(Pocket-lint) - Dashcams leapt into the consciousness of the average driver in the UK following the spectacular meteor shower in Russia in 2013. The clear footage captured from a dashcam seemed to awaken some public interest in this class of in-car gadget.
Mio has a range of dashcams in the MiVue family - not to be confused with MiVue M, which is an action camera - headed by the top-spec MiVue 388. Mio pitches it as a "personal eye-witness" or "drive recorder", designed to capture video that you could then use as evidence if there's an accident.
Although we (un)fortunately didn't have a car accident to put this camera to the ultimate test, we have been driving around to test out its variety of clever features. Is the MiVue 388 worth investing in?
The camera itself measures 62 x 67 x 31.5mm, with a 2.4-inch display on the rear and a wide-angle fixed focus lens on the front. There's a connection point on the top to which the included suckered arm can attach to connect the Mio to your windscreen.
There's s ball joint on this arm, so you can adjust it to get the correct alignment and allow for the different angles that vehicle windscreens are set at. It's simply a case of attaching the parts and securing the sucker - and we found it stayed in place with no problems.
However, having the arm to the top of the design means it is best suited for attachment at the top of your windscreen, rather than the bottom. This preference is reinforced by the angular Mini-USB plug, which points towards the top of the device when connected.
That means that if you do position it at the bottom of your windscreen near your dash, it will have the cable looping up in the air. Instead, Mio intends you to fix it somewhere at the top and route the cable across and down around the windscreen; clips are supplied to keep the cable out of the way. The cable to run to your 12V socket is 3m long, so we ended up plugging it into a socket in the rear of the car, saving the front one for satnav.
Around the sides of the device is a slot for the mandatory microSD card - up to 32GB is supported, an 8GB one is supplied - and the power button. There is also a mini HDMI output, so you can hook the camera directly to a larger screen for viewing the content you capture.
The main controls are via four buttons - menu, up, down and ok - that run across the bottom of the rear of the device, used to explore the rather expansive menus.
When you're actually driving, those buttons instead correspond to their virtual icons displayed directly above them on the screen. This gives a relevant function, such as to indicate there has been an accident, stop recording and so forth.
There are lots of options to navigate through and select in the menus, as there are a lot of features packed into the MiVue 388. There are five pages of menus where you'll be able to setup how the product behaves as well as manage basic settings like date and time. You'll be able to choose whether it records sound, if it puts a time, date and GPS stamp on your video and how the motion detection works. Once you've cracked it, it's pretty self-explanatory.
The size of the camera means it's fairly unobtrusive once setup on your windscreen. The 120-degree wide-angle lens gives a good view of the area immediately in front of the car and we found that the video it captured was reasonable quality during the day. It can be a little grainy as the captured video is 13Mbps, so although it's "Full HD" by resolution (1920 x 1080), there isn't a huge amount of data captured.
It's also worth remembering that the position means the camera is always looking through the windscreen, so fogging on the inside, dirt on the outside, as well as reflections and glare will all impact on what is captured.
It's not phased by rain or windscreen wipers - any more than the driver will be - although at night there's a drop in quality with familiar low-light grain affecting the video.
There are two settings for video: 1080p and 720p. This really just impacts on how much video you'll be able to capture. We opted for 1080p, which gives nice and smooth footage at 30fps.
The MiVue 388 captures video continuously when recording, but breaks the captured video into different files to make them easier to manage. You can choose either three or five minute clip maximums so when it comes to playback you'll have access to all the clips you can fit on your memory card. No worry of crashing a computer programme or spending ages seeking out the part of footage required.
Once the device runs out of space on the memory card, it will begin to write over the oldest files first. Each five minute clip is about 500MB, so you'll get somewhere around 80 minutes of footage from the 8GB card before it's writing over old files. If you want more, then you'll have to step down the quality or buy a larger card, with the maximum 32GB offering upwards of 320 minutes. That's over five hours.
There is a mic and speaker on board and the sound capture is pretty good too, although this will depend very much on how noisy your car is. We tested it in a VW Passat, which despite the big diesel engine, is fairly quiet inside. It's worth remembering that the MiVue will capture every utterance of road range, your toneless singing to George Michael and the incessant questioning from the children in the backseat.
Motion can be set to start and stop recording, meaning that the Mio MiVue 388 will sit autonomously and know when to record and when to stop when you're in the vehicle. There's a clever feature that will start recording if the camera detects movement in front of the car, for example if someone is about to reverse into you.
There is also a 3-axis G sensor to track data about turns and acceleration, so can provide details about what actually happened at the scene of an accident you're involved in, for example, such as who hit who. When the G sensor detects an accident, it goes into emergency recording mode, saving these files in a separate folder so they're easy to find and not over-written. You can also trigger emergency recording manually by pressing the button - although you might be too busy crashing to do that.
You can use the camera for stills photos too, which is really intended to let you snap off pictures of damage to cars following an accident.
As the MiVue is equipped with GPS it knows where you are, and it also has speed camera information. This will alert you to cameras as you approach them with a visual and audible warning, with lifetime updates provided by Mio via downloads through its website. Much like a satnav in that respect, and these downloads are easy enough to install on the device via the memory card.
To help you stay on top of your car recordings, the MiVue camera comes with software, which is sadly for PC only. Sorry Mac fans. This will display all your video and let you save files or share them to YouTube or Facebook - presumably for those interesting events, rather than when you crash.
Perhaps more interestingly, MiVue Manager also gives you the G sensor data and GPS tag information, so as you watch the video you can see yourself on Google Maps and see the forces that the camera/car is experiencing as it rounds corners. If you did have an impact, it would be here that you'd be able to view the information to see which side you were hit from and at which point.
The internal battery of the MiVue 388 doesn't really seem up to the job, as we found it quickly went flat when not connected to the 12V supply in the car. This might be a concern for those who don't have a powered socket when the ignition is turned off, as the motion wake function will then not work if the battery dies.
The other downside to the battery is that the device runs out of juice entirely it loses the internal date and time information, so you might find yourself having to set that at the beginning of each journey, which is pretty tedious.
Dashcams may come in useful for those who want to provide evidence when an accident involving their vehicle takes place, or those who just feel they miss out on being able to capture interesting things that happen when they are on the road.
With the MiVue 388 there's the added advantage of the speed camera alerts rolled into the system too. The quality of the footage is good so even if you want to record some of the interesting places you go driving, then it will be up to the job.
The internal battery is disappointing, however, so when the engine's not on its time is limited. Also with a price just a penny shy of £200 you might want to look at some of the lower-spec models in Mio's range if it's only the video footage you're interested in.
Now when's that next meteor shower due?