Dash cam

Aukey dash cam teardown redux: This time the DRA5 has a look

In January of last year I mentioned that the previous July I had purchased and then non-destructively demolished Aukey DRA1 Dash Cam. What I did not tell you at that time was that at the beginning of the same month, I had too bought Aukey DRA5 Dash Cam, with the same aspiration to disassembly in mind. Both products were purchased on sale on Amazon; $29.88 plus tax for the DRA1, compared to $26.17 plus tax for the DRA5 (ironically no product can be found on Amazon anymore; Aukey was one of several China-based merchants purged in mid-2021). And, while the DRA5’s smaller dimensions, translating into a smaller LCD screen, are likely the reason for its slightly lower price, that’s not necessarily a downgrade at the end of the day.

Potentially quite the contrary, in fact; the installed presence of the smaller DRA5 on the dashboard or windshield is less obvious to others than with the larger DRA1, and the DRA5 is also easier to rotate in order to capture images of what is happening passes not only in front of you but also behind and to the side of your vehicle (if, for example, you are stopped for a traffic stop and want to record the resulting interaction with the police). More, independent opinions claim that the DRA5 offers superior image quality over its sibling DRA1; More on that in a minute:

For comparison, here is the previous version of the same review on the DRA1:

I’ll start with some “stock” images of the DRA5:

The accessory suite is confusing. Reviews I had read had indicated that the DRA5 only includes permanent adhesive-based mounts, compared to the DRA1 which also included a temporary suction cup mount; DRA5 reviewers also pointed to the omission of the vacuum option. And indeed, as you will soon see, this was the case (adhesive only) with the DRA5 which I purchased in early July 2020. But the previous product and the following accessory “stock” photos show only a suction cup mount, as is also only listed in the User’s Guide:

For comparison purposes, before diving into the DRA5, here is the previous “stock” photo for the DRA1 from my January 2021 teardown article:

On the other hand, here is the latest version, complete with suction cup support, right away Aukey’s website:

And here is the original suite of accessories, showing temporary and permanent mounting options, as well as the dimensions of the DRA1 (presumably unchanged):

compared to the latest iteration of Anker’s website accessory suite and User’s Guide:

Methinks Anker has tweaked its included mounting options for both products over time, whether for cost-saving reasons, in response to reviewer and customer feedback, or both.

Ahead. Here is a table containing snippets of specifications from the user manuals of the two products. Note that, as my previous review mentioned, there is some dispute as to whether the DRA1 uses (as documented) the Galaxy Core GC2053 2 Mpixel and/or low-end image sensor Galaxy Core GC2023; the DRA5 apparently relies exclusively on the high-end GC2053:

I have already mentioned the image sensor model discrepancy between various Aukey documents (and their versions), which could at least partially explain the image quality discrepancy between the DRA1 and DRA5 noted in the previous video. Another difference I found concerns the opening of the DRA1; the user manual claims it’s f/2.4, while the product page specifies it at f1.8; the aperture of the DRA5 is systematically documented at f/2. If the old DRA1 specification is correct, this could further explain the discrepancy in image quality between the two dash cams; while f/2 would lead to a narrower depth of field than f/2.4, it would conversely result in slightly better light gathering (exposure) capabilities, particularly important when using the dash cam after dark. That said, both dash cams apparently use the same system processor (including image), the Novatek NT96658. Namely, the image-related specs for both dash cams are identical – resolutions, frame rates and formats – along with the recording modes and so on.

Overview… uh… more… let’s dive inside the DRA5, shall we? I’ll start with a shrink wrap on the side of the box to show a label that’s no longer present once the wrapper is discarded:

Now…with this clear plastic lid!

Opening the lid, who wants to bet it’s the dash cam inside the white protective bag?

Beneath it and the black polystyrene it’s also nestled in is the assortment of documentation and accessories, per previous reviews, no suction cup in my particular case:

Here’s a close-up of the “cigarette lighter” power adapter, revealing its specs:

And now back to that mysterious white bag; hey, i was right!

