The Best Radar Detector
The Valentine One wins our award for Best Radar Detector with its detection of all types of traffic radar, clear presentation of warnings and long life by design.
It's not unusual for speed limits on highways, parkways and freeways to be set much lower than the safest high speed their design allows — affording states the opportunity to raise a lot of money through speeding tickets. So, highway police patrol units armed with radar and laser speed detectors lie in wait, ready to ambush fast–traveling scofflaws at a moment's notice.
But it’s not just scofflaw’s that can be snared. Even law-abiding drivers can be misidentified as speeders by poorly trained officers and misuse of radar equipment.
So a radar/laser detector can be your best friend, giving you advance warning of an active police presence, time enough to make sure you’re driving a legal speed and the chance to avoid getting a ticket.
I did a deep dive of the radar/laser detectors on the market in a quest to find the best, and settled on two before choosing one: the Valentine One (V1) from Valentine Research, Inc.. Here's why.
Useful information clearly presented
The most appealing aspect of the Valentine One is the way it presents warnings: with four large arrows that show the direction where the detected radar/laser is located (ahead, behind, or to the left or right side), a numerical LED display of the number of detected radar signals or laser light beams, five LED lights to depict the signal or beam strength, and more LED lights to identify whether the warning pertains to a laser or whichever of the three common police radar types (Ka, K and X bands). In addition, the V1 uses different alert sounds to distinguish among laser and the various radar bands.
Only radar or laser ahead or behind can be used to determine a vehicle's speed, so signals or beams emanating from the sides is likely a false alarm from a burglar alarm, or automatic door opener sensor. Automatic door sensors operate in both X and K bands, as do some traffic sensors used by municipal governments. Ka band radar signals are most likely to be coming from a police officer.
Putting all the clues together in my mind, it would be possible for me to quickly deduce the severity and veracity of the V1's warning and to decide whether or not to slow down.
In addition, the V1's owner's manual is an exemplar of clarity. Besides instruction on the device's features, it offers real–world warning scenarios and advice on how to react to them. It also explains how traffic radars and lasers work, and how police use their various radar and laser systems.
Top-notch tech specs
The V1's also has top-notch technical specifications. It has two antennas that scan 360–degrees around the user's vehicle, its case is die–cast magnesium instead of plastic to shield against electrical interference from other devices, and it offers protection against all types of traffic radars and lasers used worldwide. Those include photo radar systems, POP or short–burst radar systems, and types of radar not used in the U.S., such as Ku band radar and K and Ka bandwidths used in Europe for photo radar.
No planned obsolescence
With consumer electronics, we've all become accustomed to having to upgrade to a newer model while the current one is still perfectly serviceable. Buy a new smartphone at any time, and inevitably a newer one with better tech specs will be introduced soon after. Radar detectors evolve, too, as traffic radar and laser system makers change their technologies.
Yet Valentine Research promises that all V1 models are future–proof. "I don't believe in planned obsolescence," wrote Michael Valentine, president of Valentine Research, in the owner's manual. "Whenever we make a performance breakthrough, we offer it to past customers as an upgrade. Even the first V1 can be updated to today's protection."
Meanwhile, Valentine offers the free Threat Picture app (for iOS and Android), which works with a Bluetooth–enabled accessory named V1connection or V1connection LE ($49) that attaches to the V1 detector. The app shows the same alert information seen on the detector's display plus additional information, such as the actual frequency of the radar signals that were detected and whether or not they fell within the specific frequency ranges used by police radars. In addition, the app can be used to adjust the V1's settings. But all of these app functions are superfluous for the average user.
Reviewers offer (mainly) high praise
Many strongly positive user reviews of the V1 also persuaded me to favor it over other brands, as did the professional critics' reviews I found. Although one negative criticism kept popping up — that the V1 seems to be very sensitive and produces too many alerts — it was not one I considered overly concerning. In addition, reviews of other radar detectors frequently used the V1 as the benchmark against which to compare them, signifying the V1's status as the category leader, even if it is not the technology leader in all aspects. The battle between the iPhone and Android smartphones comes to mind. Some Android smartphones are better than the iPhone when technical specifications are the point of comparison, but the iPhone still is the smartphone other manufacturers strive to beat, and is also the smartphone I'd prefer to own.
It's worth noting that I relied mostly on user reviews of radar/laser detectors because I found few reviews by professional critics whom I considered reliable and actual users provide a wider range of “real-world” experiences.
"I have had a [Escort] Passport 8500 for 2 or 3 years of driving from Virginia to Georgia," wrote consumer reviewer Banks on Amazon.com in May. It had been "the best detector I had ever owned," Banks wrote, "beating out a Cobra." After purchasing the V1 and testing it against the 8500, Banks concluded, "The Valentine 1 was much more sensitive working at farther distances and the first time I had a rear alarm and it was police catching up to me I was amazed. The only thing that could beat out the arrows would be a well functioning GPS."
Consumer reviewer Bradley S. Wesner wrote on Amazon.com in May, "The bottom line on this is that it is the best on the market. Valentine points out where the enemy is, and you decide what to do. Sure, there are a few false alarms when you are in town, but who cares? The bottom line is that I do most of my fast traveling on the open road. If you do to [sic], this thing is for you."
