Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Cobra SPX 900 Radar Detector Review – 2018 Update

Now we are at the real end. I managed to get my hands on a few Cobra legacy builds, the ones you can find online for bargain prices, that still perform well. First to be tested was the SPX 900, and while it might be feature lite on today’s market, the price more than compensates, not to mention the few tweaks you can do yourself. Cobra are one of my favorite firms, they offer everything I look for in a radar detector, access to the core feature set, fine prices, decent warranty, and the ever important dedicated app. The SPX 900 might not be able to take full advantage of the iRadar, but with said app augmenting the already impressive range of the base build, this becomes a real contender for me, and any other price conscious consumers.

When I review a product range I tend to take a week or two to get stuck into the industry first. I find out everything I can, look up what other writers are saying about the builds, and spend as long as is necessary trying to get my head around the tech involved, and the history of same. One interesting facet of the reviews market is the seemingly overwhelmingly positive reviews for builds that left me feeling a little cold, but that’s not the crux of this paragraph. What I want to point out is the fact that the core tech of radar detectors has been pretty much the same for the last several decades. Look at the V1, from Valentine. The internals are pretty much the same as on release, with a few choice tweaks. So how do firms justify the high prices? The software. A good firm funnels revenue into the software of the build, refining the algorithms and making them both easier to use and better and filtering out the false positives. There are a variety of now standard operating modes, like VG1 mode etc, and a few companies have started integrating other hardware, like GPS and Bluetooth tech, but I digress. The core point to remember s that the more you spend the better the end user experience is. With cheaper builds there is some leg work to do to make sure that you are not flooded with false alerts, but I’ll talk about them.

Let’s start with a look at the quality of the SPX 900, and the aesthetics of the build.

Cobra SPX 900 Radar Detector Design and Build Quality

There are ways to make even older tech look sleek and modern. Cobra are a master of this. On the outside we have a fairly basic looking build, not bad by any means, but it is a little over designed for my liking. It reminds me of the “totally coolz” PC cases you see all over the place these days, so someone must be buying. The real impressive part of the build is the way Cobra have somehow taken a large LED display and made it look sharp, easy to read, and not at all like a clock radio. This isn’t the first time they have pulled this off, and really it’s just by using LEDs other than red. It makes a real difference, and it allows the user to know what kind of signal is hitting them at a glance. Overall we have some clever design decisions, par for the course from Cobra.

The feel of the build is nice and sturdy, I like a bit of heft, and whatever else a radar detector might have going for it, they all tend to be compact and weighty. The plastic used is fine, a soft grain effect on it. The mounting bracket is a bit of a mixed bag. Some of the ones that are being sold with the SPX 900 are simple click lock and suction cup style, while others have sticky suction cups. Regardless of what you end up with I recommend going third party anyway. You want a magnetic lock for stability, and the sticky suctions. Considering the low asking price of the build you are still going to be less than $100 out of pocket if you do.

When it comes to false positives there are a number of options available, the foremost of them is the mute mode. I like it, it’s a hands free option, and leads to less annoyance overall, but it’s a blanket mode. Meaning that it will mute even legitimate threats. You are going to need access to other information to make the most out of it, thankfully Cobra have you covered there too, but I’m getting a head of myself. They do not offer any kind of smart cable with the build, which is a real shame. Escort and Whistler both offer some kind of feature cable, which allows mute and mode switching at the press of a button. Hitting the mode button or the mute button manually on an SPX 900 is dangerous while the vehicle is in motion, so please don’t do it.

The range of the model is fairly standard, I found about a mile in the inner city is the consensus, while on the highway you can expect that range to be roughly double. In perfect conditions it can extend upwards of 3 miles, but you’re never going to see perfect conditions, so err on the side of conservative. Other features include the now ubiquitous VG1 mode, allowing the detector to hide itself from detector detectors. There’s POP mode, which is better at detecting the newer, narrower radar guns, and a few mode switches. Finally there is the on board signal filtering, and while it will filter out some false positives, no firm on the market can get rid of them entirely with just the internal hardware and software. Cobra’s solution is alright, it’s not as good as Valentines, no Escorts, but it does well enough. Overall there is a fine array of basic features here, but what really elevates the build to buyablity is the iRadar app integrations.

