Looking to add a connected dashboard camera to your car? What if that device could also provide a glimpse inside your car on demand from your smartphone? And if that’s not enough, how about the addition of vehicle security, GPS and dashboard telemetry? If the answer to all of these questions is yes, Raven might be right up your alley.
Raven combines a security camera with an diagnostics and vehicle information in a single device the size of an Xbox Kinect. I’ve been using one with beta software in my 2017 Chevrolet Volt for testing. The cost is $299, although you can save $30 if you pre-order before shipments begin in May. There are also three levels of required service plans to cover the integrated LTE service, ranging from $8 to $32 a month.
I mounted Raven on the windshield of my Volt, but you can also mount it right on your dashboard. The device is powered through your vehicle’s OBD-II port, which also provides it real time information such as your current speed and fuel level. The folks at Raven say that your car must be a 2008 model year or newer because even though older vehicles may have an OBD port, they use an older protocol that doesn’t support all of Raven’s features. Once plugged in and mounted, you use the Raven app to connect the device to your phone.
Setup was super simple although the first live image from the rear-facing camera was upside down. I didn’t troubleshoot it and it never happened again with any future image captures. I suspect the Raven was still in its setup mode and the integrated accelerometer wasn’t quite up to speed at the time.
So how well did Raven work during my drive tests? Pretty good, at least for the features that are currently supported.
Since the device doesn’t ship until May, some of the functionality is still in the works. Specifically, I couldn’t test one of the features I was really looking forward to: Notification alerts while the car is parked. These security-focused events trigger if there is are loud sounds, smashed glass, if the car is bumped or moved, or if a door is opened. This vehicle security aspect can really help Raven stand out from a standard dash cam, so I can’t wait to see the alerts added in a future software release.
I was able to see real time vehicle telemetry such as current speed, direction, and engine RPM (although I don’t use the engine much on the Volt). All of these data points (including turn-by-turn navigation directions, again coming in a future release) can be shown on the Raven’s screen, which is handy at eye-level. You can choose which two data points to see on the easy-to-read display.
The Raven app also creates a calendar-driven history for all trips, complete with downloadable clips so you can review or even share your driving experience or in-car shenanigans. I could see the latter being fun with the family on a long trip as we do our poor imitation of “Carpool Karaoke”, for example.
One little gotcha in my testing: Although Raven has LTE built in, I had to connect my phone directly to the device via Wi-Fi to get my stored videos. I felt like I wasted a bit of time just sitting in my parked car to get those but I can see that being addressed in the future.
After I did get those videos downloaded to my iPhone X, they looked fantastic. Here’s one timelapse of a 26 mile round trip I did for lunch. (Yes, I drive 13 miles for a good bowl of soup in the cold, northeastern US winter weather).
And here is a normal time video to show image quality.
I like the trip history Raven creates: It lets you choose from the full timelapse to short clips during parts of the trip. The shorter videos include audio, which I found to be less than stellar. However, the Raven folks know this is an issue and they’re working on it.
While viewing trips from the front-facing camera is fun, seeing inside the vehicle is an important standout feature. Maybe more so once the parked alerts are enabled: I can imagine someone bumping the car and having Raven notify me so I can quickly do a live look around. I do wonder how effective this will be though: You’re looking through the cabin of the car which may not be ideal for seeing exactly who or what bumped your bumper.
Note that the main difference in the pricing plans has to do with how many live, 720p remote check ins you plan each month. You get 60 for $8, 120 for $16 and 240 for $32 a month. For all plans, you’ll also get the GPS location of your car, gas level, driving history, vehicle diagnostic reports and trip sharing with others. The latter two features are also in the “coming soon” category, so I couldn’t test them.
Overall, I like the Raven, but I don’t know that I’d buy one, even after its full feature set is present. The main reason is that my relatively new car already has most of the same features. I can use GM’s app, for example, to get vehicle diagnostics or the car’s location and I can remotely check or lock the doors. And many newer vehicles are including an LTE radio for optional Wi-Fi hotspot features. However, I can’t see inside my car on demand, nor do I get alerts if something happens to it.
So the appeal here is for older, less connected cars and for people that want the security features and alerts that a dual-facing dash cam can provide. If you’re one of those people, Raven may be worth the price as it fleshes out its feature set over time.