A129 Duo Installation and first impressions

Tel

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I had been thinking about getting a dash-cam for some time and had investigated the market and quickly came across Viofo as one of the recommended leading brands on sites like 'Dashcamtalk' and 'CarCamCentral' and others. One of the design aspects with the Viofo A129 (and A119) I liked was the often-overlooked fact that the camera is separate from the heat generating processor chips as, even with glass lenses, it best to keep the camera as cool as possible. On other makes the camera is often located on the same PCB and sometimes right next to the main processor chips.
The A129 duo has been available for some time and there are plenty of reviews around showing how to open the box! what you get and example videos etc. so I won't cover all that again. Therefore, this initial review covers my own personal experience installing the A129 in my hatchback and my first impressions. A future review will cover parking modes and particularly the operation of the 3-wire hardware kit and then longer-term use.


Installation
I was pleasantly surprised when the camera arrived and found out how small the unit was. As most of you probably know by now the front camera mounts flush to the windscreen with the 2-inch colour display tilted and it is not intrusive at all. The buttons and on-screen menus are straight forward and the large centre button for emergency save is easy to find by feel alone, although in my installation I can just see the buttons above the rear-view mirror.
In my case I use the side connector on the main unit for power and that has allowed me to fit the camera very close to the top of the window as shown. With my installation of the main unit there is still just enough room to slide the unit sideways out of the GPS mount and then I can unplug the two cables. Of course, I will need to use the side power connector anyway once I install the 3-wire hardware parking kit later.

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The rear camera cable was not that difficult to fit despite the cable being quite thick (after all you only need to fit it once) and by using the right-angled end for the rear camera I have been able to fit the camera close to the top of the rear window as shown. In my car I felt it was not practical to stick the rear camera to the (floppy) plastic covering above the window and this would apply to any camera design.
The most difficult part of fitting the rear camera was feeding the rear camera cable connector through the rubber cable protector that goes to my hatchback rear door. But with the aid of a little lubrication and some squeezing I got the straight connector through and then pulled the rest of the cable through. In operation both positions are ideal, and both front and rear views are just covered by the wipers.

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So far I have found that both camera mounts are secure and stable, as I have hatchback this is especially important for the rear camera as the rear door often gets slammed shut.

Video Quality
I have found video quality is good on both cameras and I am impressed with the handling of sudden changes in lighting conditions - such as when driving into tunnels etc. I do get reflections especially on the front camera and I am considering getting the CPL to see if that helps remove some of them. I consider the field of view just about right.

Interference
I was concerned about inference to my FM radio as reported by some users and also interference to my tomtom traffic data feed which has proved in the past to be very susceptible to interference due to its small aerial. But no inference to either has been detected and the tomtom traffic info data feed works as it should with the camera running. I don't have a DAB radio, and so I have not been able to check that.
I also checked for reduced range of my key-fob while the camera is working. I found very little reduction in the operating range which with my car, in ideal conditions, is about 20m.
As you will see from the photos I fitted little clip-on ferrite chokes on the cables - this is something I do to all the kit I add to the car. I am not sure how much they stop problems, but they are readily available cheaply from eBay, so I fit them.

Extracting / inserting the SD card
Some people have reported extracting and inserting the SD card is a bit fiddly and it is, but I found that by using a small plastic paper clip it makes the job a lot easier.

Viofo App (version 2.8.2)
I downloaded the android version of the app to an old tablet and found it works well using the either WIFI speed. Most, if not all the camera’s options can be configured via the app which makes fine tuning the setup up very easy.
On video playback scrubbing / jumping to different locations is OK on both WIFI speeds. On the playback video you can adjust the brightness and sound levels, you can also play back videos in full screen mode, but you can't zoom the image any further - even when paused which would have been nice. When playing back videos downloaded to the device and with it connected to the Internet you can see a split view with the bottom half showing a Google maps display of the cars location that tracks with the video which I think is a nice feature.

Files locked by pressing the centre button or a G-sensor event are saved to the RO folder, while files 'locked' directly via the A129 video playback option are just locked and not moved to the RO folder. On the app, files in the RO folder are marked with a small red lock symbol, but the locked files in the main folder are not.
When your phone/tablet is connected to the Internet the app can download newer camera firmware which is then uploaded to the device next time you connect to it and that all seems to work well and seamlessly. Note the new downloaded A129 firmware file 'FWA129.bin' is stored in the 'Viofo' folder on the phones/tablets internal memory along with the downloaded videos should you be interested. However, it would have been nice to know what version number the newer firmware file is as it is not shown.

I have had no problems connecting to the device as some have reported and it works from outside the car on both speeds.

I feel the app could do with few usability enhancements such as:
  • showing more clearly which are front and rear videos.
  • showing the video date and time more clearly in bigger text.
  • showing the locked status of the files more clearly.
(Note: All the above could be shown as text or symbols under each video image.)
  • show files from the RO folder under a separate RO menu option.
  • allow the 'locked' status of a file to be changed.
  • allow files to be downloaded directly to the SD card.
  • zoom in further on the playback videos.
Software operation (version 1.5)
One thing that I do find frustrating with the operation of the main unit is that it keeps going into record mode, for example when you come out of the menu options or when switching the WIFI on or off. So, I find myself constantly switching recording mode off when I want to change menu options or download files etc. and this results in lots of short files on the SD card. I guess this is something that Viofo could change in the software if enough people find it an issue. Other than that, it all seems to work fine.

Initial Conclusions
After installing it and a few weeks of operation during which I have had no issues I have been very impressed with the A129. The operation is well thought out and implemented and I like all the configurable options. I also like the wedge-shaped design and the video and build quality is good and the issues Viofo had with the GPS mount on A119 have been sorted.

Next
Over the next few weeks I will be investigating and reviewing the different parking modes together with the operation of the 3-wire hardware kit (which I will be testing out on the bench before installing it) - and I will be posting my findings in due course.

** For full disclosure Viofo supplied me with a basic retail unit - but they have not had any further involvement.
 
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