Affordable New Radar Detector Provides Excellent False Alert Filtering & Ease of Use


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Cobra RAD 700i Crash Course

  • Digital Signal Processing technology minimizes false alerts.
  • Easy-to-read display but a bare-bones settings menu with little customization.
  • The optional smartphone app is a bonus, but it will run down your phone battery.
  • Overall, unexpectedly good performance for a radar detector in this price range.
Cobra RAD 700i 5 scaled

Pros

Affordable

False Alert Filtering

Overall Ease of Use

Cons

Material Construction

Our Review Process for Radar Detectors

Automoblog is a member of the Radar Detector and Countermeasures Forum to ensure truth and accountability when covering radar detectors. The Forum has members with years of experience testing and validating radar detectors. Those members can provide additional context and insight if you have more in-depth questions about a specific radar detector.  

Whether we receive a radar detector from a manufacturer to review or purchase it with our own money, there are four main points we consider, listed below. Our primary driving areas with any new radar detector include the Detroit metro and the Ohio Turnpike.

  • False Alert Filtering: While no radar detector is entirely immune to false alerts, units that prioritize a quiet drive, alerting only when absolutely necessary, receive an extra feather in their cap during our review process. In and around Detroit, we deliberately drive past shopping plazas, industrial areas, places with digital signage, and other locations with sources of non-police radar while evaluating a given radar detector. These locations can and will produce a false K band alert. Some radar detectors do better than others, as they have embedded technology to address and mitigate alerts caused by non-police radar.   
  • Range Detection: During our radar detector evaluations, we drive roadways in the Detroit area with regular high-volume traffic. Our go-to roads include Woodward Avenue, Telegraph Road, I-696, and M10 during afternoon rush hour. In these areas, we are looking for the most advanced notice possible of police radar. We pick high-volume traffic times as law enforcement vehicles in Michigan are often nondescript Ford Explorers and Chevy Tahoes, which blend in easily in traffic and can be hard to spot visually. Our friend Vortex Radar from the Radar Detector Forum has the most comprehensive range testing, documenting everything in charts and graphs. We often follow his guidelines when it comes to range detection.
  • Price & Value-Added Features: We look at the cost of each radar detector versus the amount of features it offers for the money. Examples of value-added features include Bluetooth connectivity, segmentation filters, and directional alert arrows.
  • Ease of Use: The best radar detectors should provide a seamless user experience, whether you are a first-time user or have owned a radar detector for years. Ease of use becomes more critical in our evaluation process as the price and feature set of the radar detector in question increases.

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Cobra RAD 700i Review Summary

The Cobra RAD 700i hits that sweet spot between performance and price, making it an excellent choice if you want to purchase your first radar detector or upgrade from an older unit. As the latest in Cobra’s RAD family of radar detectors, the 700i easily outpaces its brethren and gives other higher-priced radar detectors like the Uniden R4 and Radenso DS1 a run for the money.

In the weeks leading up to the release of the Cobra RAD 700i (September 13th, 2023), I spent time driving with the unit around metro Detroit, later taking it on two extended trips: one to Sandusky, Ohio, and another to the Twin Cities.

I will hit the hit points of the Cobra RAD 700i here and summarize my experience with it. Not counting any specials that might run from time to time, the RAD 700i retails for $250 on Cobra’s official website and for the same price on Amazon. For a limited time, Automoblog readers can take $20 off the RAD 700i on Cobra’s website with the AUTOMOBLOG20 promo code.

To help you make the best purchase decision, allow me to provide additional context on where the Cobra RAD 700i lands in the world of radar detectors.

Escort vs. Cobra Radar Detectors: Features & Pricing

Under Cedar Electronics are two popular manufacturers of radar detectors: Cobra Electronics and Escort. And under each of those is a “family” of radar detectors: RAD (Cobra) and MAX (Escort).

In essence, Cobra is the more budget-focused brand, while Escort is the premium nameplate. For example, in Escort’s MAX family of radar detectors, the least expensive unit (the MAX 3) is $400, whereas nothing in Cobra’s RAD family exceeds $250, the retail price of the RAD 700i.     

Spec-heavy and feature-laden Escort radar detectors, like the MAX 360c MKII and MAXcam 360c, can run as high as $700 and $850, respectively (and more yet if you opt for additional accessories like radar-mounted dash cameras and laser shifters). Escort would be the preferred brand over Cobra for radar detector enthusiasts who want to squeeze every last drop of juice out of their countermeasures setup.

Higher-end units from Escort have a more robust material construction, tremendous detection range, increased false alert filtering, and directional alert arrows, which illuminate on the detector to indicate where the police radar is coming from. Given the retail price of the Cobra RAD 700i, there will be some sacrifices regarding material quality versus an Escrot radar detector. The RAD 700i also does not have directional alert arrows, which might be a deal breaker for some.