Time for some pre-dissection shots; front, with the microphone above the lens and the speakers below (at least according to the user manual; wait for evidence to the contrary) and as usual accompanied by a 0.75″ US penny (19.1mm) diameter for size comparison purposes:

Aside: Again, Aukey went with a geriatric mini-USB power input. And regarding the GPS input, it is a standard 3.5mm 4-pin female connector. You mate it to a Aukey GM-32 (or third party equivalent) external GPS antenna plus receiver, which will cost you about $20 extra:

The other side is the microSD memory card slot, which supports capacities up to 128GB (Class 10 or higher write speeds recommended):

Two bottom views, showing even more passive ventilation slots, as well as dubious certification claims:

A look at the bracket locking clip:

And last, but not least, this 1.5-inch, non-touchscreen LCD screen, therefore accompanied by control buttons below (with a user feedback LCD screen in the upper right corner):

Here’s a refreshing change of pace; getting inside only required my fingernails to pierce the seam between the two halves of the case:

Open Sesame:

Disconnecting the flex cable between the PCB and the display at the end of the PCB allows an unobstructed view of the rear of the LCD screen:

with our first look at the PCB (stack, as it turned out; keep reading):

The previously mentioned SoC system, as well as the switches associated with the four control buttons seen previously, are particularly noteworthy. Three of the four screws that need to be removed to get the PCB out of the half-case are also obvious to the naked eye. And who wants to bet there’s a fourth screw under that piece of black foam in the upper right corner?

I win again!

Unsurprisingly, especially in retrospect (but again, which isn’t), given the much smaller size of the DRA5 than the DRA1 precursor, Aukey this time around opted for a two-PCB stack instead to be able to squeeze everything on a single printed circuit. The process requires of them flex cables this time around, one (which we’ve seen before) between the processor board and the LCD, and the new one revealed between the processor board and the image sensor board. Detaching another connector…

The other side of the processor board can now be seen without obscuration:

On the left are the GPS and power input connectors. On the right is the microSD slot. The mic connects to the PCB at the bottom left, with the speaker connections at the top right; hold that thought. At the top is the other end of the flex cable connecting this PCB to the image sensor board. And between the flex cable connector and the speaker solder points…is that a battery I see? Like that of DRA1? Even though the two dash cams were supposed to be based on supercapacitors? Hmm…

Mismatch concluded (or not?), let’s look at what was previously attached to the other end of this flexible cable:

Remember how I mentioned earlier that the user manual said the microphone was above the lens? Sorry, Anker, it’s the speaker; the microphone is in the lower right corner. Again, you’ve made the same transducer change with the DRA1, so at least you’re consistently wrong. Sigh… gap snark now concluded.

Here is a close-up of the PCB, clarifying the way forward:

If you look closely, you might be able to tell that the heads of the center two screws are slightly larger than either the top right corner or the bottom corner ones. Loosening them enough releases their grip on the lens assembly:

And removing the other three screws pulls the board out of the case and takes a look at the image sensor itself:

One of the lens mount screws remains attached to the PCB, as you can see. And look at this oddly shaped bubble of what is supposed to be the translucent environmental barrier adhesive (moisture, dust, etc.) at the base-lens-PCB junction:

Once the printed circuit has been removed, the lens can also be extracted from the rear of the case:

Here is the infrared filter at his background :

And two side views, again showing evidence of fine-tuning the assembly line focus, later preserved via a dab of quick-drying solid-set glue:

I will conclude with some unexpected news. As regular readers may already realize, whenever possible I strive to conduct my teardowns in a non-destructive manner so that I can round up my victims and, after confirming continued functionality, give them away to charities. Although I was able to accomplish this with the previous DRA1, I doubted I could replicate my success this time around, given the added multi-PCB and multi-cable complexity of the DRA5. Nevertheless, I persisted. And after carefully reenact Humpty Dumpty:

Woohoo! Excuse me while I finish typing so I can congratulate myself. I’m handing over the keyboard to you, dear readers, for your thoughts in the comments.

Brian Dipert is editor of the Embedded Vision Alliance, senior analyst at BDTI, and editor of InsideDSP, the company’s online newsletter..

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