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Blackspot Road Angel

07th March 2003

 Review by Dave Burrows

 Price: 379 inc VAT and Delivery

  

Going back a couple of years Radar Detector's used to be an expensive gimmick, but with the way the government and the UK Police Force are trying to cut down speeding and implementing fixed cameras, mobile cameras, truvelo and frequent radar traps, it's becoming very difficult to make driving stress free, and you feel that you've really got to have your eyes everywhere! This has made driving a real hazard to yourself, to other road users and to pedestrians.  You may still have your eyes on the road, but they're not always on the road in front

 

of you.  You're constantly checking your speed, looking at a green box by the side of the road trying to determine if it might be a speed detection device, you see a couple of strips in the road, or you see a white unmarked van parked in a lay by, or even a worker wearing a yellow coat beside the road so you suddenly brake quite possibly creating an accident somewhere behind you where some unsuspecting driver is driving far too close to the car in front.  Radar detector's have become my way of life for the past year, like many others and it really has saved my bacon on a number of occasions.  This wasn't because I was intentionally speeding, but because of roads that had bad speed markings.  Unfortunately Radar Detector's won't pick up most of the new style cameras like Truvelo, SPECS or a lot of the mobile Radar traps, or even the traps where the police are starting to measure your speed between set distances in the road to a little black box.

 

Introduction

In comes the next generation of detection devices, and they're GPS equipped!  The Road Angel like many of the new devices does not come equipped with a Radar Detector, but has it's own database and can be updated frequently by connecting it to a PC where you run the Road Angel Update Program over the internet.  Within seconds it's updated with new cameras from the Blackspot central database.  Most of these updates are provided on a weekly release, so you can always keep up to date with the latest camera lists.  Now unfortunately the downside with a GPS detection system is that the system is only as good as the database supplied.  Well the Road Angel database appears to be pretty good!  It's detected all barring one camera, which strangely enough although it's a GATSO, my Radar Detector hasn't picked it up as being live for over a year. Blackspot receive constant updates from law enforcement agencies and government agencies to allow them to map out the whole of the UK.

 

I did ask Blackspot how many cameras were in it's current database and received an answer back "We can't tell you that". The strength of the databases is what keeps the products going, and the companies going for that matter, and as soon as one company states it has a device that detects for 5000 cameras, 2 days down the line another competitor will say it has

a device that detects for 5100 cameras, and then 5200 and so on and so forth.  All you would see come out of this would be propaganda hype, and although I really wanted to find out how many cameras it supported, I can see their point of view here.

 

Accessories

I was pleased to see the accessories that come as standard in the box. You of course have the Road Angel itself, and a nice looking unit at that!  You also receive a 3 pin UK power plug for powering the unit when you plug it into your PC. A DB9 (9 pin) Serial cable that allows you to connect the cable to the 9 pin socket on the back of the Road Angel, and to the back of your PC using a Serial Port you have free.  I was a bit surprised that companies are still shipping serial connections, but I suppose you have to go with what is now standard in all devices. Unfortunately my laptop doesn't have a serial port, it only has USB and Firewire, so that caused me a few problems which I'll go into a bit later!   Also in the box you'll find two in-car power cables. One straight and one coiled depending on your liking, a nice blue anti-slip mat cut to size that fits underneath the Road Angel into four grooved slots, a windscreen suction mount with a long arm where you can affix the Road Angel to with a supplied sticky back velcro pad and a couple of rubber feet allowing you to keep the windscreen mount off of the dashboard so it doesn't mark it.

 

As I said earlier, I don't have a serial port on my laptop, which caused me problems.  I'm running Windows XP, however I did have a similar problem connecting my Garmin that also comes with a serial cable to my laptop, so earlier I had purchased one of the Belkin USB to Serial connectors, and although this does work with interfacing to my Garmin, it does have issues with

Click to see larger photo

updating firmware, so it's not a 100% compatible serial port, and I did have problems using this with the Road Angel, so beware of using the Belkin USB to serial hubs with the Road Angel.

 

Software Install

The first thing you need to do is register the Road Angel at Blackspot.com.  Once done, you should receive an activated serial number on the database within 24 hours.  Whilst you're waiting for this to go through, the next task to complete is to install the software.

The software supports all major versions of Windows, and is easy to install, just insert the CD and follow the on-screen prompts.

