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An increasing number of motorists in the UK are installing in-car dashboard cameras or dash cams, as they are more popularly known. The mini video cams are fixed discretely on the windscreen of your vehicle. The main reason is the rise of the so-called "crash-for-cash" scams.

There are gangs who stage fake accidents in order to make fraudulent insurance claims. Their modus-operandi is to slam on their brakes suddenly and causing the vehicle behind to crash into them. The Insurance Fraud Bureau estimates that the annual cost of these fraud cases amount to around £392 million (1). This highlights the importance of this issue and it is no wonder that many van owners and operators have also started to install dash cams in their fleet of vehicles. In the event of an accident, the accurate recordings of the events can prove useful in legal proceedings and insurance claims.

Another possible benefit of installing these cams is that the drivers would probably drive more responsibly as they are aware that the cams are running and recording their entire journey as well. Thus, they can encourage safer driving.

On the other hand, you may want to just record the beautiful landscape on a trip. I wish I had one during our amazing driving trip to the Scottish highlands and the Isle of Skye last Easter.

There are a range of dash cams out there with prices ranging from around £10 to over £100. Their quality and features vary widely as well. Anyway, I was delighted when I was given the opportunity to review the HP Car Camcorder f200. The camera is quite small and discreetly fits behind the mirror. However, the power cord dangling down was quite annoying and I may have to run it along the top of the windscreen.

The camera supports micro SDHC cards up to 32GB. However, the spare card I had at home was only 8GBs. It has a 2.4" LCD Color TFT screen at the back which helps to position the camera and is surprisingly clear. I plugged the power cord in and started playing around with the menu which was quite easy to navigate.

First of all I changed the dates and time and then formatted the memory card. I then realised that it had started recording. The camera allows for total hands free operation as you can set the camera to start recording as soon as it detects motion. It can also be set to start recording automatically when it detects a collision or sudden braking situation. You can select the sensitivity but I think that it defeats the whole purpose as you would want to see the events leading up to an accident as well - before the collision actually happens. Fortunately, I did not get the chance to test the automatic collision recording feature and I hope it remains that way.

I recorded a recent trip to my son's school. The camera has a wide angle fixed focus lens F2.4 and records in full HD (1920 x 1080) including voice recording. It also has a built in 3-Axis gyro force sensor which keeps the images steady even on bumpy Coventry side roads.

On playing back the video on our TV, we found that the quality of the video was really good. I could easily read the car number plates and the distant landmarks we passed on the road were really clear. Check out the short video which I uploaded on YouTube.

I definitely recommend this camera. Prices of the cam varies widely depending on the online retailer, from £85.50 to £114.54.

This review was sponsored by Tesco Compare van insurance

Related Link: Insurance Fraud Bureau

I was watching a show on TV with some of my friends, where these guys were literally taking badly rusted cars - they were literally junk pots, and turning them into beautiful "vintage" automobiles that would go for several hundred dollars. We were chatting about a similar program on MTV I used to watch called "Pimp my ride" where cars fit for the junkyard were modified, cut, converted and painted into beautiful machines.

The guys I was hanging out with happen to be engineers and we ended up discussing the pro and cons of sand blasting rust off cars. I learnt that's not a very good idea as it can do more damage. Anyway, sandblasting is quite popular and that was what the guys in the show were doing. They removed the rust, patched the holes and scratches, painted them to what I thought was a really high standard. However, my engineer friend told me that the only way to confirm the smoothness of the surface is by using a 'surface roughness tester' also known as a profilometer. Yes, you learn new things everyday.

Apparently you can quantify the roughness of a surface by measuring the surface's profile. Most of these are big machines in the labs but I also found out that there are even hand held portable versions. For example, blast cleaned surfaces can be tested for the peak-to-valley height using a Portable Surface Roughness Tester Profilometer (yes, that's the official name of these machines). I did not get much of the technical stuff, but that's how the experts test the smoothness (or roughness) of metalworking or even a paint job.

So if you have a workshop and want to known as a professional today, your shop floor has to have one of these gadgets.

