The days of being involuntarily watched have virtually come to an end. From an era when everyone, especially in the Philippines, was shy or even downright paranoid or offended of being captured on video, it has now become a staple for social media, home security, and even in motoring.
Vehicle dash cameras have quickly become more of a necessity than a simple added accessory, and there is a plethora available in the market. From budget-friendly to high-end cameras that come with almost everything you can think of, one is not left wanting for tools to document their drives and journeys.
Recently we got our hands on a sample of the former, the DDPai Mini dash cam. Normally the China-made brands don't exactly get a lot of attention, but we put the Mini to the test, nonetheless, to see if it serves its purpose. Also, if it does so well.
The packaging is surprisingly well-made. No flimsy cardboard boxes here; instead, we literally have a big red box with the Mini logo smack in the middle. A quick glande might make you think it's a cellphone rather than a camera, so packaging gets a plus. Flip to the back and there you see the DDPai logo, and the product's specs – standard information you'd see on almost every gadget package.
The joy of the packaging aesthetics ends when you open the box. Oh, so the thin cardboard is all in there. Not that it's a bad thing, of course, because the main box is enough to protect the contents. Inside you will find a “thank you certificate”and three packets that house 1) the instruction manual (which is in both chinese and english), 2) the dash camera and the remote snap trigger, and 3) the adapter, cables, cable clips, an extra patch of double-sided tape, and what they call a “wiring tool”.
Looking at the camera and the remote, it doesn't get any simpler. Sporting a tubular design and shaped as a simple round pad respectively, both were fashioned out of plastic. It is a budget dash camera, right? Looks may be deceiving and are by no means the standard of performace, so we set it up, taped it on to the windshield, and we went on our way.
Being on the budget-friendly spectrum, the DDPai Mini has no screen on it. It uses a micro SD card to store the videos that are taken and it only uses what is called a Class10 card. Lower variants of the memory cards will not be read by the camera. It is also worth noting that prior to installation, and given that this unit is screen-less, owners will have to first download the official DDPai app into their mobile devices to properly format SD cards, access the camera's settings, and be able to review, extract, and save their dash cam videos. This may be off-putting for most, but again, you're looking at a bare-basic budget unit.
Now, the DDPai app is controlled via an app that you can download, and it works with both Android and iOS; we used the latter for this particular test. The interface is very straighforward, which is a good thing. Make sure that both your dash camera and your device are connected and all the controls are readily available and adjustable, no muss, no fuss. You have a gallery of your images and videos, a portal through which you can share your video/s and watch those that others do, you can access your camera's feed real-time, and of course, you have your Profile and Settings tab. Overall not the best interface, but as we mentioned, it's straightforward and not a hassle to use. Alright, if we were to nitpick, maybe the recorded videos can already be saved per travel for easier sorting and downloading, but it's not a deal-breaker by any means.
As with any camera, image quality is of utmost importance. What use would any recording or photo be if we can't make out what we're looking at. Recording at full 1080p and snapping with a Sony Exmor sensor at F1.8, you can see a screen cap of the video and a snapshot that was taken with the handy remote trigger above. On the video and photo side, the Mini delivers crisp quality videos. Sure, it may not be the very best quality when you maximize the zoom in post-processing, but there is considerable distance that can be zoomed into before we notice any noise and distortion in the videos or images. Given how dash cams can be used to review and investigate untoward incidents such as accidents we witness or might unfortunately be in oureselves, this is something that the DDPai Mini does very adequately.
So did the DDPai Mini perform as we had hoped? The answer is yes. Coming from a China-brand dash cam, this handy unit delivers with its video quality, which really is what dash cams are for. Add to that the clear snapshots that it can take, plus its minimalist design, then you already have bonus features right there. Sure, interfacing with the camera via an external app on your mobile device may be quite inconvenient for most, but if you get past this little quirk, it isn't so hard to navigate through it and to use it at all.
If you're in the market for a dash camera that does its job without messy wire work and without denting your wallet, the DDPai Mini is a good bang-for-the-buck option for your basic dash cam functions and needs.