Once the software is installed and the Road Angel has been authorised for registration, you should be able to run up the Road Angel icon which sits on the Task Bar, select the COM port you've plugged the cable into, plug the other end into the Road Angel serial socket, and select Synchronise.  You should then see screens like the following giving you detailed status on exactly what it's doing.  If you don't receive these and receive an error, it's probably because you've selected the wrong COM port

 

or have a problem with your connection or you may need to drop your firewall.

 

Initial Road Test

Now with the Road Angel updated with the latest database I then decided to take the Road Angel out on it's first trip.  I thought I'd have an experience like my Beltronics Euro 550 where it starts picking up all manner of false positives.  I was pleased that it didn't!  There were a few occasions when it alerted me to a fixed camera when I know there wasn't a fixed camera in sight, and there hasn't been one on that section of road before, so there maybe a couple of flaws in the database, but this really is to be expected.

 

The Road Angel sat there nicely on the dashboard,

flashing green to red when I was in the vicinity of a recorded camera, and worked very well. At this stage after a few days use, I decided to start adding my own cameras.   The sockets on the back of the Road Angel show (from left to right) earphone socket, 9pin Serial connector, auxiliary socket and power connector.

 

The beauty about the Road Angel is, it has a separate section of the database dedicated to the cameras you add, and this means that when you then perform your next update you won't lose all the hard work you've put into the cameras or areas you've flagged as potential mobile or accident blackspots.  Most other systems will lose these, and I'm really pleased to see the Road Angel kept all of the entries I added.

 

When you add a new camera it's as simple as pressing the STORE button, you'll then have the choice of using the central button to select (toggle between) which type of camera it is, then hit STORE again and it's saved.   Simple as that!  You can press the delete button later if you are warned about this camera and it will delete it from the local database.  You can also press the central button to mute it, so if you don't want to be alerted of a camera when you're travelling under the speed limit, you can mute it quickly.  The only problem I did have was with setting a SPECS camera, this will set an area of cameras up, as SPECS is an average speed between two points (eg two cameras).  The Road Angel allowed it to be stored successfully, but because technically it wasn't one particular camera, I couldn't seem to delete the camera from the database.  Each time I passed the location on a daily basis it would warn me, I hit delete, it would then return to normal, then a second later it would warn me again, and I hit delete, and I seemed to be locked inside an ever decreasing circle.  This really was the only flaw I found in the unit.

 

Red Display (Warning) Green Display (Safe)

 

When you have cameras in the database, or you've setup a new camera location, the unit will normally show the backlight as green with your current speed.  When you approach a camera and you are within the alert distance the Road Angel will start sounding a high pitched beep, flash the backlight red and flash the black character display to warn you of the camera. When you pass the camera the device will reset itself into detection mode and the backlight will go back to green showing your current speed in a black font.

 

Which cameras will the Road Angel detect ?

Road Angel detects all the major types of cameras and stores these within the central database which gets downloaded over the internet to the Road Angel when you connect it to an internet connected PC.

 

The cameras Road Angel detects for and warns about are Fixed GATSO cameras, Mobile cameras, Truvelo digital fixed cameras and accident blackspots which are now becoming areas where the government will allow for new cameras to be installed.

 

Non-Slip Mat

How does the non-slip mat hold up ? Very well!  I was surprised, as I've had a non-slip mat in car for over a year and had my Radar Detector sat on it, but as soon as I took a fast corner, or a roundabout at speed, it would start sliding across the dashboard.  The Road Angel sat rigidly on the non-slip mat on the dash, and didn't complain.

 

I did have it move start to slip towards me at one stage, and I stopped it in time.  This was partly due to driving up a very steep hill and starting from stationary and accelerated to 30 very quickly, so it's not surprising it would slip under these conditions.  If you want a little more security, then it's better to use the velcro and windscreen mount supplied within the Road Angel box.

