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I live in San Francisco where car crime in epidemic. Last year there were just under 30,000 reported break-ins — that’s about 85 a day! My car in particular seems to be a magnet for car thieves; it’s been broken into five times in the last couple of years, costing me thousands of dollars in repairs.

So I jumped at the chance to review the new Owl car cam, a combination dashboard cam and interior security device from one of the product design leads of the iPod and iPhone. The Owl combines two HD cameras — one pointing out, the other inwards — with bump-sensing accelerometers and an always-on LTE cellphone connection that sends alerts and live video to my iPhone.

It’s been great. Setup was the easiest of any gadget in recent memory and the video is surprisingly fantastic. Best of all, no one has broken in to steal it — yet!

 It’s no surprise that dash-mounted car cameras are increasingly popular. If you’re ever been involved in a crash, having footage of the incident can prevent disputes about who was at fault. But most dash cams only record when your car is running, and they need to be connected to your smartphone to send footage to the cloud where it’s stored for later.

But the $350 Owl Car Cam is different. It’s always on — even when your car is parked — and it has its own LTE connection.

 

Stop! Thief!

The small, unobtrusive device sits behind your windshield with two cameras that record everything that goes on around your vehicle. It can it catch traffic stops and head-on collisions, but also any bumps into the back. All footage is recored in high-definition and is surprisingly sharp and clear, even when it’s dark. (It records in 1440p outside, and 720p inside).

Because Owl is alive 24/7, it also detects any activity around your vehicle while you’re away from it. In most cases, having a blinking Owl cam on your dash is enough to deter a would-be thief, but if they do attempt to break in, Owl will capture it all — and send an alert and video to your iPhone to let you know something’s up.

“If the camera ever does get stolen out of your car, you get the video of them breaking in,” said Owl founder and CEO, Andy Hodge. “[And] I will replace your camera for you because we’ve got a replacement warranty.”

Based in Palo Alto, CA, Hodge is a veteran Apple product designer who helped make several generations of the iPod and iPhone. After leaving Apple, he worked for Microsoft on the HoloLens mixed reality headset and then Dropcam, the easy-to-use WiFi camera that was sold to Google. “We’re trying to build something that resonates with people,” he said about Owl, “that addresses real needs.”

Here’s what the video looks like if your car is broken into.

 

Well-made hardware

The Owl cam is well constructed. It’s solid and nicely designed. Take its magnetic ball mount: it’s rock solid but also easy to adjust. In more than week of testing, it’s been fun, reliable and works as advertised (I did have a couple of glitches with detecting my phone when I returned to my parked car. Owl says the geofencing is sometimes delayed, depending on various conditions, but can be adjusted in the camera’s settings).

My only gripe is the iOS app, which works only in landscape mode. It can be a bit tricky to use on the iPhone X, which relies on an upwards swipe to switch apps; you have to consciously swipe from the side.

Owl is packed with clever sensors that can identify any suspicious activity before it’s too late. You can tune into a live video feed to see what’s happening in real-time, and download any footage you need so that it’s always available. You can even use your voice to tell Owl to save a clip when you’re on the road using an “Ok, presto” command. The camera records a short clip (inside and out) that’s sent via LTE to the cloud, making it almost immediately available on your phone for saving or sharing.

Owl plugs into the ODB port found inside all modern vehicles and it’s surprisingly easy to set up. All the necessary tools and mounting accessories required are in the box, along with detailed instructions. After mounting the camera on the dash and running a wire to the ODB port, I snapped an onscreen QR code with my iPhone and that was it. The camera and phone were connected, allowing me to stream live video, watch and download clips, and even turn on the light and talk through a built-in microphone, no matter where I am.

The Owl cam is iOS only (for now) and for some reason doesn’t currently work with Telsa Model 3.

The Owl cam costs $349, and is currently backordered until early April due to high demand. It includes one year of LTE service which costs $10 a month ($120 a year) after the first year. Note: the camera will still work without an LTE plan. Videos can be accessed over WIFI — but you’ll need to be in close proximity to the camera.

 

Conclusion

The Owl cam is a cool dashcam that I personally hope will keep my car from getting broken into. If it does, I’ll post the video.

Here’s a video of a customer whose car was hit on his first day driving with Owl. The video helped him prove he wasn’t at fault. The camera paid for itself in its first day on the road.