Cobra XRS-9960G/XRS-9955 & Cobra XRS-R10G/R8: Compelling Detectors
Cobra XRS-9960G/XRS-9955 & Cobra XRS-R10G/R8 Review
This past Friday was a nice surprise for me on two fronts. The first being that the weather was unseasonably warm, with temperatures reaching nearly 70F, which was very fortuitous as it allowed me to road test, in comfort, Cobra's latest flagship GPS-enabled radar detector, the Cobra XRS-9960G. The Cobra XRS-9960G is this years follow-up to Cobra's first GPS-enabled radar detector, introduced nearly a year and half ago, the Cobra XRS-R9G.
Close examination of this new Cobra XRS-9960G, suggests that it appears identical to its predecessor the Cobra XRS-9950 as it shares the same FCC ID classification as the Cobra XRS-9950 and the chassis indicates that the underlying model of the Cobra XRS-9960G is actually a Cobra XRS-9955. This new Cobra models includes a much smaller GPS module, the Cobra GPSL-55. Together these two components comprise the Cobra XRS-9960G. As such the radar/laser portion of this review therefore applies equally to Cobra XRS-9955 (as well as the new Cobra XRS R8 and XRS R10G internal remotes as both the Cobra XRS R8 and Cobra XRS R10G share related platforms).
Cobra's revised GPS module is barely larger than the size of my thumb print and is much smaller than the R9G's original GPS module. This diminutive module allows it to be directly connected to the left side of the radar detector without the need of a cable and permits quick attachment to your PC for painless updating of Cobra's proprietary Aura database without the need of having the entire radar detector present, an elegant solution.
The Cobra XRS 9955 carries over all of the ergonomic delights of its immediate predecessors, the Cobra XRS-9950 & XRS-R9G/R7, including very distinctive tones accompanied with pleasant female voice annotation and most notably a large bright multi-colored OLED screen, that is unarguably the nicest display of any radar detector yet conceived.
The Cobra XRS-9955/XRS-9960G is very easy to re-configure and can be done so without need to reference the accompanying manual by all but the most technologically challenged.
Having successfully calibrated its magnetic compass, I selected a mounting location on my windshield that would afford me a direct line of sight of the front of the radar detector from the driver's seat. The XRS-9955/XRS-9960G defaults to a 30 second display timeout/screensaver, which I chose to disable.
Real-World Driving Impressions
I spent the first day of my road test doing my usual several hundred-mile driving circuit which takes me through parts of PA and NJ. This circuit serves my interests in real-world performance testing well as it affords me the potential of plenty of X-band, K-band, Ka-band, and police laser encounters with traffic enforcement in both steady and instant-on forms and provides me a good number of well-known stationery "false" locations to see how the detector does with such sources, as well. (A week later, I made a 600 mile round-trip through part of New England including the states of Maine, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire, which exposed me to several additional instant-on Ka police radar encounters).
In terms of the Cobra XRS-9960G's radar reception performance, the Cobra XRS-9955/Cobra XRS-9960G provided respectable K and very respectable Ka-performance (during 33.8Ghz and 34.7Ghz encounters), a noticeable improvement over my previous Cobra XRS-9950, and nearly the same performance level as a Beltronics Pro GX65, a detector retailing for nearly $200 more than the XRS9960G's street price.
Like other Cobra's before, this model still tends to alert to "false" to Ka-sources (from other proximate detectors) more so than models from other manufacturers but less so than my previous Cobra XRS-9950. My first Ka alert was a false, likely from another driver's radar detector.
I was surprised to see that Cobra for all intents and purposes has copied Whistler's RSID feature which first appeared on their Whistler XTR-695, just a year ago. The Cobra XRS-9960G indicated 34.3Ghz, likely a harmonic of an earlier Cobra detector (historically Cobra's have been known to be rather "noisy," creating interference with other radar detectors and easy to pinpoint with Stalcar/Spectre RDDs).
