The Cobra RAD 480i portable radar/laser detector is a steal at $150. It features front and rear laser detection as well as different sensitivity modes and real-time alerts through the iRadar App. It offers a great deal for the price, but our experience with the 480i over three weeks in Michigan, Ohio and Indiana has left us mixed. It’s and not a poor radar detector. The question is more about whether or not the RAD 480i makes the best choice given all of the options available. This is where opinions can sometimes be divided.

This article will go over the RAD 480i “spec sheets” and sum up our three-week journey. If you’re interested in purchasing the RAD 480i, I’ll cover the specs and features.

Cobra RAD 480i

Cobra RAD 480i detects all laser guns and radar bands. It displays alerts via an OLED display that is easy to read. The RAD 480i is a versatile radar detector that can detect all frequencies and locations. It also works with the iRadar App by Cobra.

The cobra rad 480i lightweight makes it easy to mount on your windshield.

Why buy a radar detector?

Avoiding a speeding ticket is the most obvious reason. A radar detector is a good choice when you consider the average speeding ticket cost in the United States, which is around $150. This does not include the higher insurance premium. The retail price for the Cobra RAD 480i is $149.95. It’s easy to see why.

The Cobra RAD 480i can be either great or awful depending on what you are looking for in a radar detector. The RAD 480i is best viewed as a “middle ground” unit. Although it is a significant step up from any base model radar detectors, the iRadar app may be all you need if you’re a fan of “bells and whistles”.

Cobra RAD 480i in-Depth: What it Offers

The Cobra RAD 480i includes a 12V power cord and a suction cup windshield mounting system. It also comes with a hook-and loop fastener for dashboard mounts. The windshield mount is my preference, as the hook-and loop fastener makes it difficult to adjust the angle on the RAD 480i. The RAD 480i doesn’t come with a case so I bought this one from Amazon.

Radar & Laser Protection

Cobra RAD 480i can alert you to X and K radar bands as well as laser (LiDAR), guns. The RAD 480i’s LaserEye technology, which is located on the top left-hand corner of the unit, allows Cobra to detect signals from the front and back. The unit will work best when it is mounted in the middle of your vehicle, approximately on your windshield. The unit should be as low as possible, but not so high that it blocks its view to either the front or the rear. To ensure maximum coverage, the LaserEye must have clear views out of your rear windows.

The RAD 480i can also identify VG-2, which means it can detect the notorious “radar detector detector”. Typically, radar detectors emit a low-level signal, which VG-2 can detect. The RAD 480i doesn’t emit this signal, which makes it invisible to radar detector detectors. This likely explains why VG-2 factory default setting is off. During our three-week trip, we received only one VG-2 alert and could not see the source. After turning it on, you will receive a VG-2 notification of the same intensity as a laser threat.

Alerts via Audible and Visual

Each type of radar band is assigned a different alert tone by the Cobra RAD 480i. As you approach the source, the tones will get faster for the X, K and Ka bands, while a laser alert will sound more abruptly and directly. The RAD 480i may issue a slow alert when you approach a bridge or hill. If this occurs, be aware. The alert intensity may increase as you climb or cross the bridge. Most likely, a patrol car is waiting on the opposite side.

The RAD 480i has a black-and-white combination, which is a departure from other radar detectors. We love the OLED display screen on the RAD 480i, especially for night driving. You can adjust the brightness settings using the DIM button at the top of your unit.

The display screen will show alerts according to the desired “detail mode” mode. In Detail mode the RAD 480i displays detected band, signal strength and frequency (pulserate for lasers). The display screen shows five squares that represent the signal strength. The closer you get to the radar source, the more squares will appear.

You can simplify the Less Details mode. You will see three bars depending on the intensity of your radar alert. One for low, two or three for medium and three for high. These modes can be accessed via the Menu button at the top of your unit. You can access the factory setting by pressing the Menu button on top of the unit.

We like the screen-saver mode on the Cobra RAD 480i. The screensaver can be turned on through the menu. When it is activated, the scanning bar appears. It bounces back and forth looking for threats. The screen will return to the More or Less Detail mode if a radar band is detected. When the iRadar App is connected, specific icons will appear. From left to right, manual muted alarm, current speed and scanning bar. Speed limit as detected by iRadar. Sensitivity mode (Auto).
Modes of Sensitivity

There are four levels of sensitivity available on the Cobra RAD 480i: Medium, Low and Auto. The SEN button at the top of the unit allows you to toggle between them. These buttons work in the following way:

  • High: No filtering to maximize sensitivity (best suited for highway and open-road driving).
  • Medium: No filtering is necessary to reduce unwanted alerts.
  • Low: Maximum filtering for reducing unwanted and/or false alarms (best suited to city driving).
  • Auto This mode adjusts the sensitivity based on your speed when connected to the iRadar App.

