The dash cam market has grown so broad in recent years that the most expensive can cost almost 10 times as much as the cheapest. For a product which is far simpler than something like a smartphone, this is remarkable.
What’s also remarkable is just how cheap dash cams have become. Even options from one of the bigger names like Nextbase come in at well under £100, and this Nextbase 122 costs just £49.
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For a compact device with an HD camera, two-inch display and parking mode to keep an eye on your car while you’re away, this seems like excellent value for money.
But so often with consumer technology you get what you pay for. So is the Nextbase 122 really worth it, or should you spend a little bit more for a higher quality dash cam? Read on to find out...
Nextbase 122 review: Design
Generally speaking, all dash cams look alike. Some have touch screens on the back and some don’t, but otherwise, you would be hard pressed to tell the difference, let alone really care about what the device looks like.
After all, this is a product that will spend its life hidden behind the rearview mirror of your car. And even if it is on display, you’ll be looking at the road ahead, not wondering if you should have paid extra for a more attractive model.
That is not to say the Nextbase 122 is a bad looking dash cam, because it isn’t. It is compact enough (especially considering it has a two-inch display) and completely inoffensive. We wouldn’t think twice about fitting a device that looks like this to our car, whether it was a Ford or a Ferrari.
Being a member of Nextbase’s latest Series 2 dash cam collection, the 122 uses the same magnetic mounting system as other members of the family, like the 222 and 322. This system gives you two options for fitting the camera to your windscreen – a sticking pad designed to remain permanently in place, or a suction mount to be taken off whenever you like.
Both of these attach to a mounting arm, which itself holds the camera with a strong magnet. Removing the camera is simply a case of unplugging the USB cable and disconnecting the magnet.
Of course, you could leave the dash cam in place all the time, but if you are concerned that someone might try to steal it, it can easily be removed from view. Also, while we just described the sticking pad as a permanent option, these (often using 3M adhesive) can be removed with rubbing alcohol, dental floss, and force when it comes to selling the car or upgrading to a different dash cam.
We used the suction cup, which is quite small but held the Nextbase 122 firmly in place over speed bumps and through potholes.
The Nextbase 122 dash cam feels sturdy and well made, without being too chunky. It should fit comfortably out of the way in most vehicles, next to the rear view mirror.
Nextbase 122 review: Features
When it comes to features, the Nextbase 122 sticks to the basics. Instead of offering a range of shooting modes and driver assistance systems you may well switch off in any case, this camera just records video in one-minute chunks, then saves a three-minute recording when its G sensor detects a collision.
That said, one feature consumers might not expect to see on a sub-£50 dash cam is a parking mode. How this works is, once you park up and turn your car off, the camera stops recording and puts itself into a sleep mode, but where the G sensor remains active, drawing a tiny amount of power from the camera’s internal battery.
This battery isn’t much use for running the entire system for any length of time, but Nextbase says it can power the G sensor for up to a week, which should be enough time for most drivers. If the sensor detects even the slightest parking prang, the camera wakes up and records three minutes of video, which should hopefully be enough to help you work out what happened and identify the dodgy parker.
That’s about it as far as features go. There is no GPS to add locational data to the video recordings, no Bluetooth or Wi-Fi for connecting to your smartphone or syncing multiple cameras together, no voice controls, and no driver assistance features.
But none of that is strictly necessary if all you want is an affordable way to record video while you drive, and save extracts safely to a microSD card whenever a collision - whether you are driving or parked - is detected.
Nextbase 122 review: Video Quality
This is where the 122’s low price begins to show, as the camera is only capable of recording at 720p resolution. This is still classed as HD, but lags some way behind the sharper 1080p which is the norm for most dash cams.
The Nextbase 122 records this footage through a 120-degree lens with an aperture of f/2.2.
While the 120-degree view of view is fine for smaller vehicles, we found that the view may not quite stretch the entire width of a larger SUV. For context, we tested this dash cam on our Mazda MX-5, by all accounts a small car, and the footage only just covered the width of the front of the car; if a vehicle were to collide with us from half way along the front wheel arches, the camera may well miss most of the action.
This, in isolation, may not be a deal-breaker for everyone, but we were more disappointed by the video quality. A resolution of 720p just doesn’t cut it in 2019, and the f/2.2 aperture struggles to let in enough light. As a result, video recordings are dim, with a lot of noise in darker areas (and not-so-dark areas, like trees), and a general lack of quality and sharpness. We worry that the number plate of a guilty vehicle might not be visible, due to the low resolution.
The good news is that Nextbase sells the 222 for around £55, which for just £10 more than the 122 records in 1080p, has a wider aperture, and its videos look far superior to the 122.
Nextbase 122 review: Software
As we mentioned above, the Nextbase 122 doesn’t connect to a smartphone companion app, so the only software to report on is that on the dash cam itself. This, you might not be surprised to learn, is simple but gets the job done.
The menu system is easy to navigate, thanks to the clearly labelled buttons surrounding the screen, and once you have entered the correct time and date during initial setup, there isn’t much more to worry about.
Once up and running, you can press a button to mute the microphone and switch the screen off if you find it distracting. There’s also a manual save button if you want to prevent a section of video from being overwritten - because you have witnessed an accident but not been involved with it, for example.
Nextbase 122 review: Verdict
It shouldn’t be overstated how remarkable it is that a dash cam can now be bought for under £50, especially one that is compact and operates while parked.
However, the video quality of this particular dash cam is somewhat below par. Being 720p instead of 1080p isn’t really acceptable in 2019, and the narrow aperture means low-light performance is lacking. The resulting grainy video is just about acceptable during the day, but we wouldn’t want to rely on it to prove our innocence on a rainy winter night.
With the equally new Nextbase 222 costing just £10 more, you can get a very similar dash cam, but one which shoots in 1080p Full HD, through a wider lens with a larger aperture. If we were looking to spend under £60 on a dash cam, that is the one we would go for, over the 122.
Like the lowest-priced wine on a restaurant menu, we feel the 122 is only there to encourage you to plump for a pricier option.