I came across a series of police laser speed traps along a stretch of I-78 in Warren County, NJ. The first was a sneaky speed trap that the troopers were running from the rear. For them, it was a turkey shoot, as not one vehicle that I observed tapped the brakes while they were being targeted from the rear. In fact targeting was so easy for the trooper, I observed that he was being very selective with his targeting, waiting to nail the fastest "speeders." Not a mile down the highway did I encounter another police laser trap, this time from the front, an LTI Ultralyte.
Cobra has continued to make significant progress on its reception to police laser, which I would categorize now as being very good and in the performance category as higher-end Beltronics/Escort windshield models which cost quite a bit more. I was both pleased and disappointed to see the equivalent of the Whistler XTR-695's LSID, which identifies laser gun pulse rates, incorporated into this new Cobra. I suspect the engineering wizards at Whistler will be none too pleased to learn that their recent innovation has already been copied by Cobra.
I spent the next couple of days pitting the Cobra XRS-9960G and its Aura photo enforcement database against the red-light cameras of the Route 1/Roosevelt Boulevard, in North East Philadelphia. During this portion of my review, I compared the performance of the Cobra to my reference Cheetah C100 GPS Detector and to a Beltronics Pro GX-65 and Escort Passport 9500ix, each of which incorporates the same Cheetah Trinity database.
The Cobra XRS-9960G did a very fine job at identifying locations of the ATS's red-light camera monitored intersections. As one approaches such intersections, the XRS-9960G initially alerts with a pleasing distinctive audio chime accompanied by a flashing green display and then transitions to a flashing yellow and ultimately a flashing red alert display as you get very close to the intersection. The XRS-9960G also very clearly indicates the relative position of the cameras to your location with a compass-like heading, pointing to the 12 O-clock position when the cameras are directly ahead. I did notice that the XRS-9960G briefly suspends its alert whenever your vehicle is stopped (when queuing at the intersection) resuming when you actually begin moving again. Each of the Cheetah C100, Beltronics Pro GX65, and Escort Passport 9500ix continued to display their alerts while stationery.
While I can't extrapolate the accuracy of either of these systems across North America from these experiences alone, I can say with that each these GPS-detectors did their job at identifying all but one red light camera intersection on the Roosevelt Boulevard (the intersection of 9th street).
After spending a good amount of time behind the wheel with this new GPS-enabled radar detector from Cobra, I believe this to be the best Cobra radar detector yet produced and, for the money, comes across as a very compelling package overall.
That's not to say that there are aspects of the Cobra that I don't care for, there are several, some simple, some more complex.
First, the simple stuff. The engineering brilliance of the display is somewhat offset by the fact that it is still far too reflective of ambient light and, as a consequence, can occasionally be very difficult to read. Owners of convertibles or vehicles with moon-roofs should keep this in mind when selecting an appropriate mounting position on the windshield. As I have commented about last year's model, the Cobra XRS-9950, this should be rectified by the use of matted/pearlized or anti-glare screen.
While not related to performance, some of the marketing claims, shall we say, are a bit over the top. Initially specified at 24 hour and now merely 12-hours, claims of having the most up to date (and by implication, most accurate) camera database are not only a little far fetched, but in practice impossible to prove as to render such a claim, of little practical value.
If it were even possible to have a database that current (it's not given the fluidity of fixed or mobile photo enforcement) not even a techno-geek like me is going to update my GPS module twice a day. Hell, I barely manage to brush my teeth that many times a day! I think it would be much better to stress the accuracy by way of professional team-commitment to that ideal, something along the lines of what Cheetah does with its Trinity database, that is of course if the follow-up is going to be there for the long-term. For the other GPS detectors like the GPS Mirror, C100, GX65, and 9500ix, Cheetah recommends a more practical monthly update frequency.
I also don't particularly care for the proclamation of 15-band detection. Unlike digital camera mega pixels or television screen resolutions, Cobra's references to 9,10,12,15 bands really are of little meaningful value, especially when one considers that Cobra counts as bands VG-2, Spectre I/IV+ (what happened to II and III?) and two of their own safety alert systems (Safety Alert and Strobe Alert) each of which has nothing to do with traffic enforcement. Cobra even counts (six) individual models of police laser guns, even though they all operate on the same wavelength of 904nm (one "band").
