There are a lot of terrible drivers out there, just as there are tons of dangerous drivers doing all sorts of dangerous things. You don't have to look any further than YouTube to find literally thousands of dashcam videos capturing all of this mayhem and madness. If you're thinking about getting a dashcam of your own, the PAPAGO! P3 Driving Recorder is one that comes packed full of features that even go above and beyond its already impressive 1080p full HD video recording capabilities.
Features and Box Contents
Let's start with a few of the basic features. As mentioned, the PAPAGO! P3 records full HD 1080p video at 30 frames per second, automatically breaking up those video files into five-minute clips. The videos are saved onto an SD card (a 16GB card is included) in .TS format, which is the same format you'd find if you were to rip a DVD.
This can be a little cumbersome for video editing, as some software suites won't accept it, but the video quality is there. When your SD card is full, the P3 will automatically start to overwrite the oldest files. The actual image sensor is a 3.5MP shooter and it offers a 130-degree wide viewing angle. Also included in the box are the windshield suction cup mount, 12V power cable, and quick start guide.
The PAPAGO! P3 comes with additional features, like integrated GPS with mapping capabilities, a lane departure warning system, a front collision warning system, a driver fatigue alarm, an automatic dim lighting mode, and a speed camera warning system.
Design and Layout
The PAPAGO! P3 driving recorder certainly looks larger than some of the more compact dashcams that you might find on the market. It's shaped almost like an old CRT monitor or TV with the camera pointing out the rear and the 2.4-inch LCD pointed in the front. This added bulk doesn't exactly lend itself to the most discrete of installations and you'll likely find yourself placing the suction cup mount just below your rearview mirror.
The layout and controls are straightforward. The SD card slot is along the left side (when you are facing the display) and when you move the slider to keep the SD card in place, that slider also acts as the power switch. If you leave it in the "on" position and you connect the power adapter to your 12V outlet, the dashcam will come on automatically when you start your car.
On the other side, you'll find the mini-USB power port and the HDMI output. If you leave your dashcam in your car, you'll find that you very rarely use the HDMI output, if ever. And below the screen, you'll find four buttons for navigating through the menus. I would have preferred a touchscreen interface, but the buttons are equally effective. That said, I did find that I would accidentally nudge (and thus misalign) the dashcam when I pushed the buttons.
PAPAGO! P3 Still Photo Samples
In addition to recording video, the P3 also has the capability to capture still photos instead. You access this feature by choosing "camera" from the active home screen. This stops the video recording and then you press the button to capture a still image. By default, it has a three-frame burst mode.
As you can see in the sample above, the photo does appear more on the under-saturated side, but the details are reasonably crisp and easily legible. This was under overcast conditions on a somewhat rainy day.
When in a dimmer situation, as is the case with an underground parking garage, the details do become a little fuzzier and the image as a whole is still low in saturation, but you can still see just fine.
However, when visibility is poor, the dashcam can hardly work miracles. The image above was taken on a particularly foggy night. You can't really see much, but the naked eye didn't exactly fare all that well either. It is important to keep your windshield as clean as possible, both inside and out, and to have suitable headlights in place.
Full HD 1080p Video Samples
Naturally, the most important feature of any dashcam is its video quality. Embedded below are two samples that I shot around the Vancouver area. As you can see in the first sample, the wide angle lens really does capture a lot of the road at a time. You'll also notice that I activated the automatic time overlay feature.
This second sample was taken at night and, in addition to the date/time stamp, I also implemented the GPS coordinates overlay. There is also an option to overlay a map, though I did not have Canadian maps loaded.
It is clearly more difficult to make out license plates and other finer details, but the overall night performance is commendable.
Beyond Video Recording
Where the PAPAGO! P3 goes even further is with some of its additional features. As mentioned earlier, it has a lane departure warning system (LDWS) that kicks in after you've reached a certain speed. You do need to calibrate it, so that it suitably knows where the lane markings should be and where the horizon is, but it works automatically from there. This is still a feature that we typically only see in higher-end vehicles, but it's included here for the rest of us. Of course, it's up to you whether you think this is actually useful.
There is also a forward collision warning system (FCWS) that will beep when it detects an imminent collision. I found it was far too sensitive at the higher setting, as it would think I'm about to crash into the raindrop on my windshield, but the lower sensitivity setting works quite well.
MEGATechie Dashcam Domination or MEGATechie Clunky Camcorder?
The PAPAGO! P3 dashcam brings a lot to the table (or to the windscreen, as the case may be). The full HD 1080p video is of good quality and is even quite usable under less than ideal lighting conditions. I also like how you can hit the "backup" button at any time to save a video clip, so it won't be overwritten by newer footage, but this could be improved. If your SD card is already full, this feature no longer works. It would make more sense if the camera could partition a portion of the capacity strictly for these emergency recordings.
Similarly, there are some other dashcams on the market that provide you with the option of recording even when the car is off. They might use motion sensors or G-sensors (the latter of which is equipped here) to activate the recording. This feature does not appear to be present in the P3. I do appreciate the value-added features of the GPS coordinates, lane departure warning system and forward collision warning system, though.
Given these "bonus" features, the PAPAGO! P3 is a solid product that could come in very handy for just about anyone. There are quirks and there is room for improvement, but the P3 -- which sells for around $220 online -- offers some great peace of mind. I have a feeling the dashcam market in North America is on the cusp of becoming very popular and very competitive.