 

 

Road Angel Menu System

The Road Angel is highly configurable using the onboard menu system.  You can select which speed layout you would like to see either MPH or KPH, set the volume between 5 audible settings, configure the Road Angel to alert you 250m, 500m or 1000m before approaching the camera.  You can also set the SDS (Speed Distance Setting) which allows you to increase the warning distance at higher speeds automatically.  Another great feature which can be enabled is the 9pin serial port which is used to connect to a PC can also be doubled up as a GPS output socket, so you can connect a custom made cable which has a serial connection one end, and a PDA connection the other end to allow you to use the Road Angel as a Safety Camera Warning Device, and a GPS Receiver all in one!  Superb!  The only downside to the external GPS socket is that the Road Angel doesn't output the full NMEA sentence and holds back on GPGSV setting which lets you see which satellites have a signal against them, so if you run up any GPS software and want to look in the status screens, you may see a 4 or 5 satellite fix, but you won't see a signal strength back.  This isn't a major problem, but some people like to live in these screens when they start to experience GPS problems.

 

False Positives

So how well did the Road Angel compare with the Beltronics Euro 550 ? Very well I must add. Every camera I drove past except for one, was picked up successfully, and I had very few false alarms which I always receive when I drive past a shop or a garage that has automatic doors. The Road Angel worked flawlessly throughout it's test and was a dream to use. The only features that could be added to a new model would be a combined radar detector, and possibly the speed limits of Fixed, Truvelo and SPECS cameras and to alert you if

you were over or neaer the speed limit in these areas.

 

Technical Specifications from Blackspot

Road Angel has a 12 parallel channel GPS receiver with a built in active antenna.  As long as Road Angel can see a minimum of 3 satellites then an accurate position of the vehicle can be calculated.   Road Angel checks its position every second and is able to work out accurately the speed of the vehicle.

Road Angel can store up to 50,000 unique locations and constantly compares its position with the stored database. When nearing a stored location the unit gives an audible and visual alert.  The Road Angel uses complex heading software so it alarms only in the direction the camera faces. 

As with all GPS technology, when Road Angel is first powered it must acquire satellites to know its position. The first start is known as a cold start which can take up to 45 minutes to acquire the minimum three satellites for correct operation. Thereafter, warm starts (when the unit has been switched off overnight) should take a matter of minutes and hot starts (same day) a few seconds. When the unit has acquired satellites the display will show speed.

 

Summary

The Road Angel is a superb Safety Camera Warning System and even under pressure works well.  Blackspot have put some nice features into the design of the Road Angel, bi-directional detection of cameras, being able to fully customise the Road Angel, including a GPS Receiver output socket, allowing updates across the internet and allowing you to record your own cameras and not have these wiped on each database update is truly remarkable!  The only other problem I did find in using the supplied non-slip matt was that the four grippers underneath the unit didn't always grip the mat, and I found it coming away from the Road Angel.  The Windscreen mount is a little large for the size of the device, but does work well.  Apart from this, I really can't fault the Road Angel in any way.  A superb device and well worth the money!

 

New Laser Alert for the Road Angel!    *UPDATE*

Blackspot have a new exciting feature for existing Road Angel users, and will be sold with all new Road Angels going forward.  The new feature is a Laser Alert that plugs into the auxillary socket on the back of the Road Angel.  The Laser Alert is about the size of a golf ball and has a front and rear sensor and will sit on the dashboard and alert you if you're targeted from a laser gun.  Most police forces are using lasers in mobile road traps now because they're much more reliable than radar, and as soon as the laser rebounds off your vehicle they will get a speed reading back.  However to get a perfect reading the police officer has to make 2 or 3 readings for clarification (to prove calibration of the unit), and using the new laser alert should give you

enough time when you receive the first laser alert to reduce your speed by 5-10 mph, although it won't give you time to decrease your speed substantially, it will allow you to drop your speed below the threshold and hopefully avoid a ticket or at least reduce the speed in which you get a ticket for.  The new Laser Alert will effectively trigger the Road Angel into full alert mode flashing the display with 5 bars and full volume audio alert.

 

The new Laser Alert will be available shortly from Blackspot Interactive (it's currently in production) at the price of 29.95 for existing Road Angel customers, and for new customers the Laser Alert will be included for essentially an extra 20, bringing the complete Road Angel package in at 399.99.  We should receive a unit to test and review shortly.

 

Conclusion

Manufacturers Website

http://www.blackspot.com

Pocket GPS Reviewer

Dave Burrows

Pocket GPS Reviewer Website

Dave Burrows.com

Rating

 

Construction

Installation

Useability

Robustness

Overall Rating 97%

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