The dashboard camera market can be split into two categories. The first offers the cheapest, smallest cameras possible, from brands you likely haven’t heard of and for prices you will barely believe, but which have limited features and less-than-stellar image quality.
At the other end of the scale, you have the all-singing, all-dancing models with their bulky bodies, touch screens, optional rear camera (plus all the wiring that comes with it), parking recording and driver safety features.
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The Garmin Dash Cam 55 manages to position itself in the sweet spot, offering high quality video from a brand you trust, an element of simple but well-implemented safety features, and a wonderfully compact design.
Garmin Dash Cam 55 review: Design
It is arguably that last point which is the Garmin’s most compelling feature. Where too many dash cams are bulky, barely hiding themselves behind your rear-view mirror, the Dash Cam 55 is tiny. With similar dimensions to a GoPro action camera, it’s about the size of a matchbox – albeit a matchbox with a lens which protrudes by about 1.5cm.
The mounting mechanism is also nice and small. First, there is a metal disc about the size of a 20p piece which sticks with 3M adhesive to your windscreen. This then connects magnetically to a mounting arm attached to the camera itself with a ball-and-socket joint, allowing the camera’s position to be easily adjusted.
No matter how raked your windscreen is, the Dash Cam 55 can be positioned to get a perfect view of the road ahead. You can opt to leave the camera in place when you park up, but if you’d prefer it can be pulled off from the magnetic mount and easily stowed in your glovebox, or taken away in a pocket, it’s that small.
This is a far nicer mounting system than a suction cup, but does mean the 20p-sized magnetic mount will one day need prising from the glass, which could take some effort.
Extra convenience comes from the internal battery, negating the need to plug the camera into your lighter socket with the includes micro USB cable and adapter. However, the battery is rated at just 30 minutes, so for longer journeys you’ll want to plug the camera in.
Garmin also sells the Parking Mode Cable (£29.99), which draws a constant power supply from your car’s battery, enabling the camera to record when it detects movement while parked. However, this requires professional installation.
Garmin Dash Cam 55 review: Features
Once you have the Dash Cam 55 mounted, powered and ready to go, it’s remarkably simple to use. Turning on your ignition fires the camera into life and, once you have agreed to a safety message, recording begins.
If the camera detects a collision with its accelerometer, the footage before, during and after the impact is saved to the included and replaceable microSD card. You can also press one of the camera’s four buttons to manually save a recording at any time.
You can then interact with voice commands; just say “hey Garmin” and the camera shows the available instructions on its 2-inch screen. This way, you can start and stop recordings, take a photo, or start and stop what Garmin calls a Travelapse – or what you and we call a timelapse video.
Included GPS means the camera adds coordinates data to your recordings, along with your speed, direction of travel and the time and date. Each of these details can be switched on or off as you like, and so too can the Dash Cam 55’s driver safety features, which include forward collision and lane departure warnings.
The camera can also be made to alert you when the car ahead moves forward in traffic and you’re not paying attention.
There are also alerts about nearby red light cameras and speed cameras, but these are part of Garmin’s Cyclops service, which costs £16.99 per year.
We’re usually inclined to switch these features off, as they can’t compete with similar functions embedded in modern cars, and can sometimes become irritating. But it’s good to know they are there for those who want them, and easily switched off for those who don’t.
Garmin Dash Cam 55 review: Video quality
The camera record in 1440p resolution at 30 frames per second, 1080p at 60fps, 1080p at 30fps and with HDR (high dynamic range), or 720p at 30fps. Audio is also recorded, although this can be switched off in the settings menu.
Video quality is mighty impressive for such a small and reasonably priced dash cam, and it also performed well at night. We’d recommend buyers keep the resolution at 1440p for maximum detail, although this might mean investing in an SD card larger than the 8GB one it comes with.
The video resolution might not be as good at the 4K Nextbase 612GW, but it's good enough. We've found 4K to be overkill when it comes to dash cams – do you really want to download and edit 4K footage after you've been in an accident?
We've found that Garmin is one of the best dash cams when it comes to automatic exposure. Some cameras tend to under expose the road and other cars when facing towards sunlight, but the Dash Cam 55 gets the expose just right.
It also did pretty well in our night test as well, although it's not the best in this area.
Garmin Dash Cam 55 review: Software
Recordings can be viewed on your smartphone by connecting to the camera over Wi-Fi and booting up the companion app, called Virb. The app is quite limited and not particularly attractive, only allowing you to view saved video; you cannot adjust settings or view a preview through the app, which is a shame.
We found the on-camera menu system a little confusing at first. It isn’t immediately obvious from their icons what the camera’s four buttons do, and initially navigating through menus was a case of trial and error until we worked things out.
A touch screen would help here, but after you have stumbled your way through the settings once, you can leave the camera to just get on with it each time you drive.
Garmin Dash Cam 55 review: Verdict
When it comes to finding the perfect dash cam, this Garmin ticks a lot of boxes. It’s design is one of the most compact of any dash cam and we particularly liked how simple, secure and unobtrusive the mounting system is.
Video quality is very good during the day and at night, while adding location data with the time and date to your recordings could prove to be invaluable should the worst happen and you need to provide evidence of an incident.
The menu system isn’t great and the smartphone app’s features are somewhat limited, but this doesn’t stop us from recommending the Garmin Dash Cam 55.