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ddpai Mini2 Dashcam



DDPai offered me a chance to review their Mini2 dashcam, and I accepted.  It's a single channel camera that can record at 1440p@25fps or 1080p@30fps, supports up to 128GB microSD cards, has wifi, no screen, no GPS, and a wireless photo/event button that you can put anywhere you want in your car.  Video quality is good both day and night, and the camera itself is compact and unobtrusive - it can easily be hidden completely behind the rearview mirror, or if you use it in the back or side window of a vehicle, it won't block much of the window.

Box contents

In the box, besides the camera itself, you'll find a cigarette socket adapter with two USB ports - one rated at 1 amp for the camera, and another rated at 2.1 amps, to charge your phone or other USB-powered device.  The included USB cable is about 12 feet / 3.7 meters long, which should be enough to reach from the center console and around the windshield to the dashcam in most vehicles. There's also the wireless event/photo button, two adhesive pads for the wireless button (which seems to be a thick, reusable "jelly" type adhesive), and a plastic pry tool to help you tuck wires into gaps in your trim while feeding the wire up to the camera, which is a nice touch.  The included manual is entirely in English, and is actually pretty well written - not the poorly translated stuff you often see in budget dashcams.

The camera has an app for both Android and iOS (I could only test the Android version). It's POSSIBLE to use the dashcam without the app, but it was not designed that way, so I strongly recommend that you DO use the app.  Out of the box, the camera is configured for 1440p25 and will automatically turn on and start recording as soon as it gets power from the lighter socket, just like any other dashcam. HOWEVER - the time and date will not be set until you connect your smartphone to the camera.  You can remove the microSD card and put it in your computer or other device to review footage or whatever you might want to do with it, just like any other dashcam.  There is one caveat here though - when you press the event button (and presumably, when the G-sensor is triggered), it does NOT rename or otherwise mark the video file where you pressed the button.  However, since it also takes a photo when you press the button, you can use the filename/timestamp of that photo to figure out which video clip you tried to mark with the button. This sounds more complicated than it is, but it's worth mentioning if you don't have a smartphone or just really don't want to use the app. It's kinda like saying you can move your car without starting the engine - yes, it's possible, but it's a lot easier with the engine running.  

That said - most people have smartphones these days, so it makes sense to use your phone to configure and maintain the camera instead of some dinky little buttons on a tiny screen on the camera itself, like most other dashcams.  The app is where you can do just about everything with the camera. For me, the first time I tried to connect to the camera, I really had to fiddle with it a lot before it finally connected.  Then I was able to see live video from the camera, which allowed me to aim it properly before i stuck it to the windshield. The app automatically (silently) sets the time and date in the camera based on your phone's clock every time it connects. I could also view and download clips from the camera, and apparently it automatically downloads the video clips where you pressed the button into your phone's storage.  DDPai even has their own social network of sorts where people can share dashcam footage.  Since I'm not a social network kinda guy (say what you will), I was glad to see that it was not required to create an account just to use the app.  Inside the app you can also configure all camera options like resolution/framerate, sounds, etc.  

 
App & Camera settings

 
Using app to view recordings


The app asks for some permissions I wasn't so sure about: Phone, Location and SMS.  If you don't give it all the permissions it asks for, it quits with an error in Chinese and won't let you use the app.  I went ahead and allowed the permissions, and I haven't seen any weird things happening with the app installed.  My phone's battery life doesn't seem to be impacted (it doesn't show up very high on the list of apps using battery when I check), so maybe it's just a matter of the developer requesting permissions "just in case," or for future features, and not anything malicious.  The real downside to these permissions is that it prevents you from using the app on a tablet or other device that is not an actual PHONE, because it demands the "phone" and "sms" permissions.  In my conversation with the vendor, they said their next version will remove the phone and sms permissions - that's a good thing, since there are a LOT of one-star reviews complaining about these permissions, and honestly, I don't see the need for them in a dashcam app.  Unfortunately, as of July 12, 2018, that new version isn't showing up in the Play store for me.  I'd love to use the app on my car's Android head unit, but it won't install, as it says it's not compatible with my device.

Enough about the app - let's talk about the camera itself!  Video quality is slightly above average for a camera at this price point.  It handles shadows (including flickering shadows while driving past trees), direct sunlight (dusk/dawn), and rainy/overcast days quite well.  Night driving is also pretty good, even on completely unlit back roads.  Granted, I have HID headlights and LED high beams, but you can tell that the sensitivity of the sensor is decent at night and would do just fine with regular halogen lights.  During the day it captures most license plates within 1-2 carlengths, and at night it doesn't capture plates at all unless everything's completely stopped or very slow, and it's one carlength or less.  This is quite typical of dashcams in this price range.  Even really expensive cameras struggle to capture plates at night - there just isn't enough light to work with in many cases. 

 
 

Sample screenshots from video - 
Clockwise starting from upper left:
Afternoon rain, driving towards sunset, drive-thru in the rain, 
unlit road with HID headlights

Keep in mind that all footage in the youtube video is heavily compressed - actual video from the camera is quite sharp as you can see from these screenshots.

