Cobra SC 201 Dash Cam Review: Outstanding video, GPS, cloud uploads

It's easy to use, with great video, GPS, cloud uploads, and a 16GB SD card to get you going right away.

Credit: Cobra

Dash cams are all about capturing the action, and few do it better than the front/interior Cobra SC 201 Smart Dash Cam (currently $179.95 on Amazon). The exterior night video, especially, is unsurpassed in its ability to show details in dark surroundings and it offers a laundry list of features including GPS and cloud uploads. The company even includes a 16GB SD card. It’s well worth the money for what you get—just don’t try to use the cloud functionality with an old Android phone.

This review is part of our ongoing roundup of the best dash cams. Go there for information on competing products and how we tested them.

Design and features

Dash cams generally come in two basic shapes: rectangular, and cylindrical. The SC 201 opts for the latter, which allows the most space for an interior camera. Both the front and interior cameras capture at 1080p. Most interior cameras are 720p, so this is an upgrade.

While 1080p might seem a bit boring in a world that offers 1440p and 2160p, it’s more than adequate for legal and even viewing purposes, plus it saves you a ton of memory card space and wear-and-tear. Put another way, it’s a lot cheaper in the long run.  

The front camera has a good 140-degree field of view. Cobra declined to provide a number for the interior camera, merely claiming that it’s wide enough to capture the entire cabin. That proved accurate in testing. Four infrared lights surround the interior lens to make sure the action is captured regardless of how the cabin is lit.

The SC 201 sports a two-inch color display with four buttons on the underside of the camera, whose current function is revealed by icons on the bottom of the display. We found the buttons easy to press, and navigating the menus and settings quite easy. The screen will even flip to match the orientation of the camera.

cobra sc 201 display Cobra

The Cobra SC 201’s color display and handily placed (bottom) buttons make using the camera a breeze. That the GPS automatically sets the date and time helps tremendously.

One very nice features of the SC 201 is that it sets the time automatically using the GPS info, and tracks speed right out of the box. Few of the dash cams we’ve tested offer that level of sophistication. You can also turn the GPS/time and driver ID video watermarks on and off. 

Name any other desirable dash cam feature, and you’ll likely find it on the SC 201: lane departure warnings, speed alerts, collision warnings, parking surveillance mode, et cetera. You can adjust just about everything as well. 

You should also take comfort in Cobra’s established position as a dash cam vendor. That includes a one-year warranty—increasingly rare in a field rife with 90-day limits. 

screenshot 20210121 094146 IDG

The Driver Smarter app connected to the SC 201. The app allows a live view, and a number of other conveniences. If you can get it to work on your phone.

Alas, there were software issues with the older Honor 8 phone initially used in testing, which is running the older Android 7. The mapping and alert software, iRadar, crashed repeatedly when linking with the SC 201, and the Cobra Drive Smarter app used for viewing, uploading, and changing settings wouldn’t link at all.

Cobra cannot technically be faulted for supporting only Android 8 and later when Google itself has kicked anything older to the curb. But it could certainly do a better job of letting users know about the requirement—I found no requirement notices on the website or the box. Testing was finished on a Google Pixel 4X, where everything was hunky-dory until a firmware update killed the connection again. Cobra might want to have a sit-down with its software team.

screenshot 20210121 095359 IDG

Cobra’s iRadar location and mapping app. It will show you where you’ve been when playing back videos with GPS information embedded. 

Video quality and battery

The SC 201’s video is generally top-tier. There’s a bit of fisheye effect (an occupational hazard of wide fields of view), but it’s nicely color-saturated and detailed, and it handles rough roads decently without any appreciable image tearing or other flaws. 4K dash cams may get all the attention, but in real life we recommend 1080p dash cams to extend the lifespan of memory cards. 

cobra sc201 day 2 IDG

This day capture is included to show off the color. The GPS hadn’t initialized yet, but you can see that in the capture below.

The GPS hadn’t kicked in quite yet on the capture above (most dash cams with GPS need up to five minutes to do so after powering on the car), so a second is included to show that it actually works. Note that the camera handles afternoon glare even when your vehicle is headed almost directly toward the sun.

cobra sc201 day 1 IDG

This second daylight exterior capture shows that the GPS works, and also that the SC 201 handles harsh glare deftly.

There’s a startling amount of detail revealed in the exterior night capture shown below. This is two hours after sundown, and the the scene is nowhere near as bright as it seems to be in the capture. Despite the high amount of detail, the SC 201 manages to tone down headlight flare successfully.  

cobra sc201 exterior night IDG

This is absolutely outstanding night video. The scene was nowhere near this bright in real life. 

Interior captures are also first-rate, capturing plenty of detail despite the contrast between the bright outside light and the shaded interior. 

cobra sc201 interior day IDG

Don’t mind the old guy in the driver’s seat. This capture demonstrates that the SC 201 will capture all of your cabin, even if Cobra wouldn’t inform us of the actual FOV.

Thanks to the four infrared lights surrounding the interior camera, night captures in the cabin also show impressive detail. The cabin was extremely dark at the time this was taken.

cobra sc201 interior night IDG

The Cobra SC 201’s night interior captures reveal detail even when it’s not visible to the naked eye. 

You should have no issues with the SC 201’s captures. They are universally clear and detailed, albeit not quite as detailed as those from some of the better 4K units. But you won’t go broke buying SD cards, either.

The only possible fly in the capture ointment is Cobra’s use of a super capacitor instead of a battery. Super capacitors have their advantages: a lot more charge cycles and better resistance to cold. However, this particular unit provides only enough run time to save files. That’s nice, but if your 12-volt is destroyed in an accident, you won’t capture any action after that. A rare situation, but not unheard-of. 

Great—if your phone is compatible

The SC 201 is very good at the basics and comes with a long warranty from a vendor with a top-notch reputation. If you are running Android 8 or later (or iOS), put it on your short list of front/interior cameras. 

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Jon L. Jacobi, Melissa Riofrio

PC World (US online)
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