Dash cam review: Kenwood DRV-N520

This review is of a Kenwood dash cam that works with recent multimedia head units sold by the company so you can set up and control the camera and view video all from the head unit. It also comes with a number of driver assistance features and in fact this review is really about those.


Consequently, if you have a newer car that you can’t fit a double din head unit in, and /or already have driver assist features, or an old car but don’t have a multimedia Kenwood head unit anyway, these features are of no use to you. For people such as yourself, there is an endless range of dash cams on the market that might be as good as or better value than this dash cam, but if you have a recent Kenwood multimedia head unit in your much loved older car, this will be well worth a look.

Specifications

  • · 2-way communication and control with compatible KENWOOD high-end models.
  • · Simplified ADAS, Advanced Driver Assistance System.
  • · Camera Dimensions : W:79mm x H:21.5mm x D:48mm
  • · 3 megapixel recording (2304x1296) in HDR
  • · Angle of field : Horizontal ; 117º Vertical : 63º

This dashcam retails at AUD$349 including GST. You can get it cheaper though and I got it on eBay for AUD$227.

Kenwood’s newer models have wireless connection to your smartphone, but these do not seem to have the ADAS features.

Installation and set up.
This is pretty straight forward, and its small compact size means it fits neatly behind your rear vision mirror and you feed the wire up into the roof and down the front pillar into the dashboard. It has two connections into the back of the Kenwood head unit, for the AV feed and the ADAS features. If buying a nice new wireless CarPlay Kenwood head unit and getting someone to install it for you, get the DRV-N520 at the same time and get them to install it so you don’t have to.

The ADAS feature setup requires you to park the car in a long flat area. From the Kenwood head unit, you click onto the physical camera button to get into the camera view and you select the dash cam onscreen, then the camera shaped set up button. There you input the vehicle height (you only get two choices, you can’t put the actual height in) and line up horizontally with the horizon and the car bonnet. It is actually a pretty easy set up, but can be a bit fiddly if your dashcam isn’t level and square to the car.

Features
The DRV-N520 automatically records as you drive along like all dash cams, and the image is quite clear and looks pretty good on your car’s head unit screen. You can easily replay recorded vision on the Kenwood head unit in the car for quite a few trips back, or even while you are driving.

Parking Mode means it starts recording if the car is bumped. How badly bumped? Well, it is supposed to work if someone backs into your car, which I fortunately haven’t tested yet, but I can confirm that washing the car will trigger it. You will get a message on the car’s head unit screen on the next car start up if there is a video triggered by the car being bumped, and the videos are very easy to find in the camera menu, sorted and labelled by date and time. A nice feature.

The Advanced Driver Assistance System (ADAS) might be why you spend the dollars on this to go with your nice new Kenwood head unit. It does three things: lane guidance, forward collision alert, and departure alerts. So how well do they work? Well, never as well as a driver assist system actually designed for and built into a car by the car manufacturer of course. Before getting into these features I will also confess none of my cars are new enough to have built in driver assist features, so I don’t know how this performs in comparison, or if they are always annoying regardless of vehicle. It would be unreasonable to expect too much in such circumstances, and even Kenwood says on its website:

“ADAS function uses the image processing technology commonly used in a digital camera, and its operating accuracy is realized only within the limits of the technology. It may not work as intended in some situations.”

The lane guidance is OK. I suspect how well you have set the dashcam up both physically and software setting wise has a big say in its performance. Basically it uses imagery detection to work out when the car is starting to cross a lane’s white line and pops up a yellow message on the head unit with “lane departure warning” on the bottom of the screen. In my little Mazda, I can get it to work reasonably well, but often it works quite well for one side, but less reliably for the other. More manually fiddling with the camera angle will fix that, but I got to the point of diminishing returns and chose the right hand side as the one I want it to always work best for, being as in Australia we drive on the left. Even so, in a big wet I can get a lot of false readings at night if there are water filled grooves in the road. I would give it a “better to have than not have” rating.

The forward collision alert feature gives you a red warning “collision warning” across the bottom of the head unit screen if it thinks you are getting a bit close to the car in front. I think it is annoying, only really works on freeways, and not reliably if you are about to run up the backside of a great big bearded tradie’s dual cab at the traffic lights. You have usually stopped before the alert actually goes off. I suspect this is more a software performance issue resulting in a lag between the trigger and the alert. I would give this warning a “meh” rating only because I am not too upset if my P plate daughter has this regularly going off to make sure she is not tailgating on the freeway. At least I tell myself this: I would not be surprised if each time she borrows the car she quickly burrows into the easy to use setup menu and turns it off, then on again before she knows I will use it.

The departure warning is there to tell you to stop looking at your phone as the traffic is moving again. This is a little yellow warning across the bottom of the head unit screen. Again, I think lagging software is holding it back because almost always you are already starting to move anyway before it will go off. You also get a lot of false readings, especially if you are at the front of the queue at the traffic lights. Then cross traffic will regularly set it off. And anyway, with the wireless CarPlay Kenwood head unit you bought that is capable of using this dashcam, you no longer need to look at your phone, right? I will give this annoying warning a “fail” rating.

Overall the ADAS is a “Meh” and I would not buy the DRV-N520 just for it. You buy this if you have just bought one of the latest Kenwood head units for your car and want the lovely integration of set up, remote control and video viewing features the dashcam gets with your head unit. Those can’t be faulted.