Dash cams have been around for many years and up until recently, they have been very popular in other countries outside of the United States. Lately, the trend seems to be catching on locally with many products entering the market to meet consumer demand. The Vava Dash Cam offers its own spin by trimming down the size, removing the screen and relying on a smartphone app for everything.
Vava has two different identically looking dash cams both called Vava Dash Cam so to be perfectly clear, the one I’m talking about is the CD001 which has a max recording resolution of 1080p at 60fps. They also have a slightly more expensive model that is supposed to do 2K recording but by all appearances, it looks the same so make sure you read carefully before buying so you get the one you want.
The first thing that you will actually notice is the package that this comes in is actually quite nicely designed and thoughtfully laid out. Opening the box reveals a message from the company and then digging in deeper will gain you access to the actual dash cam, mount, wire clips, trim tool, a snapshot button (which is completely useless) and high-quality 3M adhesive stickers to secure the clips and GPS (built into the charging wire) to your windshield.
While installing the dash cam in my car, I definitely came away impressed with the build quality and how it felt very premium especially when you compare it to the many other dash cams that are out on the market. I would go as far as to say this could even pass as an OEM (original equipment manufacturer) dash cam that you would purchase when you bought a car, it looks so well built and designed. The first thing that will jump out to you as you hold it is that it is very small and that is because there is no screen or buttons whatsoever on the dash cam. I mean, nothing. There is a small flap in the back that you open to gain access to the microSD card slot and it is flanked by two very tiny LED lights which are meant to give you some idea of status. Like many dash cams, it also will make a little jingle when it powers up and when it powers down but it is initially quite jarring that you have basically nothing to look at as you would in nearly every other dash cam.
Supposedly, you are able to rotate the camera so you can record internal video which I suppose might be useful for ridesharing drivers but in practice, it doesn’t work that well. There is a USB port on the camera itself and rotating it makes the wiring all messy so while it’s possible it’s definitely not a simple swivel as the Vava site would make you believe. The trouble with doing it combined with my lack of interest recording the inside made me never really use this in practice. If recording internal video is important to you then I would suggest looking at dual-camera dash cams that give you both recordings at once rather than having to somehow swivel this thing on a regular basis.
What this design does buy you though is a very nice thick hockey puck look that will easily hide behind the rear-view mirror on any car that I can imagine. From the installation instructions and materials accompanying the camera, Vava intends for you to place it there so it is covered by your rearview mirror and you don’t even realize it’s there. It’s meant to just sit there and do its job without you having to think about it at all.
The box contains a dual-port USB car charger and a pretty long microUSB cable with an in-line GPS module that you will have to snake from your car’s port and then around the windshield. The trim tool helps lift the roof trim so you can hide the cable under. The wire clips are good quality and the adhesives provided are all 3M branded which is better quality than what I’ve seen provided with other dash cams so that’s a plus since there’s less chance of it leaving a residue or damaging your car if you have to remove it.
It’s All About The App
If you’re going to remove a screen and all the user interface from your dash cam, that means you are putting all your eggs in the smartphone app doing everything properly and consistently. The good news is that Vava has their own Vava Dash app that is available on both the iOS and Android stores. The better news is that the app itself is actually quite good and way more polished than I have grown to expect from these types of apps.
The app is divided into four main areas: home, the dash cam, a media library (to me the icon looks like an address book) and a user profile. The home screen itself will show your last travel log based on the GPS signal which is nice but not quite sure how handy this is on a regular basis. Below that, there’s also a way to launch the installation guide which has both a video and scrollable directions in a frame below (you can scroll while the video is playing). Having this in the app is great and the presentation is well done, it’s something that other companies should follow suit on.
Now comes the not-so-great part of the whole process and that’s the connectivity to the camera. By default, the camera will broadcast a WiFi network that starts with “vava” and defaults to the usual “12345678” passcode, which you can change once you are connected. The problem is, at least on Android, that when you connect to the WiFi the OS detects there is no internet connectivity and will (rightfully) continue using your mobile data signal for data as a courtesy. Sadly, this means however the Vava Dash app cannot communicate with the camera since the traffic is being sent out over your mobile data and not the Vava Dash WiFi network. The only solution, which the Vava Dash app instructs you itself is to turn off your mobile data while you’re using the app. While this is very easy to do in any modern Android phone, it’s a bit of a pain and means while you’re messing with your camera you have zero internet connectivity so you will not get emails, messages or any notifications so that’s something to be aware of.
