A Full HD dashcam packed with features
What is the Thinkware X550?
The Thinkware X550 is a Full HD dashboard camera. Its specifications might not excite, but it promises decent low-light image quality and some other tricks to boot. It also supports an additional rear camera, so can potentially supply evidence of events taking place behind you as well as in front. But how does it stack up against the increasing number of dashcam competitors?
Thinkware X550 – Shooting Specification
The X550 doesn’t offer a Super HD or higher resolution as found in the VicoVation Opia 2 and a number of other recent dashcams. However, on the plus side, it’s based around a 1/2.9-inch Sony Exmor CMOS with 2.4 megapixels. This is the kind of sensor size that would be seen on a top-end camcorder, albeit with a greater number of pixels.
The advantage of a big sensor is greater light sensitivity, which is partly why Thinkware is claiming low-light capability as a noteworthy feature of the X550. The company calls this Super Night Vision, although it also includes some image processing to enhance the brightness of the picture. However, with just an Ambarella A7 chipset rather than the top-end A12, the maximum video resolution is only 1,920 x 1,080 pixels – and, in fact, no other resolution options are available, which might be irksome for those who want to save space by recording at 720p.
MicroSD cards are used for recording, and the supplied 16GB will be adequate for about 2hrs 4mins of footage before looping occurs, or 1hr 2mins with two cameras attached. Incidents are automatically detected and stored to the microSD card and to the camera’s internal memory, which is a great way of improving your chances of recovering data even if the camera is badly damaged or the microSD card pops out during a crash. You can then view and copy these files to microSD.
However, there’s no information on exactly how much memory is built in, although I had 16 files stored following a few weeks’ use, which is about 500MB worth.
Unlike the VicoVation Opia 2, the X550 has built-in GPS, and this particular model comes with GLONASS (Global Navigation Satellite System) support as well. This means it uses a Russian positioning satellite system as well as the American one, for faster lock-ons and greater accuracy.
I found the X550 locked its position quite quickly, usually well before I set off on a journey. You can view this location, along with the video, via the PC Viewer software that you can download from Thinkware’s website.
Out of the box, the X550 comes with speed camera alerts. A voice announces an approaching camera and how far away it is, followed by a tone to notify you when you reach it. It’s very handy indeed, although it will be necessary to keep the database up to date using the free downloads available on Thinkware’s website.
Thinkware X550 – Mounting Options, Connectivity and Parking Mode
The X550 is available with an optional permanent kit, which allows it to be connected directly to your car’s electrical system. If you’re a regular tinkerer then you’ll easily be able to fit this yourself. However, my sample was installed by a company called Chamelon. The process took under an hour and they routed all the cables neatly away; it cost £59.99.
Whether or not it’s professionally installed the X550 doesn’t use a suction mount to attach to your windscreen. Instead, the mount is permanently stuck to the glass using a double-sided 3M adhesive pad. It isn’t that hard to slide the unit in and out of its windscreen mount, but this clearly isn’t designed for regular removal and replacement. You’re meant to keep the camera in your car at all times.
This is where the Parking Mode option comes into play. With the permanent wiring, the unit automatically switches to Parking Mode when you turn off the ignition – and begins recording when you start up. With this mode enabled, when any shock is detected, the camera will store a recording, and then notify you of how many times this has happened when you next start up. Alternatively, this can be set to capture a time-lapse series of images.
So if someone has hit you when parked, you might get a record of the culprit. Since the camera is always on, there’s a setting available where you can configure a battery level below which the device will turn itself off. This will prevent it from completely draining the power, preventing your vehicle from starting.
Unusually, the X550 doesn’t use any form of USB for its power connection. Instead, a proprietary connection is used. There’s a microUSB connection on the top of the unit, but this is intended for connecting up an optional secondary camera, which costs about £50 and offers Full HD recording as well. This will require more cable routing, with a long piece of wiring included, so it can be positioned facing out of the rear window.
There’s also a microHDMI port on the top of the unit, although there’s no advice on its use provided in the manual. As well as the adapter for a full-sized SD card slot, a USB microSD card reader is included in the box, if you don’t have a SD card slot in your computer. This is probably because you can’t hook the unit itself up to your computer and use it as a file reader.
Thinkware X550 – Menu and Image Quality
The mostly text-based menu is relatively easy to understand. The four buttons on the left-hand side of the 2.7-inch screen are used to control this, with functions clearly defined on the screen next to each button. There are simple options to control three levels of brightness for each camera, and to toggle wide dynamic range.
There are collision detection and lane-departure warnings built in, as well as the ability to notify you when the car in front begins to move. For lane departure, some calibration will be required prior to usage. I’ve not entirely been bowled over by these features in any dashcam I’ve tested and there’s no change here, but at least it’s here for those who want it.
You can watch a sample of footage shot with the Thinkware X550 here.
The X550 produces decent-quality video, but after seeing the detail of the VicoVation Opia 2’s footage, Thinkware’s alternative seems a little soft in comparison. I tested in a variety of conditions, one of which was rather brooding but with bright light breaking through the clouds, and the X550 did a good job of coping with the contrast in brightness.
You need to be closer than about 10m to vehicles for their number plates to be easily visible, but overall, the quality of the X550’s footage is in the upper half of the dashcams I’ve tested.
Should I buy the Thinkware X550?
The Thinkware X550 has no particularly unique feature other than the onboard memory and dual camera option, and it’s priced about where you’d expect. It’s well-executed, particularly if you go for the permanent installation. Apart from the lack of recording at resolutions higher than Full HD, the features are comprehensive, making this a dashcam worth considering.
Comprehensive features make the Thinkware X550 a well-rounded dashcam – even if it’s only Full HD.
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Author: James Morris
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