Testing & Results
I used the PAPAGO! P3 Dashcam for several days in three different cars. The first problem I ran into was mounting: this is very large for a dash camera, and would not fit behind the rear view mirror on any of these cars, where you’d normally mount a Dashcam. But one of the main features of the P3 is its screen, so you’ll want to be able to see that. Without the option dashboard mounting system, your best bet is probably to mount it near the center of the windshield, below the rear view mirror. Of course this blocks part of your view, but you do want to be able to see the unit’s screen. And keep in mind that the lower you mount the camera, the harder it is to adjust it to see the road, rather than filling the video with your car’s hood.
Once you start your car, the P3 takes about 22 seconds to boot and start recording video; you’ll know it’s ready when the status light on the front turns red. By default the P3’s screen will display the live video the camera’s recording, but by pressing the Mode button, you can switch between displaying live video, the time and date, your speed, or a GPS map. Here’s how the map looks:
The map data included with the P3 was spotty. In my area, a major highway (Route 395) that has been here for 20 years is not on the map (the display showed a blank gray screen, and there was no road information above “Nevada, United States”, but a roundabout built in the last two years is. You’ll generally see the name of the road you’re on (although in some cases I saw the road name blink out for a period of time, then come back on, all while driving on the same road). Keep in mind that the GPS satellites only provide co-ordinate data, and the P3 records this correctly; the problem is mapping this data to a particular road.
The P3 offers a number of safety features that set it apart from other Dashcams. Some of these features like the LDWS and FCWS obviously depend on image processing performed on the camera’s input. If you’ve gone through the calibration procedure, the camera will overlay a horizontal yellow line on top of the video display where it thinks the road horizon is, and diagonal yellow lines will overlay the lane markings on either side of your car.
If you’ve set the P3 to display live video, you won’t get any warning messages on the screen, only warning tones (these tones are not described in the manual, but the LDWS emits a single tone, while the FCWS makes two “car honk” noises). If you’ve set the P3 to display Time and Date, Speed, or the GPS map, then when a warning occurs, the entire screen will display a warning for a few seconds right after the tone sounds.
It’s impressive that PAPAGO! is trying to perform real-time video image analysis with its tiny mobile CPU, but the results are not particularly good. As you drive, you can see the yellow indicator lines flickering on the display as the camera struggles to identify the horizon and lane markings. Even on a clear sunny day, on a road with clear lane markings, the PAPAGO! P3 would only warn me if I drifted out of my lane about half the time. And it would sometimes barrage me with “COLLISION!” warnings even when there was no car within a quarter mile of me.
There were a few times when I was at a stop light when a different tone sounded, but it happened so infrequently that I couldn’t determine what condition set the tone off.
If the unit is not calibrated perfectly, the results are much worse. All in all, these features are probably best left turned off.
The video the P3 shoots is full HD (1920×1080 pixels, 30fps), and the quality of the video is superb, with excellent adaptation to lighting and razor-sharp details.
With all of the “info overlay” options turned on, you’ll see your location, direction of travel, speed, and the road you’re traveling on. Note the GPS co-ordinate data on the bottom line: this is always correct, although problems with the map database may mean that no street name, or the wrong street name, is displayed on the line above.
…as well as the time and date:
Even videos taken at night were surprisingly good, with less noise than I’d have expected and clearly visible details.
Videos are broken into 5-minute segments, and there seems to be less than a second lost when transitioning from one segment to another. The standard H.264 files play readily on Macs or PCs with no extra software required, or you can connect an HDMI cable and output the video to a TV or monitor.
The P3 has other features, some of which seem a little odd. For example, you can use it as a still camera:
…that takes several shots at once with a single button press. These images are saved as standard JPEG files, but since the P3 has no internal battery and can thus only be used with it’s plugged into power, I can’t imagine when you’d actually use this feature.
I would guess that enabling these features would automatically write-protect or otherwise save the current video files when a collision was detected. I say “guess” because…yep…these settings aren’t mentioned in the manual.
So the P3 is an excellent dash camera, at least. In the next section I’ll present my final thoughts and conclusions on this device.