By comparison, Cobra’s RAD family is more like the “life hack” style of radar detector. It’s that “one simple trick” you can use if you only need the occasional gentle reminder to keep your right foot in check. Cobra’s RAD family doesn’t have the same performance muscle or detailed feature set as Escort’s MAX family, but the price is right considering the intended usage.

Where the Cobra RAD 700i gets interesting, however, is that it borrows certain technical aspects from Escort’s MAX family, like Digital Signal Processing.

On the left is a digital speed limit sign in Northville, Michigan, and on the right is a Kroger parking lot just down the street. Usually, radar detectors, regardless of the brand, will alert on a K band false here. That’s not the case with the Cobra RAD 700i, a welcome and pleasant surprise. My Cobra RAD 480i tends to alert the Korger doors, as do my Uniden R4 and Radenso DS1. Photos: Danielle Anthony.

Cobra RAD 700i: Digital Signal Processing

Digital Signal Processing technology helps radar detectors decipher false alerts (the proverbial automatic doors of a grocery store or pharmacy, for example) from legitimate police radar. Often written as DSP for short, the technology analyzes and processes all of the radar signals that may be present in a given area, prioritizing only the most relevant radar sources on the detector’s display screen, showing things like signal strength, band types, and frequency.

Radar detectors with the right balance of DSP will alert you to legitimate police radar every time while keeping false alerts, especially on the K band frequencies, to a minimum.  

Escort radar detectors have higher degrees of DSP than Cobra radar detectors, so they are less prone to false alerts, which is part of the reason why they cost more. The Cobra RAD 700i, although still not on the level of an Escort product in terms of DSP, is miles ahead of its fellow family members, the RAD 480i and RAD 380 (the latter of which doesn’t have DSP at all since it’s a $100 unit).

As far as Cobra’s RAD family goes, the 700i has the best application of DSP, making it the quietest of the lot. Whereas my RAD 480i struggled around metro Detroit with false alerts, the RAD 700i hardly made a peep, much to my surprise and delight.

Additional false alert filtering comes from Cobra’s proprietary IVT Filter, or “in-vehicle technology” filter, and Traffic Sensor Ranking (TSR) feature. The IVT Filter decreases the number of false alerts caused by collision avoidance and adaptive cruise control systems of other vehicles, which are radar-based.

Meanwhile, the TSR feature filters out K band signals generated by traffic flow monitoring and measuring systems. Regarding fixed location false alerts, Cobra’s proprietary TrueLock GPS Filter is responsible for storing, ignoring, and ultimately locking those out (covered further below).

Cobra RAD 700i In-Depth: What It Offers

The RAD 700i comes with a 12V power cord, a suction cup windshield mount, and a quick start guide (you download the complete owner’s manual from Cobra’s website). Unfortunately, the Cobra RAD 700i does not come with a carrying case, so we recommend picking up something inexpensive if you want one.

Band Detection

The Cobra RAD 700i will alert you to X, K, and Ka radar bands, laser (lidar) guns, and MultaRadar CD and CT, written as MRCD and MRCT for short. MultaRadar is often associated with traffic light cameras and other photo enforcement devices.

During an alert, the audible tones will repeat faster as you approach the signal source (the RAD 700i issues a separate tone when a laser gun is detected, given the accuracy and urgency of a laser threat). You can keep the audible alerts to a minimum by turning on the Quiet Drive option in the settings menu, in which only the first few seconds of an alert will sound.

Unlike its premium Escort cousins, the Cobra RAD 700i does not detect Mesta Fusion, a long-range, multi-lane, and multi-target enforcement strategy supplied by French technology company IDEMIA. Mesta Fusion towers, which combine a Doppler radar and high-resolution camera, were deployed in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada after city officials received a demonstration from IDEMIA in 2017.

K Band Low Detection

In the settings menu, you will notice something called K Band Low. As described by Cobra Electronics, K Band Low was added in case the RAD 700i were to go on sale in Asia. As the name suggests, it allows the K band detection frequency to go lower than what is typically seen in the United States. The default setting for U.S.-spec units is off, and Cobra recommends keeping it off.

Detail Displays

You can experiment with two different “detail” displays in the settings menu. In “More Details” mode, the band type, frequency, and signal strength via five illuminated bars will be displayed. By contrast, the “Less Details” mode will show one, two, or three bars to indicate how likely the alert is to be a police radar or laser gun.

I prefer the More Details mode, as it will help you become better accustomed to what police radar bands and frequencies are most commonly used in your area. Over time, you will be able to take a quick glance at the detector and know what is false and what is a legitimate threat by the information being displayed.

