Fast approaching the end of this series of reviews. I’ll be sad to see them go, radar detectors have been a blast to test out, but all good things and all that. This week we continue our look at the current cream of the crop of everyone’s favorite discount radar detection company Cobra. I have been a fan of heir builds since the XRS series, and the newer RADs are an impressive continuation of the same design philosophy. The RAD 350 is a minor step up from the 250, just the one added feature, but minor tweaks to the overall performance quality all round. The real question at the end of this review is whether or not the tweaks make it the better buy over the RAD 250. For that answer we need to get to the end.
I have been reviewing radar detectors for a number of months now. I have learned an incredible amount about the history of the industry, and the tech that powers the builds themselves. It was with some confusion that I learned that the core tech behind these builds is functionally identical. There are a few tweaks one can make, and there are range extenders for the core hardware, but at the end of the day the hardware is the same as was used in the late eighties early nineties. The V1 is essentially the same bot now as is was when released. So what are we paying a premium for? The software. Algorithms that can better differentiate between real signals, false signals, direction and even short burst point to point radar. These days if you see a price tag in the several hundreds you can rest assured that the software inside has been refined to a fine point. Don’t discount the discount builds though, the core experience can still be tweaked, so while they might not be as good out of the box, long term you can get a comparable experience out of even the cheapest radar detector.
Onwards to the review, first a breakdown of the look o the build. I admit, not the most important aspect of the build, but I feel that when you are narrowing down your choice, going for the coolest looking one becomes a factor, a minor one, but a factor none the less.
Cobra RAD 350 Radar Detector Design and Build Quality
As stated, the look of the build is far from the top of anyone’s list of important features, but it has to be pointed out that somehow Cobra have the coolest looking models, bar maybe one copper accented masterpiece from Whistler. There are a few problems I have with the look of this particular build though, and it is an issue I have with all radar detectors that seem to take too much from the previous gen. The display. I get that using the old school big LED displays lowers cost, but it looks so clock radio. Props to Cobra for at least making it look crystal clear, and using multiple colors, it leads to a very easy to read display, mimicking the higher res screens on offer from other firms. At glance we can see what band the incoming waves are, and their strength, info that will allow the user to determine whether the signal is legit or not.
The weight is nice too, and while I am certain that’s a psychology thing, I like a good sturdy piece of electronics. The RAD 350 at least feels like it can take a knock or two. The core look of the build is nicely asymmetrical, two tone grey plastic, with sharp lines. Overall they knocked it out of the park.
The Mounting bracket is the usual Cobra one, good but not amazing. There is the sticky suction cups, but it lacks the magnetic lock that you see on more expensive options, seems to be a litany in this review that. You can buy a third party bracket, and I recommend you do, on the outside chance that you city has a few pot holes. The lack of dedicated smart cable from Cobra is still an issue. I maintain that having to lean forward to hit the mute button is a hazard, one that should not be present in any radar detector. You see Smart cables in both Whistler models and Escort models, and they allow you to make use of your detector without putting you and your passengers in danger. The issue is alleviated somewhat by the auto mute option, but this is not as accurate as simply pushing the button yourself.
Bonus features are a cut above the 250, but not what we would see in the 450 or better builds. There is the VG-2 mode, for detecting radar detector detectors, and forcing a shut down. Always handy. The aforementioned auto mute option and IVT filtering. The IVT system is nice, and it does appear to work, but there is no such thing as perfect IVT, and you will have false positives no matter how finely tuned the software. Range wise it is above average, looking at closer to two miles in denser areas, and more in open areas. I would place the range on par with the 450 to be honest, so as a mid range option, in a still very affordable bracket, this becomes a very attractive option due to the versatility on offer.
The key selling point is the iRadar app though. So important these days, to me at least, is phone integration. While the RAD 350 lacks Bluetooth, and so cannot make use of the more advanced features of the app, you can still make use of the added range to alerts, and community assisted scanning. When this is combined with the low price of the Cora builds, they become a real powerhouse in the industry. There are app options with the V1, and Escort is famous for theirs, but neither firm can boast so low a price. They sell on ease of use, but if you are willing to put the timer in, any Cobra build can be tweaked to the point where even die hard fans of the V1 would have to admit the difference is negligible.
