Trying to decide on the best dash cam for you can be a difficult process. Not only are there many different types — from small cameras to front and rear options and even dash cam mirrors — there’s an amazing array of features too, including different sensors, parking modes, and video resolutions.
It’s no surprise, then, that many buyers are looking to keep things simple with a small dash cam. These are ideal if you don’t have much space to play with as they also tend to be cheaper than their full-fledged counterparts. But what are the disadvantages of these small cameras? And what is the best out there? We have put together this guide to help you decide.
What is a mini dash cam?
The mini dash cam is a smaller, more compact version of the standard in-car cam, which takes up less space and is usually less intrusive as well. Some of the more traditional dash cam models can be bulky and not always attractive to drivers with confined cockpits to handle. A mini dash cam is just the opposite.
While any dash cam should be installed so it doesn’t interfere with your driving or obstruct your view through the windshield, the benefit of a small dash cam means there’s nothing to worry about.
Whichever model you choose, they mount in the same way as larger dash cams, usually using a self-adhesive pad or suction mount. The smaller dimensions of a small dash cam mean they can also hide neatly behind a rear-view mirror.
But there are of course some downsides. From the lack of bundled accessories and features to the lack of a screen, you’ll want to evaluate whether that extra convenience is worth the limitations of the small dashboard cameras.
What are the disadvantages of mini dash cameras?
Most mini dashboards have enough features and power for the average driver, but their smaller designs bring some compromises. In general, there are three main drawbacks that you should be aware of.
First, there is a common lack of back screen. Some models have one (like the Garmin Dash Cam 67W below), but it will probably be a little small. Fortunately, this is not a problem for most drivers, as they will not need to review the footage on the device itself. Alternatively, there is always a companion app that offers the ability to view the footage on your smartphone, as well as a dash cam setup. This will likely be a more enjoyable experience in the long run.
Their video quality is often the biggest limitation of mini dashboard cameras. Because their lenses have been stuffed into a smaller space, you may experience some degree of fish-eye distortion from the resulting video. If the camera resolution is less impressive (another common limitation for small dash cameras), this can combine with distortion to make it difficult to spot details in your videos.
However, HDR (High Dynamic Range) mode can help compensate for the harsh sunlight in the day, and a cheap polarizing filter can also be purchased to reduce glare. Both are possible on smaller dashboard cameras and this can have a huge impact on image quality such as resolution and lens quality. Ultimately, the better the quality of the footage, the higher the chance of it being used in an insurance claim.
The third drawback is usually the lack of features, compared to larger dash cams. For example, our best option – the Garmin Mini Dash Cam Mini 2 – doesn’t come with GPS (so it can’t track your car’s speed), a hardwire kit or even a microSD card. However, you can sync it with a Garmin dash cam that has GPS, via the Drive app.
Not all mini dash cams lack GPS either – a good mid-range option is the Garmin Dash Cam 67W, which has 1440p video recording, a wide 180-degree field of view, GPS and voice control, In addition to a 2-inch LCD screen. There are even lane departure warnings and forward collision warnings.
So, if you’re looking for standard sized dash cams and think they’re too big and bulky, looking for a small dash cam might be the way forward. This is especially the case if you drive a sports car with a small windshield. As we found out, there are some compromises to be made in terms of performance and features, but if space savings are the main consideration, the small dashboard camera makes perfect sense.
What are the best mini dash cams?
If you need a basic dash cam that does just the essentials and hides away behind your rearview mirror, the Dash Cam Mini 2 is currently our top pick.
It is small, with dimensions of only 3.1 x 2.9 x 5.3 cm, and it weighs only 35 grams. But it still comes with most of the features and functionality you’ll need to keep an eye on the road ahead. There is a field of view of 140 degrees and the video quality, with a resolution of only 1080p, is very good for its size.
Voice control also comes as part of the package, which is a nice bonus, despite the lack of GPS. If you want your Dash Cam Mini 2 to record videos while you’re parked in the car, it’s also worth noting that you’ll need a 12V always-on cable or a Garmin fixed power cable (which isn’t included). But the Garmin Drive app, where f is very polished, and that’s an important part of the mini dash cams experience.
Another slim camera worth investigating is the Thinkware F800 Pro. It’s very pricey, but it comes packed with smart features — and it offers a front and rear package, which means you’ll be covered in the event of a shunt from behind.
The feature set is robust, with a low-stick profile design, GPS tracking and high-quality HD footage. Wi-Fi connectivity means you can connect your smartphone to the unit, plus take advantage of the night mode for more efficient recording after dark.
You’ll need to connect the camera to your car if you want to take advantage of the nifty time-lapse mode, which keeps a close eye on your car when you’re not in it all night.
It’s not quite as compact as Garmin’s Dash Cam Mini 2, but the 67W is still the size of a matchbox — and offers some extra features for that high price.
The main difference from other Garmin compact cameras is its wide 180-degree field of view (hence the “W” in its name). This does cause some fish-eye distortion, but is useful if you have a larger car or want a dash cam that can see the road around the front of your vehicle.
The 1440p sensor shots are crisp, while the HDR (High Dynamic Range) function ensures that high-quality shots remain even in challenging lighting conditions. This extra resolution on the Dash Cam Mini 2 can also be useful for punching in footage to pick out details like license plates.
Some features, such as the ability to remotely check in your parked car, require the 67W to be wiring in your car and connected to Wi-Fi. But if you want high-quality shots with a wide viewing angle, this is a great little camera.
The Thinkware Q800 Pro is a powerful and compact front and rear dash cam package. This device has 2K 1440p imaging quality, GPS speed and location recording as well as Super Night Vision feature.
There is a Sony Exmore R Starvis image sensor so the quality is excellent. Expandable up to 128GB, there’s a 32GB microSD card included as well as access to Thinkware Cloud for quick and easy backup.
While Thinkware doesn’t always win everyone over with its complementary app, once you’ve got your hands on it the image quality and feature set are impressive. You’ll get the best of this by plugging it in firmly, too.