I’ve been a Road Angel user for a very long time. Ever since I reviewed the Road Angel Professional Connected back in 2008, I’ve had some kind of Road Angel device on my dashboard. That doesn’t mean that I condone dangerous driving, or excessive use of speed on the public road. However, with the somewhat cynical location of some speed cameras, even relatively sedate drivers can find themselves in trouble – especially if there aren’t adequate speed signs on the road, as is all too often the case.
And let’s not forget, that the powers-that-be refer to speed cameras as safety cameras, allegedly placed on roads that are dangerous to navigate – you know the ones, dual carriageways that run straight for miles on end with visibility stretching to the horizon! So, being warned about a so-called dangerous spot in advance surely must be a good thing.
What made the Road Angel Professional Connected so special when I reviewed it four years ago was its live update feature. Whereas all previous GPS-based speed camera detectors required you to connect the device to a computer regularly to keep the database up to date, this one downloaded its updates every couple of minutes thanks to an integrated data SIM.
That data connectivity wasn’t one-way either, you could also tag unlisted speed camera sites, and have them added to the database, thus warning other Road Angel users that there was a camera or camera van lying in wait. This feature essentially brought social networking to the road, where drivers could share information in real time. Of course Road Angel would validate each reported location before rolling it out to every other user.
Road Angel superseded the Professional Connected with the Vantage, which was a far larger unit that resembled a sat-nav device. Although the Vantage brought some new features to the table, such as dynamically displaying the speed limit, it wasn’t always accurate enough to be relied upon. And although having a big screen made it easy to read, it also made the unit itself more difficult to place without obscuring your view through the windscreen.
The new Road Angel Gem, on the other hand, seems to have taken everything that’s good from the Professional Connected and Vantage, and packaged it all up into a compact and easy to place unit.
Before I get into the details of the Gem I should convey just how good the new dash mount is. While I’ve never been a fan of sticking things to my dash, I’ve had enough speed camera detectors fall off my windscreen at inopportune moments to appreciate a good, alternative design when I see one.
The dash mount that ships with the gem has a flat base with a sticky pad. On top of the base is a magnetic disc atop a ball and socket combination. You simply place the Gem on the disc and it locks into place – you can then adjust the angle of the Gem with ease, using the ball and socket joint.
I know that mounting mechanisms don’t tend to be the most exciting part of any tech product, but in this case it really does demonstrate how much thought Road Angel has put into the design of the Gem. I’ve never encountered a device that’s so easy to slap into place, yet sits so securely, no matter how much lateral G you’re pulling through the bends!
Once again Road Angel has thrown in some new features with its latest device. The stand out addition is the built-in laser detector, which hasn’t been a feature in a Road Angel unit for a very long time. There are a couple of reasons that you don’t see laser detectors too often these days. First, knowing the GPS location of where a mobile speed unit might be is clearly the most effective solution. And second, it’s very hard to detect a laser gun before it has locked onto your vehicle. That’s not to say that an integrated laser detector isn’t a good thing, because it obviously is – the more weapons in your armoury the better, after all.
Despite being relatively compact – 85 x 50 x 85 (WxHxD) – the screen on the Gem is clear and easy to read in pretty much any lighting condition. Road Angel has used an OLED screen, so contrast is particularly good, and the clip on visor ensures that bright sunlight doesn’t wash the display out.
Flanking the screen are three buttons on either side. On the right you’ll find the power button, along with up and down buttons for navigating menus. To the left is the OK button for making selections, the Store button for logging new camera sites, and the eAssist button – more on that later.
Before you use the Gem for the first time, you’ll need to register it and take out a subscription. The subscription fee ensures that the Gem is constantly downloading the latest database of camera sites, speed limits and black spots. It also allows you to share your own camera sightings with other users, and gives you access to eAssist support. Subscriptions cost £39.99 for six months, £65.99 for one year, and £169.99 for three years. The longer the subscription, the better the value for money, but unless you’re very sure of your circumstances, an annual sub is probably the best option.
The eAssist feature is another new addition to the Gem, and it’s a very good one at that. While no one really wants to think about having a major accident, knowing that you’ll get help as soon as possible if the worst happens can at least provide some comfort. With eAssist, Road Angel has built an intelligent emergency response protocol into the Gem.
If you press the eAssist button, you’ll be connected directly to the Road Angel control centre, where you’ll be able to talk to an operator and request emergency services. The voice call will be made directly through the Gem, with no need for a mobile phone or Bluetooth connection. And given that the Gem is a GPS enabled device, the operator will already know exactly where you are.
