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Best dash cams 2021: The best cameras to protect your car

garmin dash cam overhaul
(Image credit: Garmin)

The best dash cams come in handy for a variety of uses, ranging from accident insurance protection to capturing the best parts of your road trip. So what's the best choice for you?

To find out we picked up different dash cams of various designs and prices, to see how well they functioned out on the open road. Night and day, rain and shine, we've been testing these dash cams all over the roads to see just how well they performed.

If you want the absolute best of the best, you're going to want the Nextbase 622GW dash cam. Not only does it offer 4K video resolution and up to 120fps, it also packs in voice control, an emergency SOS feature, and more. Sadly, at $400, it's also one of the most expensive options on the market right now.

If you'd prefer to balance strong features with a lower price tag, there's always the $229 Garmin Dash Cam 57. It's still not what you'd consider a budget dash cam, but it does pack in all the essentials, plus some extra features that will smarten up your car. Features like forward collision and lane departure warnings, as well as an automatic cloud backup of your recordings.

If you'd rather have those features in a more compact, affordable frame, then you may want to check out the Garmin Dash Cam Mini 2. It has all the same major features as other Garmin dash cams, but sacrifices things like GPS and a rear-display for a discreet compact frame.

However if you want something more budget conscious then the Kenwood DRV-A301W has everything you need. With  Full HD resolution, built-in GPS and a prominent display. It needs constant power and can be noisy when you play videos back, but it'll get the job done.

Of course there are more dash cams waiting to be tested, so if you can't find anything you like be sure to check back and see what else we come up with.

Nextbase 622GW dash cam review

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

1. Nextbase 622GW

The best dash cam overall

Specifications
Price: $400
Field of View: 140°
Resolution: 4K
Display: 3" touchscreen
GPS: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Recording in 4K/120fps+Voice control+Emergency SOS+Packed with features
Reasons to avoid
-Expensive-Plain design

If you have money to burn, then the Nextbase 622GW has all the features you could ever want from a dash cam, and more. The design certainly won't set the world on fire, but it has an unparalleled feature set that offers some of the best video quality of any dash cam currently on the market.

The 622GW can record video in 4K/120fps, built-in image stabilization to ensure you have silky-smooth recordings, an extreme weather mode, and a polarizing filter that will minimize reflections that would otherwise spoil your film.

But on top of that it also packs in Alexa voice controls, enhanced night vision, a parking mode that senses collisions when you're parked up, and an emergency SOS service that contacts first responders in the event that the driver is unable to do it themselves. What3Words integration also ensures they know exactly where you are, down to a three meter area.

The 622GW also connects to Nextbase's $100 rear-view camera to see what's going on behind you. Though the fact that this camera costs so much and doesn't offer two way recording by default may irk the more price-conscious among you.

Garmin dash cam 57 review

(Image credit: Garmin)

2. Garmin Dash Cam 57

Great features for a more palatable price

Specifications
Price: $230
Field of View: 140°
Resolution: 1440p
Display: 2" LCD
GPS: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Compact size+Voice control+Good safety features+Easy to use magnetic mount
Reasons to avoid
-No glare filter-Slightly fuzzy images at dusk-No touchscreen

If you're looking for solid features at a less stomach churning price, there's Garmin's Dash Cam 57. The Garmin Dash Cam 57 packs in all the usual dash cam features, as well as a few more that enhance your recording capabilities and smarten up your car in the process.

If you don't have a a newer car with driver assistance features, this is where the Garmin 57 shines. It packs in a number of safety features including forward collision warnings, lane departure warnings, and alerts when you're coming up to stop lights and speed cameras. It'll also tell you when you're too absent-minded to notice traffic has started moving.

The Garmin 57 also packs in a parking guard, a live view, and an automatic cloud backup that securely stores your recording in the cloud for safe keeping. Tie that in with voice controls, built-in GPS and 1440p video resolution, and you should be able to record all the important details should the worst ever happen.

Plus, like all Garmin dash cams, the Garmin 57 can connect to an additional four cameras to cover other directions.

Read our full Garmin Dash Cam 57 review

Garmin Dash Cam Mini 2 review

(Image credit: Garmin)

3. Garmin Dash Cam Mini 2

Great video in a discreet, compact package

Specifications
Price: $130
Field of View: 140°
Resolution: 1080p
Display: No
GPS: No
Reasons to buy
+Super compact and discreet+Great image quality+Voice control
Reasons to avoid
-No onboard GPS-Some fish-eye distortion

Don't be fooled by its size, the Garmin Dash Cam Mini 2 packs an awfully powerful punch for something so tiny. It may not have features like a display or GPS, but it does produce great image quality and has voice controls in case you need the camera to do something mid-drive.

