Sunday, December 13, 2009

Why Cordless Radar Detectors?

Whistler XTR-540 cordless radar detector on Jaguar XK dash
As an auto writer I test-drive and write reviews of dozens of new vehicles each year. Lately I find that particularly on many larger vehicles--but even on the VW New Beetle, for that matter--a driver whose arms are less than simian in length can't reach the lower windshield to install a radar detector.

And I must assume that many designers are unfamiliar with the operation of mobile electronics. Otherwise they'd have provided a power point somewhere in the neighborhood of the upper dash area.

I've seen some of these thoughtfully tucked away in the bottom of the center console, all the way back. Aside from having to leave the console lid ajar to clear the cord, the long reach to the windshield stretches a coiled power cord so tight you can strum a high C on it. Although the new Jaguar XK convertible I'm testing this week does have a sensibly located power point on the console, draping a bulky power cord across the dash interferes with the operation of the air vents, not to mention the big LCD touch screen display.

As with many high-end cars today, all major systems are controlled by the screen, everything from HVAC and sound system to navigation. Even the seat heaters are controlled by touch screen. Much as I'd like to use a GPS-enabled radar detector such as the subject of one of my recent reviews, the Escort Passport 9500ix, it's perhaps not the optimal choice for this vehicle.

This is why I frequently use a cordless radar detector and usually take one along when traveling. There aren't many to choose from, so finding the best battery-powered radar detector takes a lot less research than with corded radar detectors. Aside from some older Korean cordless detectors developed by Attowave, imported by PNI and now being sold online under the Road Hawk label (the Traveller II and the Silver Bullet, in particular), only two players dominate this segment. The $340 Escort Passport Solo S3, introduced recently, occupies the upper end in price. And the new Whistler XTR-540 ($120 typical retail) is the Escort's bookend, sitting at the opposite, more affordable part of the segment.

In appearance the Whistler XTR-540 is very similar to the Whistler XTR-690SE or the Whistler Pro 78SE, two of Whistler's range-topping models.

I've been driving with the Whistler XTR-540 recently and find it a pleasant traveling companion. A wide array of menu options allows a high degree of customization to user preferences. This includes selectable radar band defeat and various display- backlighting and visual alerts, plus a pair of signal filters to reduce false alarms. The Whistler XTR-540 runs on three AA rechargeable Ni-MH (nickel metal-hybride) batteries that are recharged when the power cord is attached.

Another useful menu option is the ability to power-up the unit without having to wait for it to complete an endless self-test sequence. If you're the impatient type, frequently wishing you were packing an RPG-7 rocket launcher for use in dislodging some moron blocking the fast lane, you'll appreciate this.

Among other radar detector reviews, you can find a recent review of the Whistler XTR-540 on where it proved to be surprisingly competent at its mission of ferreting out police radar and lasers. Frequent fliers and others who often find themselves in different cars may want to take a closer look at this portable radar detector. [Read the full Whistler XTR-540 test and review.]