However, given that eAssist is most useful in the event of an accident, where you could be unable to reach the unit or even be unconscious, the Gem can think for itself. There’s an on-board G-meter in the Gem, which can automatically tell if your vehicle has been in a collision. Once a collision has been detected, the Gem will automatically contact the control centre, where you can request help or simply confirm that you’re okay. If, once the call has been made, the operator gets no response from you, the emergency services will be called and your exact location relayed. Very clever, very useful and potentially life saving!
When it comes to warnings, the Gem doesn’t just give you a heads up for speed cameras, it has all manner of other tricks up its sleeve. For anyone living in or around London, it will warn you about the congestion zone, while also alerting you to black spots and school zones – you can even configure the Gem issue fatigue alerts, to ensure you’re not driving while tired.
You can also set the distance for fixed cameras, with a choice of 250, 500, 750 or 1,000 metres. The idea being that you don’t want to be on top of the camera before you’re warned about it, but likewise, you don’t want to be annoyed by excessive beeping either. You can also set the alert distance to be dependant on speed – you could set the distance to be 500m, but if you’re travelling above 50mph the distance will double to 1,000m.
In use, the Gem will constantly display your current speed at the centre of the screen. In the bottom left corner is the speed limit for your current location, and I’m glad to report that it seemed to be 100 per cent accurate. When you approach a hazard the current speed limit will be replaced with a picture of the type of hazard – fixed camera, average speed cameras, camera van, black spot etc. As you approach a hazard, the right edge of the screen will give you a visual proximity indication too.
But design, features and general usability only go so far with a device like this. The important thing is how well it works out in the real world, or as Kerouac might say, on the road. I’ve been using the Gem for a while now, and even took a jaunt to Wales to give it a proper workout, and during all that time it hasn’t missed a beat. I haven’t seen a single camera, average speed zone or camera van that the Gem didn’t warn me about.
The audible warnings are loud, clear and a definite improvement over the outgoing Road Angel Vantage. And the screen is easy to read at the briefest of glances, making the huge screen on the Vantage feel like overkill. As already mentioned, the speed limit indicator is yet to be incorrect, and even if the Gem does get a speed limit wrong, a quick press of the Store button will ensure that it’s never reported incorrectly again for me and every other Road Angel user.
The bundle that you get in the box isn’t bad either. While very few sat-nav devices ship with a charger these days, Road Angel ships one with the Gem. You also get a USB to mini-USB cable, so you can charge the device from a computer or any other mini-USB charger you might have. And there’s a cigarette lighter charger thrown in too, so you’ll never run out of juice on the move.
Road Angel quotes 2.5-hours battery life, which seems a little conservative. Having used the Gem on many long journeys, and a few early mornings where I just fancied a drive, I found that it was good for considerably longer. Anyway, as long as you carry the cigarette lighter charger and cable with you, it won’t be a problem, even if you’re behind the wheel for longer than you expected.
You might be thinking that you don’t need a speed camera detector these days, since most sat-nav devices also have a database of camera locations built-in. That’s sound thinking to a point, but I don’t always use a sat-nav, especially when I know where I’m going, and even more so when I’m simply going out for a drive. On top of that, the Gem is far easier to read at a glance than any sat-nav, if all you’re after is your current speed, the current speed limit and whether there are any hazards ahead.
When I reviewed the Road Angel Professional Connected back in 2008 it cost £249.99, so I was very surprised to find out that the Gem will only set you back £129.99. Okay, so you have to pay for a subscription to make the thing work, but that still seems like great value to me.
You either need a speed camera detector of you don’t, and many won’t realise they need one until they’ve been hit with a fine and a few points on their licence. Yes, it’s easy to take the moral high ground and insist that if you don’t speed you won’t get caught, but I know a lot of people who have found themselves on the wrong end of a speeding fine, despite the fact that they’re as far from “speed demons” as you’re ever likely to get.
If you do want a device like this, the Gem really should be top of your list. Not only is it a major improvement over the outgoing model but it’s also considerably cheaper and smaller to boot. Oh, and the eAssist feature is a fantastic addition that really could save your life.
Despite the fact that I already own Road Angel Professional Connected and Vantage models, I’ll be buying a Gem as soon as this review sample goes back, and recommendations don’t come much higher than that.