It has been an interesting couple of weeks. A rapid fire run down of radar detectors from a single product line, and now, at the end of it, I am wondering if it was a good idea. I mean, maybe if I spaced out the Whistler reviews a little more I would have been a little better disposed to what they are selling. Seen as I haven’t, what I have here is a fine selection of builds, all looking great and working wonders, but paling in comparison to other builds in the same price range, including a few in their own stable. Take the CR80 for example, the build I am reviewing today. It proved itself more than up to the task of detection radar, at decent ranges too, and the price is certainly very attractive, but the said price is only a hair below the far superior CR90 from Whistler, and the feature set is essentially barren. A few of the old standards, a surprise here, and a gaping hole where the app integration should be. It’s a shame, because as I am now fond of pointing out, Whistler craft some of the prettiest designs on the market. A real shame, as that isn’t enough to rescue them.
When I get the order to review a product line I dive right into the world. I need to know everything about them, who makes them, what are the core features that the market expects, price ranges, the works. I also look into the tech on display, and see how it operates. In the vast majority of cases there is a rich history of advances to wade through in order to find what the current cream of the crop are powered by, the mechanism of action. Imagine my surprise when I found that not to be the case with radar detectors.
The core technology has remained pretty much the same for the last few decades. On closer examination that made sense, but it was still a fine reveal during my original investigations. Don’t get me wrong, some firms have been pushing for smaller and smaller builds, Cobra chief among them, but for the most part the hardware is the same. So why are some of the big players out there charging hundreds of dollars per item? Well one part of it is branding, but the other side of the coin is software. The software is what turns the hardware from a simple bleeting machine into a well oiled one. It is through clever software that threatening signals can be differentiated from the benign ones. Let it be said here, much of the filtering can be done by hand, but it takes time, and a thorough knowledge of your area to achieve the same results.
Whistler aim for a more bare bones approach, and it is one that might have worked in their favor five years back, unfortunately it is no longer effective, read on to find out why.
Whistler CR80 Radar Detector Design and Build Quality
I begin these reviews with a look at the aesthetics of the build, hardly the most important factor, but in tie breaker scenarios it has it uses. It’s a lucky break for Whistler, as I maintain that their CR range as a whole are probably the second most stylish on the market. Smooth lines, simple symmetry, and blue accents. It doesn’t take much to elevate a radar detector, especially since so many of them look like complicated clock radios, but the attention to detail there is noted and appreciated. By me at least. The display is still on the low tech side, being a big LED build, but unlike most other detectors, it uses a couple of different colors, and the end result is far cleaner. I would call it a nice middle ground between the blocky read LED builds of the last decade and the newer full HD displays you are seeing on premium builds. Each color corresponds to a different frequency bad too, so at a glance you get all the information you need. A nice touch, and further proves that the folks over at Whistler have some stellar designers on their staff.
The CR80 is light, but not so light that it feels cheap. There is a balance here that I find pleasing, and hope that other firms are paying attention to. It feel sturdy, like it can take a knock and keep on trucking. The Mounting bracket on the other hand is clearly a low cost option. The suction cups that come as standard are, oddly enough, standard. No wonderful sticky suction cups here, and the fixing point is click, rather than magnetic. There are third party options, which I always recommend in situations like this, but for the most part it will do its job. Just don’t go off roading.
There are a number of ways to deal with false positives, Cobra have an auto mute function that is okay, but Whistler have smartly gone for my preferred option, a smart cable. Granted, they call it an Intellicord, but the function is the same. Having the ability to mute and change other settings without have to lean over to the windshield is amazing, and no where near as dangerous. I don’t know why more firms aren’t selling a similar item, but what can you do. You will have to buy it separately, but seen as Whistler builds are well priced, you are still going to be in the black.
As already mentioned, there are few bonus features in the CR80. A decent range, around 2 miles in all direction, assuming good conditions. There is a few different modes you can cycle through, city modes and the ever present VG-1 mode. VG-1 mode is for detecting radar detector detectors, warning you of their use. There is also a Traffic Flow Signal Rejection system. This is Whistlers false positive signal filtering, and it works well enough. No worse than any other on the market. Getting warned about your neighboring vehicles parking scanner is part and parcel of the whole radar detector experience, and not even the most expensive models can filter them all. This system is still being worked on though, so expect the occasional update to come out.
