laser detection systems included with all radar detectors are less than amazing. Be warned though, there have been some reports of people being charged for using laser jammers, under obstruction of justice laws. Use at your own risk.

The price is where most people make their choice. It doesn’t matter if you have the most powerful machine on the market, ask NeoGeo. So I am happy to report that you can find the SPX 5300 legacy cobra radar detector for as little as $39. That price is astounding, truly so. Granted, in order to make the most of this build you will need to a few add ons, but even with the full list I recommend you are looking at less than $100 for the lot. There is simply no other firm out there that can boast prices like these, but that is due to the legacy nature of the build. There are a few things that it lacks, the warranty for one thing.

Yeah, bit of a downside if I don’t say so myself. I like a good warranty, and seen as I review products for a living, I can tell a good one from a bad one. Legacy builds are not covered by and large. You might get lucky, pick up a legacy model from a licensed third party who has some stock left over from the old days, but for the most part you are going to be buying this thing from eBay or Amazon. I advise Amazon, as at least then you can be guaranteed their consumer rights policies. It can really take the risk out of any purchase.

Know the law. I cannot stress that enough. Radar detectors are still in something of a grey area, and while I love Laser jammers, the way law enforcement are looking at them is not something I can agree with. The price here is fantastic, and while I understand the lack of warranty, I am sad not to see it. Going Amazon will mitigate the worst of that though.

Cobra SPX 5300 Radar Detector Conclusion

Honestly, there is very little difference between all the older Cobra builds in terms of day to day function. Some are better suited for long range trips, some for scooting about, but for the most part they all have the same basic features, and it’s all thanks to the iRadar app. The iRadar app allows all of them to share a range, to share mute functions and filtering. Once you integrate directly your radar detector functions with near parity to a high end machine. It makes this one of mt favorites, and I know when I compile the top ten I am going to have a little trouble sorting these builds out.

Overall, another excellent older model that is still up to the task of detecting in the modern world.

Barry W Stanton
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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