Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The Beltronics (BEL) GT-7 slots into the lineup above the Pro 500 and gives BEL a model comparable to the Escort Passport Max2 and Max.

BEL and Escort are divisions of the same firm and under the skin, the three models are nearly identical. The Escort Max2 has one unique feature, Bluetooth, merely a way of linking a detector with the Escort Live app on a cellphone. The other two handle this using a special power cord with internal Bluetooth. That aside, they're all the same radar detector.

The GT-7 case is slightly wider than that of the Max/Max2 and rectangular, rather than tapered in front. Instead of the Escorts' swath of fake aluminum trim in front and along the sides, the BEL's is copper in color.

The BEL is controlled by six top-mounted buttons. Like the Escort Max twins', these are shiny and cast annoying reflections into the windshield on sunny days. Backlighting makes it easier to find them at night.

Amber is the default color of the OLED display. Optional: red, blue or green. Using its GPS, the GT-7 displays road speed and when linked to Escort Live, the posted limit is shown as well.

This information shares the display with operating mode and during alerts, with band identification and signal strength. That's a lot of information to be shoehorned into the tiny screen, and the low contrast offered by OLEDs means that sunlight—and especially sunglasses—can make it all disappear.

This makes the GT-7 and both Escorts best suited to users who prefer the plug-and-play operation of its factory-default Novice mode. Here the audible alerts are simple chimes, for instance, instead of the stentorian male voice that sounds like he's itching for a fight. Cruise Alert means that at speeds below 20 mph the alert is a simple red Slow Down message. There's also an Overspeed alert that nags like a back-seat mother in law whenever 70 mph is exceeded.

Cruise alert and the overspeed nanny can be adjusted or shut off, but only by entering Advanced mode and tweaking the user settings. Those unwilling to devote the effort can expect to remain perpetually annoyed.

Once inside the user preferences menu, the more ambitious drivers can opt for items like Meter mode. During alerts this changes the display from the default bar graph to either Spec or Expert. Spec shows a radar signal's numeric frequency, useful for anyone who understands the implications of, say, a 33.940 GHz alert. For everyone else, Expert mode may prove more useful. This shows multiple simultaneous radar signals and the relative strength of each.

With its GPS, this detector knows how fast the vehicle is going, enabling the use of a strategy to reduce false alarms. Speed-variable sensitivity dials back sensitivity at low speeds where police radar poses little threat. As speed rises, sensitivity increases proportionately.

Two bigger GPS benefits are its ability to automatically lock out nuisance signals causing false alarms and warn of red light and speed cameras.

beltronics gt-7 radar detector test scores
We tested the GT-7 at our desert test site. Compared to the BEL and Escort models bracketing it in price (BEL Pro 500: $399 MSRP, Escort Max2: $599, Escort 9500ix: $449) the GT-7 displayed similar radar range.

Not surprisingly, its performance was almost identical to its electronic twin's, the Escort Passport Max2. Here it trailed the Max2 by a few feet feet on X and K bands while both detected Ka band from nearly the same distance.

The Beltronics GT-7 enjoys an advantage over the Max2: it's priced a hundred bucks lower. And while the BEL Pro 500 is lower still, it lacks the Autolearn feature that automatically locks out nuisance signals. To do this in the Pro 500 the driver has to do some button-pressing, a deal-breaker for many.

We found the GT-7 to be blessed with excellent performance, good resistance to false alarms and industry-leading protection against red light and speed cameras. Extra features give it an edge over its Pro 500 sibling—and a lower price makes it an attractive alternative to its pricier Escort counterparts

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Escort Passport X70 Review

The Escort Passport X70 ($299 MSRP) fills the slot vacated by the discontinued 8500 X50, the model whose 8500 forebear I christened "world's best" when I reviewed it for Automobile magazine. That early 8500 didn't have the world's longest range—a couple of pricier contenders from BEL and Valentine shared that claim—but it raised the bar a notch in sophistication and user-friendliness.

Although the X70 uses the same corporate M4 platform and has a black housing like its predecessor, the cosmetic similarities end there. This new entry is larger in all three dimensions, for instance. And instead of the X50's elevated, easily-located switches, the X70's four top-mounted buttons are recessed into the case, making them elusive and slow to operate. The power button is buried so deep that a Q-Tip might be used to operate it.

Aside from the X70's extra bulk, most noticeable is its different type of display. While the X50 used red LEDs, the X70 employs OLEDs. Rather than lighting up hundreds of LEDs to create alphanumeric characters, an OLED display creates a miniature flat screen monitor that can be populated with colorful images. Alternate foreground colors are possible. Learn more about OLED displays...

OLED technology has some advantages over LED, but it doesn't fare as well in harsh lighting conditions. On sunny days we often found the X70's display too washed-out to be legible. Wearing sunglasses makes it disappear. In contrast, the LED displays of other Escort models are easy to read, even with brightness dialed back or while wearing shades.

This won't be a deal-breaker for those who rely on the unit's excellent voice alerts as their primary source of information. The low-contrast display only becomes an issue when using some of the advanced user preferences.

In Spec mode mode, for instance, a radar frequency is digitally displayed, allowing knowledgeable drivers to tell at a glance whether a Ka-band alert can safely be ignored. But to be useful, the information has to be legible, not always the case on sunny days.

Another user preference aimed at the enthusiast driver, one missing on the X50: Ka-band segmentation. By chopping this extra-wide band into segments, drivers with encyclopedic knowledge of the radar frequencies being used locally can shut off unused Ka-band segments. This tells the detector to ignore some signals and in theory, reduces false alarms.

The X70 offers four Ka-band segments rather than the eight found on the upscale Escort Passport 9500ci and RedlineXR. Unfortunately, with only the four segments available, they're too wide to be useful; shutting off any of them makes it likely that legitimate radar threats will be missed.

The Escort demonstrated excellent radar performance at our Hill/Curve test site. On X band it trailed the front-running Max 360 by a negligible seven percent. The gap widened to 25 percent on K band but on the all-important Ka band, I was surprised when the X70 alerted a few feet before the $649 Escort Max 360.

The X70 offers the same great performance and extensive list of features as the departed 8500 X50. Enthusiast drivers willing to spend more will likely prefer the Redline, but the budget-minded will probably find the Passport X70 a worthy X50 successor.