Besides, using their own marketing logic, I already know that their detectors can alert to the Kustom ProLyte and ProLyte+ police lasers. Does this mean that one day Cobra should or will proclaim that they can detect 17-bands? Unfortunately, I think so. Just wait until the next model year.
Speaking of lasers as bands, how about the Pro Laser II, even though it's no longer being produced it is somewhere in the field. Shouldn't this police laser count as a band as well? Wouldn't that make it 18-bands? I know it may serve a "bona-fide" sales purpose, but enough of the ever-increasing band count, please, there's enough other good stuff to talk about, really, that has much more substance to it.
I believe, such proclamations do not serve to appropriately educate consumers new to radar detectors with any meaningful guidance to actual radar detector performance.
There is one band that I would like to briefly discuss here and that is X-band. There seems to be some confusion about X-band police radar and, unfortunately, that may be by design.
Despite the inaccurate claim, by some, that X-band is no longer being used anywhere in the country, X-band continues to be in service in New Jersey to a large extent, occasionally found on the highways of Ohio and North Carolina, and can be found in limited operation in some states' local towns which may have "poorer" traffic enforcement departments that may not have the resources to purchase and operate the latest digital Ka radar or police lasers.
I know this because, unlike others who may make such claims to the contrary, I do routinely drive with one radar detector or another in those states. I also know that there are plenty in service throughout the North America, because I recently spoke to a police radar gun manufacture which continues to manufacturer and offer for sale, X-band radar guns. If any one would know where X-band is in operation, they certainly would.
In what may be an effort to reduce "nuisance" support calls from "unsophisticated" radar detector owners about certain 'false' alerts, I believe Cobra has gone too far in weaning the sensitivity of X-band. It is so low as to render the need for a City mode superfluous. I would have much preferred Cobra to keep the levels of X-band sensitivity sufficiently higher on Highway mode and ship the detector with X-band disabled by default, as is its POP-radar reception mode.
Like the Cobra XRS-9950, I occasionally found the Cobra XRS-9955/XRS-9960G misidentified strong X-band sources as weak K-band. And while the possibility of this occurring to the casual observer will likely be very small, I believe this should have been rectified, long-ago.
Given the hardware similarity to its predecessor, the Cobra XRS-9950, I wouldn't expect great reception to polarized sources of traffic radar (Gatso, Multanova, Ramet) found primarily outside of North America. For domestic drivers, this is for all intents and purposes a non-issue.
In the real-world, an important aspect of radar detector performance is its quickness in alerting to instant-on radar sources. Sensitivity to CW (continuous-wave or constant-on) radar is one thing, but time to alert to instant-on radar, is entirely another.
Personally, it really doesn't matter to me how far a radar detector can alert to constant-on radar, if it can't consistently "see" brief trigger pulls of instant-on radar. I rate this capability higher than so-called "long-range" sensitivity. Like the Cobra XRS-9950, the XRS-9955/9960G is a little on the "slower" side to initially react and alert to instant-on radar. The Valentine One and the Whistler Pro 78/XTR-690/XTR-695 are the performance champs in this aspect of detector performance.
In one instance the Cobra XRS-9960G failed to alert to a brief instant-on blast of frontal X-band from an approaching NJ state trooper that had set off my Escort Passport 9500ci remote and although its quickness to alert to brief instant-on radar appears improved relative to earlier Cobras, I believe that there remains a little more room for improvement.
While the dynamic range is improved, as compared to previous Cobras, the XRS-9950 and XRS-R9G/XRS-R7, the Cobra XRS-9960G still has a bit too much dynamic range in its signal strength metering system—which has the effect of rendering many close-range encounters as weak ones (when they should be strong) and makes it more difficult to pinpoint the severity of the threat by the signal strength alone. It's not uncommon to see the XRS-9955/XRS-9960G alert with a signal strength of 2-3 while other manufacturer's models alert at a 7-9 (nearly full-strength).
