Hands-on review: Nexar Beam
Image credit: Nexar
A mid-range dashcam that’s unobtrusive and comes with free cloud storage to record unexpected events on the road.
The Beam sits in the middle of Nexar’s range of dashcams – mini cameras designed to film through your windscreen as you drive. Above it is a pricier model boasting a second camera that points backwards into the cabin for Carpool Karaoke-style interior footage. Below it is a cheaper model without built-in GPS. Like Goldilocks’s porridge, the Nexar Beam is just right.
The camera is compact, not much bigger than a matchbox, so it’s designed to hide behind your car’s rear-view mirror, out of sight. It records 1080p full high-definition footage that’s GPS tagged, recording the location for the benefit of police and insurers. The field of view is 135° (measured diagonally).
Unusually for an affordable dashcam, it comes with “free unlimited cloud storage”. Like smart cameras and doorbells, it’s common to pay extra for a subscription to such a service.
I tested the 32GB version, which gives a four-hour backup, but it’s also available in 64GB, 128GB and 256GB versions, with backups of 9, 18 and 36 hours respectively. The storage is just a microSD card, so you could upgrade it at a later date.
It comes with a suction-cup mount to attach it to the car windscreen, which says that it incorporates the GPS element. It also comes with a Mini USB cable and a double USB adaptor for the lighter socket, plus installation tools. The cable is long at 3.5m and the instructions explain how to tuck it largely out of sight.
The long Mini USB cable plugs into the GPS suction-cup mount and then a small Mini USB cable goes from that into the dashcam. That means that, if you want to remove the dashcam, you need to either remove the whole thing or unplug the awkwardly positioned little USB cable as well as slide it off the mount. In reality, you’re going to leave it there permanently. That’s why it comes with two window stickers declaring 'Recording. This vehicle is protected by a Nexar dash cam.'
There’s good reason to leave it in place. If the camera's motion sensor is triggered while parked, it records a 10-20 second clip. Footage of the incident can be downloaded to your phone as soon as it connects to the dashcam, so you can see it immediately and find out what happened.
The video on the memory card is overwritten when you run out of space; so if you are in a collision, it’s worth checking that you have the video file – from the card or the cloud – straight away. This is also why a bigger memory card could be more convenient.
The Beam’s “free unlimited cloud storage” is explained as “for manual events and automatically detected hard brakes or collisions”. This means that an unlimited number of video clips are uploaded to the cloud via your phone, but only the clips that the device flags up (or you flag up) as eventful, not entire rides.
The camera battery is rechargeable but it’s designed for when you’re parked - it can record up to an hour of footage (that's a lot of short clips). The idea is that it’s plugged in and charging all the time when driving. The cable hangs down but it’s supplied with a tool for tucking the cable into the car lining, although you’re bound to still have some exposed wire at both ends. It’s a good idea as this is a gadget you want to leave in place and forget about until you have an accident.
It’s compatible with iPhone 7 and above (including Siri compatibility) and with “top Android phones”, the list of which is quite restrictive. That said, it worked with my RealMe 7 5G, which was not on the list. I guess they’re just managing expectations.
When I drove the car with my phone present, the Nexar recorded a video of the full drive, complete with audio, a graph of the car’s speed (in km/h) and a GPS route map. It’s all time-stamped too, so ideal for insurance or police reports – well, so long as you’re not recording a video of yourself speeding. Mine recorded my perfectly lawful driving (no, really) but it did catch some swearing at a particularly selfish BMW driver. The camera was pointing straight forwards, so it didn’t catch my gestures, but I had the optional audio recording on.
I paired the device with my phone no problem but, when my partner drove the car without me, it recorded video without the benefit of a phone connection. That means no GPS location data and no speed graph either: simply video and sound.
To save a clip from when she had driven, I found I had to sit in the car and turn on the ignition, then watch the video on my phone to pick out clips. It’s nowhere near as convenient as when videos are automatically on your phone (edit at your leisure, no need to be in the car) with the GPS map and speed graphs there to assist. If you’re in a prang, you’ll remember where it happened. This didn’t make sense as the Beam supposedly has GPS satellite positioning built into the windscreen suction mount, rather than relying on the phone to track your location.
We approached Nexar with this issue and they clarified that the Beam can be paired with two phones, recording the full footage to whichever phone is in the car. It is the phone app that records stuff like location data, but it does use the GPS in the windscreen mount, saving phone battery life.
The Nexar doesn’t offer warning notifications (for example, when you’re too close to the car in front or drift lanes) however, it does automatically create clips when it detects driving incidents such as hard brakes, sharp cornering, harsh acceleration and car impacts.
The video footage itself was very impressive. It’s clear and not too fisheye in nature. You can see most of what you see through the windscreen. It even picks up sound well. I have no doubt that the video would be very helpful evidence if you were in a collision at the front of the car. It would be very little use if you’re rear-ended, of course – it would only document your speed and location, not what happened. There are dashcams on the market that let you add an optional rear-window camera for that eventuality.
Garmin Dash Cam 57
Similar specs but this adds driver awareness features like front collision and lane departure warnings. It even says “go” if you don’t realise the traffic’s moving. If it has Wi-Fi (for example, parked on a drive) it can alert you if an incident is detected.
This pricey, feature-packed, 4K, image-stabilised dashcam adds SOS messages and what3words, even when there’s no data signal, so you can give emergency services your precise location anywhere. It works with Alexa and you can add a rear-window camera module.
Free dashcam apps
Your smartphone has camera, GPS and accelerometer built in, so why not use it as a dashcam? The main reason is that the ideal dashcam position is central, so you can’t see your phone screen to navigate. Also you wouldn’t leave your phone in the car as a parking cam. But apps like Drive Recorder and RoadAR are a good way to try before you buy.
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