Cobra RAD 700i in the More Details mode, which shows the radar band (Ka here), signal strength (weak but likely to increase in this situation), and frequency (34.71 GHz in this instance).
Cobra RAD 700i in the More Details mode, which shows the radar band (Ka here), signal strength (weak but likely to increase in this situation), and frequency (34.71 GHz in this instance). Photo: Danielle Anthony.

Sensitivity Modes & Detection Range (Ohio Turnpike)

The Cobra RAD 700i has four different sensitivity modes depending on where and how you drive. You can scroll through each mode by pressing the SEN button on top of the unit. Here is how they function:

  • High: Zero filtering for maximum sensitivity (best for highway or open road driving).
  • Medium: Minimal filtering to help reduce some unwanted alerts.
  • Low: Maximum filtering to reduce unwanted and/or false alerts (best for city driving).
  • Auto: Adjusts the sensitivity according to your current speed.

While I’ve experimented with the different sensitivity modes, I always gravitate back to the Auto setting since it’s speed-dependent. In Auto sensitivity, the Cobra RAD 700i becomes a “set it and forget it” type of radar detector. The value is in attaching it to your windshield and going about your day, which the Auto sensitivity lends itself nicely to.

Be it around the Detroit metro, down the Ohio Turnpike to Sandusky, or through Chicago on my way to the Twin Cities, I’ve used the Auto sensitivity mode on the Cobra RAD 700i with no issues.

Down the Ohio Turnpike, specifically on the way to Sandusky from Detroit, I felt the RAD 700i gave me adequate detection range, up to nearly a mile at times. That was enough time to react and check my speed, especially on such a heavily patrolled stretch of road. 

AutoLearn Intelligence (Auto Lockouts)

As we discussed above, Cobra is taking a page out of Escort’s book with this feature. AutoLearn analyzes fixed-location radar over time to determine if such alerts are legitimate or false. Should the Cobra RAD 700i encounter the exact frequency in the same location approximately three times – and that frequency is deemed false – it automatically locks it out and flashes a “Stored” message.

Conversely, the Cobra RAD 700i will unlearn signals to prevent itself from inadvertently locking out real threats. If a particular signal is no longer present at a location that was previously locked out, the RAD 700i will unlock it.

Press the Mute button three times to manually lock out a fixed location false alert. The first press will silence the audible alerts, while the second press will generate a “Lockout?” prompt on the display. Pressing the Mute button a third time will confirm the lockout with the same “Stored” message as the auto lockouts. In the future, the RAD 700i will not audibly alert if you drive past the area again, although it will display the locked-out alert in grey.

Mark Locations

The MRK button on top of the unit will flag a location and notify you the next time you are about to pass it. Unlike the lockouts (manual or automatic), the Mark Location feature is intended for areas with legitimate threats, like red light cameras and speed traps.

Cobra RAD 700i radar detector
When paired with the Driver Smarter app, the Cobra RAD 700i will show the current speed limit (45 mph in this case) alongside your current speed (39 mph in this case). The little Wi-Fi style icon with the “A” indicates Auto sensitivity mode. Photo: Danielle Anthony.

Drive Smarter App

Drive Smarter replaces the previous iRadar app, and much to our enjoyment, the app has seen marked improvements since its first iteration (more on our customer service interactions with Cobra below).

Although early versions of Drive Smarter were clunky, the latest versions have been optimized to provide a more seamless user experience for Android and iOS operating systems (we used Version 3.2.0.1 while writing this review).  

Receiving & Sending Alerts

When paired to Drive Smarter, your phone will receive nearby threat notifications, be it a radar source, red light camera, speed camera, or police patrol, as reported by other Cobra owners using the app (i.e., shared alerts). These real-time alerts provide an extra layer of situational awareness and add value to the Cobra RAD 700i, an already reasonably priced detector.

Likewise, you can issue an alert for others via the app if you notice something like a speed trap or stationary patrol car.

In addition to sending and receiving alerts, Drive Smarter lets you adjust a host of settings for the RAD 700i from your phone, including display colors and brightness, sensitivity modes, and more.

Drive Smarter Apple CarPlay
Drive Smarter app integration with Apple CarPlay. Real-time threat notifications from Drive Smarter will appear on the vehicle’s touchscreen, meaning Cobra radar detector users will not have to glance down at their phones.

Apple CarPlay, Android Auto & Mapbox

The revised Drive Smarter app is compatible with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and has Mapbox built-in.

On your vehicle’s touchscreen, you will see all of the normal Apple CarPlay or Android Auto features alongside any real-time threat notifications from Drive Smarter. Similarly, Cobra has added Mapbox functionality, meaning Drive Smarter effectively doubles as a navigation app. 