Now I have to talk about the LIDAR detection options. All firms are pushing this feature, showing that they are keeping up with speed detection tech, but to be honest there is little to recommend with this feature. I have looked into the tech on both sides, and how LIDAR speed detection works at its very core is the reason laser eye systems are a bit on the useless side. You see, when a laser speed system is fired it is on a point to point system, so nine times out of ten when the detector goes off you are already hit, and the information is known, rendering the warning pointless. Now, it can pick up refracted signal, but the range is severely limited, maybe a few cars ahead if that. There are options to fight this though, seems I’m saying options all the time in this review. I’ll talk about alternatives to the laser eye in the legality section, as there are a fair few things you need to know about them.
There is so much to rave about here. I am a fan of features, and I feel the RAD 350 has them in spades. You don’t seem much in the way of clever algorithmic options, smart learning and you like, and it is hurt by the lack of Bluetooth, rendering bonuses found in the iRadar moot. But, the core features are great, the IVT filtering gets rid of a fair few headaches, and the VG-2 mode is clever. The look of the build is top notch, and for once the big LED display is clean, easy to read, and doesn’t remind me of a 1986 clock radio. Cobra really knocked it out of the park with this build, and the price drives it ever higher in my estimation, as I am sure you will agree.
Cobra RAD 350 Radar Detector Legality and Pricing
Ah, the legality section. Unique to my radar detector reviews. I had a blast looking into this area, not too often I get to read up on laws. Radar detectors are a bit of a variable all over the place. Firs toff, if you are reading this from outside the States, then I am sorry to tell you that radar detectors are likely illegal in your area. You can’t even use them in Canada, so please be careful when driving near the border. In the US there are only two states than ban their use. Virginia and DC. You also cannot use them near on on Military bases. Everywhere else, so long as you are not in a commercial vehicle, you are covered. They are illegal in all commercial vehicles everywhere though. There are prohibitions in California and Minnesota as to what you can and cannot place on your windshield, from obstruction of vision laws, so be sure to find an alternative mounting location if you drive in either state. Finally a brief word on jammers. Radar jammers are illegal everywhere, bear that in mind, but LIDAR jammers are not, and are far more able to block laser speed detectors than simple Laser eyes. Full coverage can be achieved by combining a radar detector with a LIDAR jammer, but please know that some folk have been taken up on obstruction of justice charges for using LIDAR jammers. Use at your own risk.
Now we come to the price, and as is usually the case with the Cobra model, it is amazing. On site you are looking at around $120, give or take $20. Not bad, but hardly something to rave so hard about, so what’s with my demeanor? Well, a quick search on other sites shows that on average the RAD 350 sells for closer to $80. That is an amazing price considering what you get, and as stated before, a few tweaks is enough to give you an experience on par with any detector.
Cobra offer a standard 1 year warranty, and a look into the terms reveals a number of interesting caveats to said warranty. You have to be in the US for a start, so if you move you don’t get to use that warranty at all. It covers factory faults, but I find it is easy to argue that if an item is used for its stated purpose and breaks within a year, that is automatically a factory fault, be ready to press that issue, as barring the mattress industry, there are no firms out there who won’t try to weasel out of their warranty. I find it is best if you look into licensed third party retailers, they are cheaper for one. And you gain access not only to Cobra’s warranty, but the warranty the third party offers, and if you go with Amazon, access to Amazon’s excellent consumer protections as well. Be smart when you buy, and it will keep you covered.
In the final analysis, what we have here is a finely put together package. You should now know the law regarding use, knowing that can keep you safe, you should know the limitations of the tech too. The price here is impressive, one of my favorite things about Cobra is the relative inexpense of their builds. The warranty could be better, but there are no firms in the radar detector market that offer anything better, just be smart about where you buy and you will be better than fine.
Cobra RAD 350 Radar Detector Conclusion
One of my favorite builds. There is very little to dislike. You know the price of the build, so the fact that we are not getting one of the most advanced builds on the market should not be a surprise. As a bare bones model, it comes with more than expected, a few sinews hanging off the frame as it were. That price is astounding, and is certainly enough to sway me. If you are looking for a versatile build, comfortable in both the city and the highway, but don’t want to break the bank in buying it, then this is one you have to seriously consider.
FYI: Canadian umbrella law does NOT apply to detectors. However, there are laws dictated on a per province basis. Please check your facts before publishing.