Once you’re connected you get a viewfinder and buttons to take a photo, a video, and a recent gallery shortcut. The fourth button is meant to use the GPS to show your current location which it definitely tries to do but struggles to show properly on a map most times because you have zero network connectivity. All I got was a blurry cached map which was pretty useless so I can’t speak to how useful this feature is if you can’t figure out a way to keep internet connectivity working, which I couldn’t.
Other parts of the app include a settings menu where you can control things like the resolution, loop time, format the SD card, toggle GPS as well as a few other things. There’s also a media section (think address book icon) that is split into three sections: snapshot, loop, and emergency. Snapshot is essentially user activated recording through the app or through the included snapshot button. Loop is the continuous recordings that are always happening and emergency I assume is when the device believes either you’ve been in an accident or are driving dangerously. From what I could tell none of the videos in emergency that it recorded were remotely recording anything I could figure out could be considered dangerous so I don’t know how much this can be trusted.
Snapshot is empty because honestly this part of the product is just broken. The box contains a small button with the Vava logo and a 3M sticker so you can mount it on your dash. I presume when you press that button it should trigger the dash cam to take a picture or video of whatever is happening at that point. The problem is that it just didn’t work and I couldn’t find anything in the manual or instructions in the application to help me figure out why. It’s possible I had a defective button or a step was missed but the point is I wouldn’t count on that feature working based on my experience.
Accessing the videos is as simple as tapping on them and it will play a low-res preview. There’s a button to download the video to your device but it is only stored within the Vava Dash app storage so you have to go back and save it to make it available to other applications in your device such as Google Photos or social media apps for example. The app does a nice job though of highlighting the videos you have downloaded off the camera and can be exported versus those that are stuck on the dash cam when you aren’t connected.
What About The Videos?
The most important part of a dash cam is how well it records video and the Vava Dash cam does a good job although I didn’t notice anything outstanding in terms of picture quality or ability during my time. This could be largely due to the fact that most dash cams seem to use the same Sony sensors these days so the quality is pretty standard and the real differentiation has become the software, applications and other features that you get with the dash cam. One nice touch is there is a feature you can toggle where the camera will imprint your current speed onto the video based on the GPS signal and this has proven to be quite accurate.
The first video was recorded by the Vava Dash Cam and stored in the “emergency” section of the media library. I honestly can’t figure out what type of emergency it could possibly have detected here and adds further to my point that it’s not clear if that feature even really works.
The second video is a small clip of a regular loop video that is one that continuously records when the camera is active. This was during less sunlight and some rain but the camera does a decent enough job recording what it sees. Again this is on par with most dash cams in this price range and I didn’t see anything in other videos that made it stand out when compared to others. On the flip side, it is not worse which is a good thing.
What Makes This One Different?
The Vava Dash Cam is one of the most premium dash cams I’ve personally used when it comes to the design, build quality and even the packaging. It truly feels like it could be something made by one of the car companies as a factory option that comes with the car. While it lacks the traditional screen and interface on the dash cam itself it makes up for that with a polished and very usable mobile app that gives you the necessary controls at your fingertips. Sadly though as a result, you have to get used to doing the WiFi dance of connecting to the dash cam WiFi and disabling mobile data while using the app which is inconvenient and annoying but with a lack of screen that’s all you can do. Also, if for whatever reason you were sold on the included Snapshot button, it didn’t work for me at all and I couldn’t find any way to get it to work so don’t hold your hopes on having any luck there. However, all of that taken into account the Vava Dash Cam does what it is designed to do really well. During my testing, it never failed to record continuously and the application always worked (once I was connected) which gives it, perhaps the most important quality a dash cam needs, of being reliable.
The Vava Dash Cam is available now and can be found for $119 on Amazon [affiliate link].
Source: Manufacturer supplied review sample
What I Like: Excellent build quality with premium look and feel; nice packaging; Comes with everything you need including dual-port USB charger; 3M adhesives included; mobile application is polished and works very well without any issues; GPS works well and can imprint speed on video; Video quality is on par with modern Sony sensor based dash cams; recordings were consistent and reliable throughout; Small size and unique shape means it is easily hidden behind rear view mirror; Magnetic mount makes it easy to install and remove from mount
What Needs Improvement: Snapshot button just doesn’t work at all; Swivel feature is a pain to use with the wires and I doubt people would actually do it often; WiFi connectivity only means you have to disable mobile data while using the app; When saving videos you have to download once then go back and save again; Videos saved as “emergency” make no sense at all; Lack of screen or interface means you’re completely dependent on your phone and app for everything; Doesn’t come with a starter microSD card as other cameras might; Have to rely on jingle and tiny LEDs to know whether the camera is working or status