Audio quality is just OK.  You can make out voices inside the car and some sounds outside, like horns or tire squeal well enough, but seems particularly sensitive to my car's AC blower, even though no vents are blowing towards the camera.  And since I live in Houston and it's Summer right now, the AC is running all the time, even at night.  A few nights ago while leaving the gym, I noticed that the outside temperature was 91f (33c) - that was at MIDNIGHT.  I've lived on/near the Gulf coast my entire life, so I'm used to it, but hot is hot.  

And speaking of hot - I had this camera in my car 24/7 for over a month in this heat and it had zero issues during that time. I don't get to park in a garage or carport, so my car is always exposed to the elements. Sometimes I forget to put the reflective sun shade in the windshield while parked, so it got cooked plenty of times.  Since this camera uses supercapacitors instead of a LiPo battery pack, the heat (or cold) should never be an issue. 

The first "problem" I encountered was one that's really just cosmetic - since the US uses a 60hz power grid, recordings at 1440p25 were making traffic lights and some street lights have a weird flicker to them.  Other than that flicker, the video was just fine.  Switching to 1080p30 cured the flicker.  I couldn't really tell much video quality difference between 1440p and 1080p, and the video files were still the same size, so it seems 1080p is the better choice for use in North America, or anywhere else on a 60hz power grid.

The second issue is that my phone would, quite often, automatically connect to the camera's wifi while I was in the car.  At first I didn't notice, until I realized that Google maps was using a weird robotic-sounding voice instead of its normal voice. Then while checking the map while sitting at a red light, I noticed that Google maps said it was running in offline mode.  That's when I noticed the tiny little X next to my wifi strength indicator, showing that it had no internet connection.  I turned off wifi and the phone switched to LTE and began behaving normally again.  A few days later I tried turning on Spotify after starting the car but before I started driving, and the same thing happened - it had connected to the camera wifi, so I had no internet.  I told my phone to "forget" the ddpai wifi and that cured the auto-connect issues, but then the next time I tried connecting to the camera through the app, it was just like the first time - very tricky.  

A new firmware has been released for the camera - it notified me in the app.  I will be installing it soon (it's apparently a very simple process via the app).  Hopefully it will address this issue where the camera stays connected to the phone even when the app isn't running.  

The camera also has one annoying "feature": Every time the camera powers up, it LOUDLY announces, "HELLO DING DING PAI" to let you know it has started recording. Personally I would have preferred a simple chime sound like the one it makes when it turns off. Thankfully, you can turn off the startup voice in the camera options in the app.  Then you can just look at the LED on the back of the camera to see that it's working normally.  A flashing orange light means it's recording normally, flashing blue means it's in time lapse parking mode, and flashing purple means it's connected to your phone's wifi.  Since I had the camera mounted completely behind my mirror, I couldn't see the LED at all from the driver seat.

Parking mode works as follows: first, the camera must be connected to constant 12v power using the optional hardwire kit.  The kit says it has low-battery cutoff at 11.6v, which is too low in my opinion. With other hardwire kits I own, they're adjustable, and I have them set at 12.2v - any lower and the car won't start when it's close to freezing temperatures outside.  Besides that, it's not good to drain a car battery below 12.0v regularly.  That said, the camera itself has options to automatically turn off if it's been in parking mode for longer than a given period of time, such as 6 hours.  Parking mode is not buffered - it records constantly whenever it has power.  When it doesn't "feel" any motion of the vehicle for a few minutes and decides you must have parked the car, it switches to one frame per second recording, and once it feels motion again, it switches back to the normal framerate you chose in the options.  Keeps things simple and automatic.

So let's go over the pros and cons of the ddpai Mini2 dashcam.

Pros:
- Compact, stealthy form factor
- Clear 1080p30 video both day and night, also capable of 1440p25
- Wireless event/photo button can be placed anywhere you want so you don't have to fumble behind the mirror to press a button (especially useful if camera is mounted in the back of the car)
- Android/iOS app makes it easy to configure camera settings or download videos/photos - no need to fumble with a tiny, easy-to-lose microSD card in the car
- Doesn't seem to be bothered by the Texas heat
- Can take up to 128GB microSD cards
- Parking mode (time lapse recording) available with optional hardwire kit

Cons:
- Traffic and street lights flicker when camera is in 1440p25 mode - purely cosmetic
- Sometimes connects to phone wifi while driving, taking away your phone's internet connection (bad for GPS apps and streaming music)
 
Summary:
For this amount of money ($69.99US on Amazon as of July 29, 2018) you're getting what seems to be a reliable, stealthy, good quality dashcam with wifi and a handy wireless photo/event button.  The button is definitely my favorite feature.  With respectable day and night quality and optional parking mode, it checks all the important boxes for a dashcam.  If you own a smartphone and want a dashcam, then yes, I recommend the ddpai Mini2.

Purchase the Mini2 here:

Note that this is NOT an affiliate link!  I do not make anything when you click or buy from this link!

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