It should be noted that it’s not necessary to run the Drive Smarter app with the RAD 700i, especially if your primary motive is to have an affordable radar detector with good false alert filtering. Forgoing the app will save your phone battery, too.

Customer Service

While working on this review, we interfaced with customer service reps from Cedar Electronics (you can contact a support rep through the Drive Smarter app). The reps we exchanged e-mails with about our issues were prompt and courteous.

As of early 2024, all of the connection and crashing issues we had with Drive Smarter have been resolved, including minor glitches like how the speed limit in a given area might display as 74 mph on the app when it’s actually 75 mph.

Even with these fixes and improvements, Cobra reps tell us they are continuing to refine the overall performance and functionality of the Drive Smarter app for their customers. 

Is The Cobra RAD 700i Worth The Money?

I’ve had a sometimes complicated relationship with Cobra radar detectors. For example, I’m still not fully sold on the RAD 480i. However, comments on my YouTube video of the RAD 480i are positive (and I have learned quite a bit about radar detectors since we filmed that video).

Skeptical But Happy

When I was offered the RAD 700i before its release, I was skeptical, but I’m glad I kept an open mind. I’ve been pleasantly surprised during my drives around metro Detroit and extended road trips to Sandusky, Ohio, and the Twin Cities.

The Cobra RAD 700i punches well above what its budget-focused price tag would indicate, prioritizing a quiet ride with nearly zero false alerts and a simplified, easy-to-read display.

When it comes to “grab and go” type radar detectors, I usually reach for my Uniden R4 or Radenso DS1, but I will be moving the RAD 700i to the top of that list, considering it outperforms both of those more expensive detectors with regard to false alert filtering.

Affordable & Simple

The Cobra RAD 700i is worth it if you are a first-time radar detector user and need something affordable, reliable, and easy to use. It’s also a good option if you want to upgrade from an older unit but don’t want to break the bank.

If you purchase a new RAD 700i and have questions, join us on the forum, and we can point you in the right direction. Make sure to periodically check Cobra’s website for the latest firmware updates to ensure your RAD 700i is at its optimum. 

Carl Anthony is the Managing Editor of Automoblog and the host of AutoVision News Radio and AutoSens Insights. As a respected automotive industry thought leader, Carl has appeared on numerous podcasts and radio shows, including Wrench Nation, Cars Yeah, The Car Doctor, and Brains Byte Back, in addition to appearing as a regular contributor on MotorMouth Radio on WHPC 90.3 FM. His work can also be seen and heard 24/7 on the Automoblog YouTube channel.

Radar Detectors FAQ

Are Radar Detectors Legal?

Using a radar detector in a privately owned passenger vehicle is legal in the U.S., with the exception of Virginia and Washington D.C. See this guide to radar detector laws for all 50 U.S. states if you have additional questions.

How Do Radar Detectors Work?

While proprietary technology can differ between each radar detector manufacturer, think of a standard radar detector in terms of receiving and deciphering.

Every radar detector has a “horn” or antenna (sometimes more than one) and an internal microprocessor. The antenna picks up or receives the police radar gun, and the microprocessor deciphers it, ultimately showing on the display screen important info like signal strength and band type.

Radar detector manufacturers build on that basic principle with their own hardware and software to achieve increased detection range with fewer false alerts.

Will My Radar Detector Alert to Laser Guns?

Yes, all radar detectors will alert to police laser guns, meaning your radar detector is also a laser detector by default.

Some radar detectors are compatible with an accessory called laser shifters, but those are different from laser jammers, which are illegal in some states. Police laser guns use a technology called lidar, which stands for light detection and ranging.

What Is The Best Radar Detector For Me?

The best radar detector for you will depend on where and how you drive and how much you want to spend.

If you love having the latest and greatest gadgets, you might enjoy the features a higher-end unit will provide. By contrast, if you only need a gentle reminder of police radar in the area, you can find something more basic but still of good quality.

Popular radar detector manufacturers today include Cobra, Escort, Radenso, Uniden, Valentine, and Whistler. Some high-performance radar detectors, like the Escort Redline 360c, are compatible with a smartphone app that shares user-generated alerts.

I Saw a Police Car, Why Didn’t My Radar Detector Alert?

Sometimes, a patrol car will have its radar gun off, meaning there is nothing for the radar detector to alert to. Traffic officers also use an enforcement strategy called “Instant-On” radar, where they only use their radar gun at certain times (think like the storied image of the officer on the motorcycle hiding behind the billboard).

If this happens, traffic officers will only target one vehicle at a time. Most high-quality radar detectors will alert to “Instant-On” radar with plenty of advanced notice, although it’s still possible to get a ticket via “Instant-On” if you are not careful.

Photos: Danielle Anthony.

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