Small but Mighty, the Garmin Dash Cam 56 Packs Plenty of Punch
Garmin's name still means something.
- Guides & Gear
While Garmin is known for its GPS products, its latest claim to fame has been dominating Best Buy product tables with a more recent technological invention: dash cams. While great at capturing your chaotic commute and offering YouTube hilarity, dash cams are meant to document unfortunate encounters on the road. You know, so you’re not held liable by a fast-talking BMW driver after an accident.
One of the latest offerings from the brand, the Garmin Dash Cam 56, follows the success of the brand’s Dash Cam 55. This minuscule unit has a mouselike 2-inch LCD screen and a well-rounded feature set, starting with Bluetooth/Wi-Fi connectivity, built-in GPS, and a smartphone app to view and download footage. At the time of writing, the Garmin is about $160 on Amazon (where we got it), which is more expensive than the Nexar and Aukey we previously tested.
With such capabilities and a legendary name behind it, The Drive figured it was time to put Garmin to the test to see if the brand-name price is worthy of your dollars. Is it the right companion for your morning commute? Does the company’s app actually work or just drain your phone’s battery?
To answer those questions and more, we put Garmin’s Dash Cam 56 onto our windshield and drove it up, down, and around Miami's plush suburbs. We know, it isn’t exactly Russia, but let’s see what happened.
Unboxing and Initial Impressions of the Garmin Dash Cam 56
The Garmin Dash Cam 56 offers some seriously simple packaging. The box is lean and gray with large Garmin lettering down the side and a high-resolution image of the dash cam. Inside offers a simple piece of concave cardboard holding everything you need, including the instruction manual, adhesive mount, 12-volt charger, two USB cables, a dual USB 12-volt socket adapter, and the dash cam itself.
At first touch, the Garmin Dash Cam 56 feels lightweight and, frankly, slightly cheap thanks to its plastic housing. The screen takes up nearly its entire back, save for small icons corresponding to the cam’s side buttons for powering up, down, and accessing files. The Garmin’s mount sticks to the windshield by way of adhesive, while a magnetic connector couples the mount to the camera.
Setup is straightforward, with a few questions asked via the rear screen before it allows you to pair it with your phone. Pairing the Garmin with its app is simple. After downloading the Garmin Drive app (iOS and Android), turn on your camera, place both devices within 10 feet of each other, open the app, and follow the in-app instructions to complete the two-minute setup process. Dash cam and smartphone connect automatically once in proximity to one another.
One letdown is that the Garmin Dash Cam 56 doesn’t include a micro SD card. There’s no internal memory here, so a micro SD card is necessary. Customers may feel frustrated that it can’t be put to immediate use, but memory cards are inexpensive (three-pack for about $20) and plentiful from any fine electronics retailer. Just purchase one when you buy the cam.
Using the Garmin Dash Cam 56
- Good: Easy to use smartphone app, solid 1440p resolution, and 140-degree field of view
- Bad: Screen may be too small for some users, doesn’t include micro SD card
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After adding a memory card, mounting the camera to the windshield, and adjusting the camera’s settings, we were ready to go.
Off the bat, the Garmin Dash Cam 56's steady playback was superb. Recording with a 140-degree field of view, 65 frames per second, and 1440p (WQHD), the road markings, street signs, and license plates are clearly distinguishable and legible. No Sasquatch blur here.
A highlight of the Garmin Dash Cam 56 is its discreet profile (2.1 inches wide, 1.6 inches long) that sneaks under your rearview mirror. There is an internal battery that lets you do away with its power cord, too, though you’ll need to hook it into either your 12-volt or USB outlet for anything longer than 30 minutes.
We then toggled the Garmin’s sensitivity to high to test the device’s built-in G-sensor, and it worked well. We performed a few G-loading maneuvers — sharp braking, quick jabs left and right — and the video-capture function activated whenever it sensed sudden jerks. Triggering the G-sensor also causes the system to retain the previous minute and the following minute, ensuring that the video offers above-and-beyond coverage. (It records all the time but overwrites the data as necessary.)
As for that magnetic mount and ball socket, they offer excellent range of movement while remaining steady on the windshield despite our G-sensor tests.
Voice controls are responsive and available for users who speak English, French, Italian, Spanish, German, and Swedish. The voice control prompts let you save videos, take a picture, start and stop audio and video recording as well as start and stop travel timelapse.
The Garmin also features a neat proximity-alert system, which will chime whenever it detects that your vehicle is too close to another. This is great for lane changes, tight parking spaces, and parking garages. Users can toggle it on or off if it gets too annoying.
We will mention that the Garmin Dash Cam 56 requires a lot of button pressing. Given the small screen, it’s not uncommon to have to press the settings button numerous times to get where you need to go. Adjusting the camera’s resolution requires three button clicks and a scroll just to get to the resolution setting. Large-fingered folks may struggle to hit the correct buttons, which sit very close to one another.
The Garmin Drive app, however, is a pleasure to use. The app gives you complete control over the dashcam, including access to stored images and video files, recording, resolution settings, and more. Stored footage loads quickly with sharp images and video playback, making review easy as pie. A live-feed feature is included, too, allowing video surveillance from anywhere you bring your phone.
What’s Good About the Garmin Dash Cam 56
Our favorite feature of the Garmin Dash Cam 56 has to be the display and recorded video’s crisp resolution, no matter the time of day or driving environment. That included night driving, where the recording remained visible without too much grain — a space where others often fail.
Garmin Drive, the dash cam’s easy-to-use app is also a strong point. This app offers everything you’d want a dash cam’s app to offer, including a way to view and store footage, provide real-time video, and access camera controls and settings.
The strong swivel mount makes smooth recording easy, while Garmin’s discreet profile won’t obstruct your field of view. Essentially, there’s a lot to like about the Garmin.
What’s Not Great About the Garmin Dash Cam 56
In today’s market, not offering an SD card is annoying and feels like penny pinching. Just throw one in, Garmin.
Although its size is a selling point, it also may rankle some users since its 2-inch display is a pain for those with larger fingers. Maybe just bring along a tiny-fingered co-pilot?
Worse yet, although the Garmin has an internal battery pack, for any amount of continued use you have to have it plugged into your 12-volt power outlet. So, while the unit is indeed small, the dangling cord is a nuisance.
Our Verdict on the Garmin Dash Cam 56
Save for its ultra-small 2-inch LED screen, somewhat cumbersome physical buttons, lack of included MicroSD card, and the power requirements, the Garmin Dash Cam 56 has all the hallmarks of a great commuting companion. It offers excellent captured footage, a healthy frame rate, responsive voice controls, and the intuitive Garmin Drive smartphone app that makes it easy to configure settings and download your videos.
All in all, the Garmin Dash Cam 56 proved that while some name brands aren’t worth the name-brand price, the price tag feels just fine here.
FAQs About Garmin Dash Cam 56
The Drive’s editors aren’t psychic, so to answer other frequently asked questions, we scrolled through Google’s People also ask box for anything that may be lingering in your heads.
Q. What is the Garmin Dash Cam 56’s resolution?
A. The Garmin Dash Cam 56 offers 2560-by-1440 resolution at up to 60 frames per second.
Q. Does the Garmin Dash Cam 56 record audio?
A. It does!
Q. When the MicroSD is full, do you need to manually delete old footage?
A. You don’t. The Garmin will overwrite the old footage for you.
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