Trying to choose the best dash cam for you can be a tricky process. Not only are there several different types – from mini dash cams to front and rear options and even dash cam mirrors – there is also a surprising range of features, including sensors, parking modes and different video resolutions.
It’s no surprise, then, that many buyers are looking to keep things simple with a mini dash cam. These are ideal if you don’t have a lot of space to play with and they also tend to be cheaper than their fuller counterparts. But what are the pros and cons of these smaller dash cams? And what are the best ones out there? We’ve 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 a standard dash cam that takes up less space and is also generally less obtrusive. Some of the more conventional dash cam designs can be rather bulky and aren’t always so appealing to drivers with confined cockpits to contend with. A mini dash cam is just the opposite.
While any dash cam should be mounted in a way that it doesn’t interfere with your driving or obstruct your view through the windshield, the benefit of a mini dash cam means there’s even less to worry about.
Whichever model you choose, they mount the same way as larger dash cams, usually using a self-adhesive pad or suction cup mount. The small dimensions of a mini dash cam mean that they can also hide neatly behind your rear view mirror.
But there are of course some disadvantages. From the lack of bundled accessories and features to the lack of a screen, you’ll have to consider whether that added convenience is worth the limitations of mini dash cams.
What are the disadvantages of mini dash cams?
Most mini dash cams have enough features and power for the average driver, but their smaller designs come with some compromises. Overall, there are three main drawbacks to be aware of.
First, there’s the common lack of a rear screen. Some models have one (like the Garmin Dash Cam 67W below), but chances are it’s a bit small. Fortunately, this isn’t a problem for most drivers, as they won’t need to review the footage on the device itself. Instead, there’s invariably a companion app that offers the ability to view footage on your smartphone, as well as set up the dash cam. This will likely prove to be a more pleasant experience in the long run.
A bigger limitation of mini dash cams is often their video quality. Because their lenses have been installed in a smaller space, you may experience some degree of fisheye distortion from the resulting video footage. If the camera has a less impressive resolution (another common limitation of small dash cams), this could combine with distortion to make it harder to distinguish details in your videos.
That said, an HDR (High Dynamic Range) mode can help compensate for daytime sunlight, as can buying a cheap polarizing filter to eliminate glare. Both are possible on mini dash cams and this can have as big of an impact on image quality as resolution and lens quality. Ultimately, the better the quality of the images, the more likely you are to be able to use them in an insurance claim.
A third downside is usually a lack of features, compared to larger dash cams. For example, our top pick – the Garmin Mini Dash Cam Mini 2 – doesn’t come with GPS (so it can’t track your vehicle’s speed), a hardwire kit, or even a microSD card. That said, you can sync it with a Garmin dash cam that has GPS, through the Drive app.
Not all mini dash cams lack GPS either – a good in-between option is the Garmin Dash Cam 67W, which has 1440p video recording, a wide 180-degree field of view, a GPS and a voice command, as well as a 2-inch LCD screen. There are even lane departure and forward collision warnings.
So, if you’ve looked at standard sized dash cams and think they’re too big and bulky, looking for a mini dash cam might be the way to go. This is especially the case if you drive a sports car with a small windshield area. As we’ve discovered, there are a few compromises to be made in terms of performance and functionality, but if saving space is the primary consideration, then a mini dash cam makes perfect sense.
What are the best mini dashcams?
If you need a basic dash cam that does just the basics and hides discreetly behind your rearview mirror, then the Dash Cam Mini 2 is our current top pick.
It is small, with dimensions of only 3.1 x 2.9 x 5.3 cm and weighs only 35 g. But it still comes with most of the features and functionality you’ll need to watch for the road ahead. There’s a 140 degree field of view and the video quality, although only 1080p resolution, is very good for its size.
Voice control is also part of the package, which is a nice bonus, although GPS is missing. If you want the Dash Cam Mini 2 to record video while you’re parked, it’s also worth noting that you’ll need an always-on 12V cable or Garmin’s constant power cable (which isn’t included). But the Garmin Drive app, where is very polished, and it’s an important part of the mini dash cam experience.
Another slim dash cam worth considering is the Thinkware F800 Pro. It’s quite pricey, but it’s packed with smart features – and also offers a front and rear set, meaning you’ll be covered in the event of a shunt from behind.
The feature set is solid, with a low profile design, GPS tracking and good quality HD footage. Wi-Fi connectivity means you can hook up your smartphone to the device and you get a night mode for more efficient recording after dark.
You’ll need to hardwire the camera into your car if you want to use its neat Time Lapse mode, which keeps a close eye on your car when you’re not in it overnight.
It’s not as compact as Garmin’s Dash Cam Mini 2, but the 67W is still only the size of a matchbox – and it offers a few extra features for that higher price.
The main difference to Garmin’s other compact dash cams is the wide 180 degree field of view (hence the ‘W’ in its name). This does cause some fish-eye distortion, but it’s useful if you have a larger car or want a dash cam that can see all around the front of your vehicle.
1440p footage from the sensor is crisp, while a High Dynamic Range (HDR) feature ensures footage remains high quality even in difficult lighting conditions. This additional resolution compared to the Dash Cam Mini 2 can also be useful for inserting images to highlight details such as license plates.
Some features, like the ability to remotely check your parked car, require the 67W to be hard-wired into your car and connected to a Wi-Fi network. But if you want high-quality images with a wide viewing angle, this is a great mini dash cam.
The Thinkware Q800 Pro is a powerful and compact set of front and rear dash cams. This one offers 2K 1440p shooting quality, GPS speed and location recording, and Super Night Vision.
There’s 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 the Thinkware Cloud for quick and easy backups.
Although Thinkware doesn’t always win everyone over with its extra app, once you’re up and running the image quality and feature set are impressive. You will get the most out of it by connecting it as well.