And consumer reviewer JimBo wrote on Amazon.com in May, "I purchased my V1 in 1998 and have had it upgraded three times since then. The first upgrade gave me a brand new unit with the smaller footprint that is still the same. I can't say enough about how my V1 has performed over the years. I only use it for highway driving, and it has never let me down as I've never gotten a speeding ticket when I have it on. Invariably, it always warns me of when and where the radar is. I especially like that I know what direction it's coming from, including multiple warnings at once and which direction the more serious one is coming from. I can tell by it's [sic] behavior if the police are driving ahead of me or coming up behind me and when they are getting closer to me (or me to them). It exceeds all my expectations and will continue to be the RD of choice for me for a long time."
Similarly, consumer reviewer wolfpackcity on eBay wrote in January, "Hands down the best radar detector money can buy. It may not have all of the bells and whistles like the [Escort] Passport 9500ix does, but the one advantage it has over any other are the directional arrows which tell you where the threat is, how many there are, whether you are approaching it or have already passed it, and EVEN if it is coming up BEHIND you. It has already saved me four times in just one day and I am very satisfied."
Consumer reviewer sultandodge wrote on eBay last December, "Ive [sic] owned this radar since 2004 and have not got a ticket since. Ive [sic] owned and tested a lot of radars Cobra,Radio Shack, Beltronic, K40 and Escort radars and this is by far the best and most reliable."
And consumer reviewer sizelov wrote on eBay last November, "Hands down the best radar detector I have ever owned or used. I have run side by side with other top brands, and would say this is equal, but where this detector differentiates itself is with the bogey counter and directional indicators. Many times I have found myself with a strong signal, that you wouldn't know one is behind you and one in front. It is easier to spot the radar, when you can focus on the direction of the source."
An Edmunds.com review of the Escort Passport 9500ix radar/laser detector in February 2010 generally favors the 9500ix but notes, "The only major weakness we found with the Escort Passport 9500ix pertains to its directional information, or lack thereof. If you've owned a radar detector like the Valentine One for any length of time, you get used to knowing not just when your speed is being tracked but where the source of said tracking originates. The 9500ix offers no such information. Are you approaching the radar/laser gun? Are you past it already? There's no way to tell with this detector."
A RadarTest.com comparison of the Escort RedLine radar/laser detector versus the V1 generally favors the RedLine (which they sell on the site). But RadarTest.com finally concludes, "it remains up to individual preferences to decide which radar detector gets the nod. The Valentine One is a classic design that still delivers outstanding performance against most types of radar. The Escort RedLine is a fresh, state-of-the-art radar detector whose high performance and unique features give the serious road warrior a demonstrable edge in combating police radar. And it likely doesn't hurt that the Escort RedLine has the longest range of any radar detector we've tested in the past 20 years."
I wouldn't miss what's not included
To be sure, there are features or capabilities the V1 doesn't offer, or offers only with optional accessories. And those may be offered by competing detectors, perhaps as a standard feature.
But I can't imagine regretting not having these capabilities included.
For example, unlike some competing detectors, the V1 does not have a built–in GPS function, which those other detectors use to locate and alert to the presence of known speed traps and enforcement cameras and to keep track of areas that triggered false alarms. But it's a simple fix to download and use the free Trapster app (for iOS, Android, Blackberry, Windows Phone 7 and other smartphones), which offers this same capability and is kept constantly up–to–date by its 19 million users.
Also, the competitive brands Escort and Beltronics — both made by parent company Escort, Inc. — offer a smartphone app named Escort Live Radar (for iOS and Android) that works with some of their detectors. The app works with an optional Bluetooth–enabled power cord for compatible detectors, called the SmartCord Live ($99.95), and it issues alerts when other users on the road ahead have gotten warnings from their linked Escort or Beltronics radar/laser detectors. And it shows local speed limits and provides over–speed–limit alerts. But those features are available only with a premium subscription, which costs $4.99 per month or $49.99 per year. A free stand–alone version of the Escort Live Radar app (not tied to the SmartCord Live and the detector) merely mimics Trapster.
The Valentine One (V1)
Runner Up: Escort Passport Max
Michael Valentine, who is an electronics engineer, was the co-inventor of the original Escort radar detector in the mid–1970s and former president of the company that made it, Cincinnati Microwave, Inc. He subsequently left that company to form Valentine Research and develop the V1. However, Escort flourished and today is one of the largest makers of radar/laser detectors and related products.
Escort's newest radar/laser detector, the Passport Max, was my runner–up choice.
The Escort Max should match or exceed the performance of any other detector made by Escort. An Autoweek.com review of the Passport Max in June was positive. The Passport Max also works with Escort Live Radar and feeds its user data network (also named Escort Live), but I don't consider Escort Live Radar and the Escort Live network to be crucial.
Furthermore, at $549.95, the price of Passport Max is significantly higher than that of the Valentine One. Unless you simple must have the Escort Live network, it’s just not worth the extra dough.
Escort Passport Max
Less Expensive Options
If you’re looking for a highly-performing radar detector but have a lower budget, check out our recommendation for the Best Radar Detector Under $200.