Plus like other recent Garmin Dash Cams it can smarten up your car with features like forward collision warning, lane departure warnings, speed camera and stop light notifications, and more. And there's the Garmin Vault, a cloud storage that automatically stores all your recordings in the cloud for safe keeping.

But the biggest strength is its design. The Garmin Dash Cam Mini 2 is so dinky you probably won't even notice it on your windscreen. Which means far fewer distractions when you drive.

Read our full Garmin Dash Cam Mini 2 review

Vantrue N2 Pro review

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

4. Vantrue N2 Pro

A solid dual-view dash cam that sadly lacks important features

Specifications
Price: $170
Field of View: 170° front, 140° rear
Resolution: 1440p, 1080p in dual mode
Display: 1.5-inch
GPS: No
Reasons to buy
+Dual 1080p camera+Adjustable rear camera angle+IR sensors for improved night vision
Reasons to avoid
-No GPS, Wi-Fi, or Bluetooth-No companion app-Cheap build quality

If you'd rather save the hassle of having two dash cam modules to cover your front and rear, the Vantrue N2 Pro might be a sold option for you. Not only does it feature an additional lens to cover your rear, it lets you adjust the angle of that lens to better suit the interior of your car.

The overall footage isn't the best quality, with some graininess and lens flare, you'll still end up with crisp, clear videos to keep tabs on what's happening on the roads around you. Of course it's missing a lot of important things, like wireless connectivity of any kind, which will make accessing your videos a little bit more difficult.

But with all the basics on board, and a secondary camera included in the price, then this is a dash cam well worth considering. Especially for the $170 price tag.

Read our full Vantrue N2 Pro review

Kenwood DRV-A301W review

(Image credit: Kenwood)

5. Kenwood DRV-A301W

A solid dash cam that isn't without its flaws

Specifications
Price: $119
Field of View: 136°
Resolution: 1080p
Display: 2.7-Inch
GPS: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Good design+GPS and Speedometer+Great companion app
Reasons to avoid
-Noisy playback-Needs constant power connection

With a strong design and up to 1080p resolution, the Kenwood DRV-A31W makes a strong case for being the dash cam for your car. Not only can it automatically detect collisions and record footage for safe keeping, it also features a prominent display and on board GPS to log your speed and location at the time.

Better still the Kenwood Dash Cam manager is one of our favorite Dash Cam companion apps. Not only can you connect via a local wireless network to view your saved footage, you can also see a live view of what the camera sees on your screen. Recorded video is also of good quality, though the audio can be a little choppy at times.

It may not have any unique features to set it apart from its rivals, but the Kenwood DRV-A31W does have everything you need in a dash came — and with an affordable price tag to boot.

Read our full Kenwood DRV-A31W review

What to look for in a dash cam

You may not need a dash cam that comes with 4K resolution or various smart features. But at the very least you're going to want a camera that records good quality video and can automatically detect whenever you get into an accident.

Thankfully the vast majority of them do this, so it's all about asking yourself what extras you need — and whether they're worth the additional cost. GPS is one feature you might think about skipping, though it can still be useful. After all GPS can log exactly where an accident took place, and how fast you were moving at the time. Knowing both things can work in your favor under the right circumstances.

Likewise voice controls can be invaluable if you need to be able to control your camera mid-drive. After all not all incidents lead to collisions, and it's useful to be able to record evidence of wrongdoing without having to mess about with your camera.

Lastly you may want to check whether the dash cam you have can connect to other cameras. After all cars come from all directions, and it helps to be able to keep a log of things coming at you from different directions. Especially from the rear, where you probably won't see danger coming.

How we test dash cams

Every dash cam you see in this list has been tested and reviewed to ensure that the best dash cams really are the best. We look at every step involved in owning a dash cam, from setup all the way to actually having to pull your footage from the memory card.

The testing begins by setting up the camera, and judging it depending on how easy or difficult the whole process is. We also spend extensive time on the road, day and night, to collect footage and make an informed judgement on how each camera performs in a variety of real world conditions. 

We also assess each camera's design and companion software (if it has any) throughout this process, and asses what impact it has on day to day use. Finally we collect the footage from the camera, which can be via a companion app or by manually transferring the microSD card to a different machine. The ease or difficulty in which this happens also factors into our final score, as do any additional features the camera may or may not have.

Tom Pritchard

Tom is the Tom's Guide's Automotive Editor, which means he can usually be found knee deep in stats the latest and best electric cars, or checking out some sort of driving gadget. It's long way from his days as editor of Gizmodo UK, when pretty much everything was on the table. He’s usually found trying to squeeze another giant Lego set onto the shelf, draining very large cups of coffee, or complaining that Ikea won’t let him buy the stuff he really needs online.