There are only a few firms out there with dedicated first party apps, Escort, Valentine, and Cobra. Cobra were one of the first to jump on the wagon, and thus I think it is easy to argue that there’s is the most advanced. There is one downside to having iRadar app access with eh SPX 900. There is no Bluetooth, and thus no real time updates, nor cloud integration. You can at least use the wonderful GPS features that provide you with real time updates on your surroundings, added by other people with more expensive apps. Now, I can confirm that access to the app for free is limited to first party purchases, and the SPX 900 is a legacy build. It means you have to buy access yourself, but as with the mounting bracket recommendation, you can play it right to get access to the app and a new mounting bracket for less than $100. It is one of my favorite deals in the radar detector market.

Let’s talk about one more feature. one that all the radar detector companies are shilling. The LIDAR detection. for those who don’t know, LIDAR speed guns have been slowly replacing the older radar guns in some areas. Not many, but there are enough out there that it is a concern. With radar the reflected beams, and the wide burst of most of them, make it easy to pick them up out of the air. With LIDAR that is less likely, due to the narrower point to point system used. So when your LIDAR detector goes off, odds are pretty good that you have already been hit. It can pick up some refracted signal, but the range is very limited. A few car lengths on the outside. It does work, so no firm is lying, but I feel it has to be stated that in terms of day to day use you will not find the feature all that useful. There are better solutions on the market anyway, and I will talk about that in the legal section, because there are some unfortunate caveats that we have to go into there.

The feature set might be light on the inside, but the app really pushes this build to new heights. The price is the final factor really, and you will be very happy with that.

Cobra SPX 900 Radar Detector Legality and Pricing

I had a blast with this project, no other project had me looking into the law surrounding them before, so this was a welcome change to my usual modus operandi. So, on the whole radar detectors are legal in the US. For the rest of the world, less so. You can;t even use these things in Canada.

Let me tell you about radar jammers. Don’t buy them, they are against the law everywhere. LIDAR jammers though, bit of a grey area it seems. There are no laws against owning and using one in a non commercial vehicle, but some jurisdictions have been trying to get obstruction of justice charges to stick to people who use them. I love the things, it’s the only way to ensure full coverage from the gamut of speed detection devices in use nowadays, but I have to warn you at least. Check your area for news regarding that. Most folk will be fine.

And now the price, the place where Cobra builds dominate. You can find the SPX 900 on the market in the $50 range, give or take $10. That is amazing, and more than worth the price. You have to know going in that you are not getting the cream of the crop, and that you will need to get to know your area, and the false positive areas, in order to get the most out of the SPX 900, but I feel that should not be too hard.

Here’s the point where some might like to look elsewhere. The SPX 900 is an unsupported model, and so it does not come with the manufacturer’s warranty. Now, there may well be a third party warranty, offered by the seller, but I would not put too much stock in that. Best option from my perspective is to try and get it on Amazon. Even if it’s not sold by them directly, all items sold through their storefront come with a nice set of consumer protections as standard. Can’t put too high a price on that.

In this area it is important to know the law. It can change, bear that in mind, but so long as you know where you stand right now you have yourself covered. The price here is amazing, one of the best on the market, but that is fairly standard for the legacy Cobra builds. Low prices and app access is the holy grail of radar detectors. The lack of warranty is a concern of mine, and it should be for you too, but so long as you know who you are buying from you can keep yourself safe.

Cobra SPX 900 Radar Detector Conclusion

The SPX 900 was a joy to tool around with. A nice looking build, with an excellent low cost display. The feature set is far from the most impressive, and the internal software isn’t the best, but it more than makes up for it with access to the excellent iRadar app. The price is the real selling point in my opinion. There are few builds that compare to the average price of this build, and most of them are from Cobra themselves. The only real down side is the lack of warranty, a dangerous place to start, but so long as you aren’t throwing it from the roof this should last a long time. Overall, an excellent option for those who have the time to spend on set up, and want a bargain basement price.

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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