The most glaring omission from Whistler is the lack of integrated app. Cobra, Escort and a number of other companies have released first party apps that integrate with a cloud network, and a select few of their own models, to provide a real time safety net, covering hazards that are static, or not normally detecting, through user data. I consider this to be a standard, it can elevate a lackluster build up the ranks in short order. You can buy into their service, but with a a Whistler build you cannot use the more advance features, like system updates, and smart learning. You also have to pay, which is a bit of a downside.
I save the lease useful feature for last. The laser detection system. All the big names are parading the feature out as though it is the future of speed gun detection, but let me lay out exactly why I think it is a little useless. Laser speed guns and camera work on a point to point system. So for the most part, by the time your on board warning system warns you, your information is already known. Now, that said, there are situation where the laser, or LIDAR, detector can pick up refraction, but the targeted vehicle needs to be fairly close to you. Perfect conditions you get five minutes of warning, and I am taking open highway, a vehicle less than a half mile ahead hit with the beam. There are a number of things you can do, and I will talk about them in the legality section. Hitting a grey area with this bit.
I wish I could be more complimentary, I really do. The look of this model is great, and the core features are wonderful, but the lack of app integration is a major oversight, and when we know there are builds out there that are a match for the CR80 in both features and price, but they come with an expansive app augmented feature set on top, well, it makes it hard to be excited about this one.
Whistler CR80 Radar Detector Legality and Pricing
I have to talk about the elephant in the room. Are radar detectors legal? Well, so long as you are not an international reader, then the answer is yes. Under US law radar detectors in non commercial vehicles are covered by the 1936 communications act. They were made illegal in all state for commercial use in the mid nineties though, so bear that in mind. There are two states that ban them outright, DC and Virginia, so be sure to remove yours if you are driving through either state. You also cannot use on on a Military base. Under both Californian and Minnesotan law you are not allowed to put anything on your windshield, so be cure to find an alternative mounting location should you need to use one in either state. Radar jamming devices are illegal everywhere, but laser jammers aren’t. Laser jamming is far more effective at protecting you from newer speed cameras, they give you a window of warning, allowing adjustments should they be needed, before allowing the signal through. Be warned, some people have been taken up on obstruction of justice charges as a result of using laser jammers, so know the law locally if you want to use one.
The price of the CR80 is very nice, in the $120 range. You can find it for a little less in places too. Where it not for the lack of integrated app support it would make it very easy to recommend. Seen as I do know of several builds in this price range, with matching features, and app support, I cannot recommend this based on the price. There is one area where I feel Whistler is head and shoulders above the competition though, and that is aftercare support.
The core Whistler warranty is nothing to write home about. They offer one year on all purchases, with free repairs. It covers factory faults, though I have had a good track record citing that any item that breaks within a year of normal use automatically counts a manufacturer issue. You may have to press the point. Whistler have an in house repair shop, and they offer to repair all of their builds until the end of time. You’ll have to pay, but it won’t break the bank and you can be guaranteed a working radar detector at the end of it. Getting the best consumer protection might take some hunting though. I recommend combining the warranty you get from Whistler with a good licensed third party re seller. Top that off with buying through Amazon, and you will be very well looked after.
This section is again, a bit of a mixed bag. On the one hand we have the price, which is good, and the warranty, which is better, contrasted with the facts of the industry. In a vacuum the CR80 looks like a bargain, and for the most part it is. If you don’t care about the added utility in a community sourced app.
Whistler CR80 Radar Detector Conclusion
Looking at the CR80 as a whole, we have a well put together build. The material quality is high, and the longevity is impressive. I have reports of people still using a Whislter six years after purchase. The price is nice and low, the core features are all useful, and the warranty situation is wonderful. On the downside, there are models out there in the same price range that match the core features, and have more besides. If you want to forego the benefits of app integration, and like the price and the lifespan of the Whistler range, the CR90 is better value for money.