Review of the Blackvue DR650GW-2CH Cloud Firmware

Over the last 3 months, I had the privilege here at of testing the beta version of Blackvue Over the Cloud. We invested in a mobile hotspot which we charged using a cigarette adapter/USB cable and left permanently in the vehicle (In hindsight we realized we could've used an older smartphone capable of tethering instead of spending $200 on a dedicated hotspot device). That being said this is the likely route that fleet managers will go with so it's good to have an idea of the costs associated with this new cloud feature. The hotspot itself doesn't take up much space and was easily tucked away in the armrest of the car (a glovebox would also suffice). While it would be nice to have the cellular data built right into the DR650GW-2CH via a sim card slot, the added hardware would likely result in a bulkier device with more heat generated. This wouldn't be ideal for long term reliability and would drain more power in parking mode resulting in less parking recording. By using a dedicated hotspot the device is powered by its own battery so it doesn't add any additional strain on your dashcam battery pack or the car's internal battery (when hardwired). 

The wireless hotspot device we purchased, not entirely necessary but likely a popular investment for fleet customers

At the time of this review and while we were testing it this was an Android only application but the iOS version of the cloud smartphone app is set to come out shortly. Pairing the device to the cloud required some rather specific instructions from Blackvue but with the production versions of the DR650GW-2CH cloud there is a QR code that speeds up the overall process. The Android app was easy to use and considerably more stable than using the standard WiFi connection. Often times with the traditional WiFi setup (non-cloud) when you are downloading a file the camera might disconnect and this didn't really happen using the mobile data. There were some instances where I found myself downloading videos through the cloud even though I was just sitting in my car because the download speed was faster and more stable. This of course uses a significant amount of data, downloading 1 minute of front video used almost 100MB which in Asia where cellular services are cheap is not an issue. 

We felt it was worthwhile to invest a little more for a plan with a well established cellular network

Canada however has some of the most expensive cellular networks in the world due to our low population density so we were averaging $35 CAD (~$27 USD) per month to use the cloud feature consistently with up to 5GB/month. Still this may be a small price for some to pay if it means you can monitor the vehicle in real time especially for parents or large companies concerned with security. While there were cheaper mobile data options available, we went with one of the larger carriers in Canada as we wanted to be able to access the cloud even in remote areas and in large parking structures where cheaper carriers may not reach. One company offered a $100/year service that would suffice for our needs at a reasonable price but they are notorious for having a choppy signal that doesn't work well underground. We suspect this will be the limiting factor for many users, and that the average consumer will not see much value in a monthly subscription. 

As the primary driver of my car I didn't see much value in the cloud feature but I would definitely be very interested in how a friend or family member behaved behind the wheel while I wasn't there and this cloud feature can help me do just that. I found myself using it regularly while I was at work and the car was parked in the parking lot beyond where the typical WiFi signal could reach and out of sight from my office. I really appreciated it when I dropped off the car at the shop to get some work done as I could monitor how they were test driving the car both in real time and to review what was happening prior since the cloud also lets you play previous videos. On the app you can see the different recording modes so I went through all of the different event mode videos to see if anything interesting happened (nothing did and the shops were all very responsible with my car!). 

We are always hesitant to recommend upgrading firmware for our customers as the factory firmware tends to be the most reliable, with the v2.000 firmware there are some significant changes that we want to make clear for our customers before they proceed. If a customer is not planning to invest in the mobile internet system we would definitely recommend against upgrading to v2.000. At the moment (Oct 2015) there is no iOS app yet for the new firmware. Furthermore the video quality is not as good as before due to the lowered bitrate from 8 + 3 Mbps front and rear to just 6 + 2 Mbps for the cloud firmware. It's odd that Blackvue also dropped the DR650GW-1CH to 6 Mbps fixed as it should really be configurable. The power consumption is also slightly increased due to the WiFi being permanently on so users should expect slightly less parking mode recording time with a hardwired dash cam. 

While I definitely see the value in the cloud features for specific customers, this is going to add value for a limited number of customers in North America due to the high cellular costs. It will make more sense for more of our customers to stick with the older firmware as the cloud firmware compromises some of the functionality and performance that made the DR650GW-2CH so great. I would recommend waiting until Blackvue adds an iOS app and adds a configurable bitrate feature to upgrade. As with all initial releases of firmwares it's best to wait a while for any bugs to be worked out before updating.