A radar detector should always alert at a maximum strength when one is in speed-clocking range to police radar. Unfortunately Cobras routinely don't. Models such as the Beltronics RX-65, GX-65, Beltronics Vector 955, late model STI Drivers, Escort Passport 8500 X50, Valentine One, and Whistler XTR-690/XTR-695/Pro 78 do much better in this regard.
Even more concerning, the Cobra XRS-9955/XRS-9960G appears very lethargic in responding to rapidly increasing signal strengths. This also makes it hard to gauge the severity of the threat at any given moment and hence extremely difficult for a driver to accurately ascertain the urgency level of any given police radar encounter.
It appears that Cobra has built-in about a second delay per each increase in signal strength level indicated (of which there are five in total). On more typical approaches to steady-on radar, this minimum time to full-alert is acceptable and may even go unnoticed by the casual radar detector user. However, when one stumbles upon a healthy does of close-range instant-on radar, which is typical of an instant-on radar encounter, the driver will likely never see a high signal strength indicated (4 or 5). Instead, the alert will most likely be on the lower side (1 or 2).
The nature of the XRS-9960G's ramp-up is especially troubling, considering that their own marketing claims describe XRS-9955's performance in this way: "...and the best possible advance warning to even the fastest of the instant-on radar guns."
The manual suggests that the XRS-9955 can detect instant-on radar signals which can [and often do] suddenly appear at full-strength. But, by my own observations, it takes the Cobra XRS-9955/9960G anywhere from about five to nine full seconds before alerting to a radar source at its full-strength, even if in very close proximity to the radar source when the triggered is initially pulled.
With its overly slow ramp-up nature, the XRS-9955/9960G is effectively unable to rapidly convey a sense of urgency, an essential performance aspect of any good radar detector. Said another way, we would recommend owners of the Cobras to be prepared to treat every radar warning alert as urgent.
Granted, I understand each radar detector manufacturer has its own philosophy own how to report what its detectors "see" at any given moment, but I find radar detectors provide greater utility when they exhibit quicker signal ramp-ups, even when accompanied by slower ramp-downs (decay), than the other way around.
Mind you, these constructive criticisms stem from being a "hardcore" radar detector owner and driving enthusiast and are meant to help improve the brand. For many "typical" motorists, a number of these finer and more subtle points wouldn't necessarily matter.
The Cobra XRS-9960G retails for $389 and is expected to settle around a street price of about $100 less.
For the majority of drivers who may occasionally and/or inadvertently stray 10-15 miles over the posted speed limits and who desire decent protection, the Cobra XRS-9960G and Cobra XRS-9955 should prove to be a very good values and a worthy addition to their windshield.
If torn between either model, I would certainly make the stretch for the $100 effective difference in price as getting the GPSL-55 with the XRS-9960G more than pays for itself over time as you are promised to get a lifetime subscription to the Aura database. Purchasing the model later as an addition to the XRS-9955 will only entitle you a more limiting subscription to database updates and for about $100 less, the XRS-9955 simply as a radar detector has more compelling alternatives in the form of the Whistler XTR-695 or Beltronics Vector V955 for a similar price.
While not in the same performance league as its more expensive and higher-end GPS-enabled radar detectors from Ohio—the Beltronics Pro GX-65 and Escort Passport 9500ix—each selling for nearly $200 more, there is still a lot to like about this new Cobra.
If some of these issues were addressed, I believe Cobra could easily be able to command a street price that is closer to its current suggested retail price and in the process provide a radar detector that would be on par with some of the best windshield-mount radar detectors currently available.
Can you imagine a windshield-mount Cobra with a street price of $389? I certainly can, now. You guys are already 3/4's of the way there—the hardware platform appears very solid, needing only some additional software "tweaking" and refinement.
Considering Cobra's intended market demographic: the casual or first-time radar detector purchaser, the new Cobra XRS-9960G more than hits its intended mark and indeed, in that context, is a very compelling offering for the money.
Happy and safe motoring!
The Veil Guy
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