Dash cams are like a fire alarm: ideally, you’ll never need to use it, but you’ll really wish you had one if the need arises, particularly in a world where “crash for cash” are other insurance fraud is now commonplace. You don’t need to spend extortionate amounts of money to get a reliable, unintrusive little device though: the Z-Edge Z3, available for $100 from Amazon, does the job nicely. Let’s take a look, so you can decide if it’s the right dash cam for you.
- 145 degree wide-angle lens
- 3″ screen
- 1080p HDR 30ps recording, up to 2196P (non-HDR)
- 32Gb micro SD card supplied, but supports up to 64Gb (around 4 hours recording on 32gb)
- Small internal battery
- Short and very long micro-USB cable supplied, as well as clips to secure it around your windscreen
- Dual USB car adaptor
The Z-Edge Z3 attaches to the mount with a standard mini tripod thread, then a simple suction mechanism attaches it to your dashboard or windscreen; the angle and rotation can both be easily adjusted. Two lengths of cable are supplied so you can either run the cable straight down to your power socket, or – if mounting the unit higher – neatly run the long cable around the edge of your windscreen and back across the dashboard. 4 adhesive cable clips are provided to keep cabling tidy, and dual USB socket adaptor provides power for the unit while still allowing you charge your phone.
The device has a standard tripod thread, and you could in fact carry it around and use it as a super wide-angle camera. A single button press puts the camera into photographic mode.
You can get footage off the device either by taking out the micro SD card, or by simply connecting the USB cable to a PC; it’s recognised immediately and switches over to data mode with no drivers required.
Like most dash cams, the Z-Edge Z3 will automatically record once your ignition turns on, and will cycle over previous recordings if it runs out of space. You’ll get a few hours of continuous recording, depending on the size of your micro-SD card and quality settings chosen: 4 hours of 1080P 30FPS on the 32Gb card supplied.
Should an event occur that you wish to lock (to prevent it being overwritten by future recordings), simply hit the bottom left menu button (that’s not the one labelled M, by the way, but the one with 3 rectangles on top of each other). However, it’ll only save the immediate 30 seconds prior to hitting the button. I’ve never been in a car accident, but I assume that your immediate thoughts are those of shock, and not “I must hit that button to save the last 30 seconds”, so operation of the clip keeping feature is probably just for moments when you’re more.. conscious. Generally, you’ll want to get that day’s footage off the camera before driving for another 4 hours. If you regularly get into accidents, or live somewhere with a high prevalence of insurance scams, you might want to keep a spare micro SD card in your car just in case.
The UI of the Z3 isn’t pick up and play, but a quick peruse of the manual will teach you the basic operation, and to be honest, you won’t be touching it much in normal usage. It turns on, records, then turns off, without any interaction from the driver.
A number of video modes are available, from 720F 60fps, to 1080P Full-HD 30fps, and all the way up to a slightly higher than HD 1296P. I settled on the full HD 1080p, 30FPS mode, with HDR enabled.
I couldn’t initially see a tangible difference from enabling HDR – but that may just be the dreary English weather where everything looks grey anyway. Check out the review video for samples of the video, both with and without HDR enabled.
After examining all the footage again, it seems the HDR version introduces a strange halo effect on tree branches and tends to blow out puddles where the sun is reflecting. In the bleak winter, HDR mode might not be the best option, but you can experiment to find which mode is best for you.
The 2196p widescreen option is shown below, albeit scaled to 640px width for embedding in this review. The number plate is clearly visible at full resolution. I should note, the sky is actually that color – HDR would not have helped with white balance in this case.
On, Off, and Not Actually Off
If you need to bring the device inside for some reason, you should be aware that manually turning the device off doesn’t actually turn it off, but instead switches it to a low power mode. If you’ve got motion or vibration sensing enabled, these will remain active. There’s a good reason for this of course – the on/off button is designed for use with cars that leave the power on even when not being driven. Normally, the device will detect the power being cut, stop recording and enter the low power mode; but if power never gets cut, you need to manually turn it off or your car battery may drain. Again, a standard feature across dash cams, but something to be aware of. If you are planning to get data off the device, do it immediately, or you may find it’s recorded a day or two of random kitchen activity when it was accidentally triggered by motion (or disable the motion and g-sensor activation).
A Device to Forget About (in a Good Way)
The Z-Edge Z3 dash cam is a funny device to review, because under normal circumstances it should only do just enough to let you know it’s working, but not so much as to be intrusive to your driving or require your attention in any way. With automatic recording as soon as your ignition turns on, and an automatic screen off shortly after that, it achieves this. Most of the time, you won’t know it’s there, and that’s the way it should be. A single button press will lock the last 30 seconds. During the couple of weeks I’ve been testing this, not once did it fail to automatically start recording, nor did it delete events I had locked.
It’s worth noting that the Amazon reviews aren’t entirely favorable, but after examining the complaints they all seem to relate to the other model sold on the same product page (the mirror with reverse camera); no one, as far as I can tell, is having problems with the Z3.