Sat Navs have got to be among the most useful innovations of the modern age. It has completely changed the way we travel. We hardly think about it now but I remember that it was less than 6 years ago, we were looking at road maps, planning our journeys and getting lost countless times. One time we were driving to a friend's house in Warwick about half an hour's away from our house, took a wrong turn and ended up on the motorway and finally in Birmingham. In the end we ended up taking around 2 hours before we finally found our friend's house. All of that became a thing of the past when I bought a used Tomtom One on eBay.

Five years on, I am still using the old TomTom sat nav and regularly bought an updated version of the UK-Ireland map. However, I would end up regretting it every time because somehow several postcodes would inadvertently be missing and the TomTom would try to lead me up one-way streets, especially in London. In the end, I just gave up and  have not updated my maps for a while.

The Navigation app on my android phone has come to my rescue a couple of times when I did not have the Tomtom with me or when the address was missing from it. However, the major problem was that the app would drain away the phone battery and I would have to drive real slow especially on junctions as there would always be a lag. The worst was when you lost the GPS signal and were left wondering where to go next.

Anyway, I was really excited when I got my new Nokia Lumia 900 as I had heard some great things about the Nokia Drive sat nav app from some of my friends who have the Nokia Lumia 800.

Free Maps
Before I could use it, I had to download the map and it took around 5 minutes to download the entire map of UK and Ireland over our wifi connection at home and best of all, unlike TomTom maps, it is completely FREE of charge. The navigation voice is available in several languages including Galician, Malay and Tamil. I was curious when I saw there was one called Surfer Dude (English). The kids really like it and I have stuck with it as it always cheers me up. 

The 4.3" screen of the Nokia Lunia 900 is just perfect. I initially tried the app out by using it to drive to Coventry city centre from my house (a distance of about 2.4 miles). I used my old Dash Genie phone holder to fix it on my car dashboard. I then selected the 3D map option. 

I set my destination (Priory Street), hit the "Drive to" button and then clicked "Start" and I was ready to go.

It automatically alerted me to the speed limits on the route and unlike my TomTom, got it right. I also tried changing the routes a couple of time just to see how fast it would recalculate the new route and I was pleasantly surprised - it was really fast and later found out that it's even faster than the Tomtom in calculating new routes. The Nokia Drive app also allows you to see famous landmarks on the route by turning on the Landmarks function.

Coventry cathedral and other landmarks near the destination.

Since then, I have used the Nokia Drive app a number of times in the following weeks after the initial test. I now maked most of my favourite locations in the city using the 'Pin' function. One of the biggest advantage it has over the Tomtom is the fact that I do not have to carry around a separate bulky Sat-nav around. 

The farthest I have gone using it is to Orpington near London from Coventry, a distance of around 130 miles. We had absolutely no problems apart from the time when I lost the GPS signal for a few minutes on the M25. In case you are wondering about the battery, the phone still had about 37% juice left when I finally reached Orpington.

Nokia Drive to the rescue
We were at a conference in Brunel University in Uxbridge recently and was giving our friend a lift to the Uxbridge tube station. I am not familiar with the area and we could not find the location of the station on our Tomtom when my wife suddenly reminded me that I had the Nokia Lumia with me. Fired up the Nokia Drive app and we were there in a couple of minutes. Our friend was really impressed and I think we may have helped Nokia gain a new customer.  

What I would like to see in future updates of the app?
I don't think the Nokia will completely replace our Tomtom as yet after all, it is a mobile phone with some great features but still a mobile phone. I really missed the ability to choose alternative routes. For example, for going to London I prefer to use the M40 rather than M1 (which is supposedly the fastest and the only option on Nokia Drive) and I hope future updates to this app will have the option to choose and calculate alternative routes.

One feature on Nokia Drive which I really wanted to try out was the 'My Commute' funtion, which records our driving preferences and is supposed to give us the latest traffic information, allowing us to avoid jams. Unfortunately this feature is not available in the UK yet and I am eagerly waiting for the day Nokia launches it here. 

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