Driving with the Auto Sensitivity Mode

The Auto Sensitivity mode didn’t work for us so we chose to use Low or High depending on where were we. You can manually adjust the sensitivity even if the iRadar application is connected. We would receive a lot of false alarms while driving in Auto mode, especially when we were driving on roads like I-94 or M-10 through Detroit. This was corrected by switching to Low.

One example is the busy M-10 section that divides the New Center from Virginia Park neighborhoods in Detroit. There are many things that could set off a radar detector in this area. The most notable being Henry Ford Hospital and a precinct. (No joke, Detroit’s third precinct is located right there on West Grand Boulevard). The RAD 480i was constantly on Auto mode and alerted about this stretch of M-10 even though there were no dangers (patrol cars can be easily seen in this area).

We ran in the same area, both northbound and southbound, using Low Sensitivity to test it. It was quite a contrast. It was a stark contrast. In hindsight we might have switched to Medium, but Auto was too jumpy. We were still driving in Detroit, even though we drove at slightly faster speeds. Or, rather, we were still driving in city driving. We chose Low Sensitivity.

We also had a lot of trouble with our autosensitivity on the open roads. We drove 200 miles from Detroit to Bryant, Indiana for a family wedding. The RAD 480i was set to Auto mode and alerted to any road construction zones and flashing signs on I-75 between Michigan and Ohio. The RAD 480i was also alerted to additional road construction in Indiana. The RAD 480i doesn’t have a bad reputation, but if there are a lot road construction areas near your home, it might be worth looking at another unit. You might find the RAD 480i too much.

We recommend that you avoid Auto mode. Instead, keep it simple: Low for city driving and High when on the open roads. You can lock out false alarms regardless of where you drive by pressing the MARK button at the top.

After four seconds, the Auto Mute feature reduces the volume of any alert. The RAD 480i is silent and only gives an alert for a few seconds. Auto Mute default setting is on, while Quite Drive mode is off.

Accuracy & Range of Detection

Cobra Electronics claims that the RAD 480i’s range detection is among the best in its class, due to its digital signal processor technology. (Here is a link to a cool engineering presentation about how digital signal processing works). This was also supported by other reviews that we read prior to our three-week-long drive. The RAD 480i’s detection range is exceptional, which is amazing for a product in this price range. Several times we were driving through Ferndale, Royal Oak, and Woodward Avenue when the RAD 480i alerted to us to spot patrol cars in heavy rush hour traffic. We saw patrol cars that we wouldn’t have otherwise.

iRadar App

The RAD 480i works with Cobra’s iRadar application (hence, the “i”) in the name). The iRadar app allows you to report and receive real-time alerts from an entire network. iRadar alerts can include speed traps, red light and speed camera locations as well as air patrols (we were notified in Ohio), photo-enforced areas and other warning areas.

If you are connected to the app and receive an alert, the OLED display will display the type of alert (e.g. speed trap or red light camera). The black warning bar acts as a countdown, moving from left to right. The closer the warning bar moves to the left the closer you will be to an iRadar alert.

The Cobra RAD 480i is able to simultaneously display iRadar alerts and the countdown bar, as well as standard radar alerts and signal bars. This is really impressive. Although it might sound complicated, the OLED display on the RAD 480i makes everything very clear. Despite being small, the screen allows you to easily distinguish between multiple threats simultaneously.

The iRadar app allows you to view your alert history, set speed reminders and manage multiple devices. Many other Cobra products can also be used with the app. You should always have a charge with you when you travel.

Cobra RAD 480i vs. Cobra RAD 380

There are two options when it comes to radar detectors that Cobra offers at a more affordable price: the RAD 480i or the RAD 380.
The RAD 380 is the smaller brother to the RAD 480i and retails at $99.95. The RAD 380 was a great tool for driving. We were genuinely impressed with its performance. The RAD 380, which detects laser guns and police radar, is a simple unit with all the benefits. The RAD 380 doesn’t have any fancy tech features or apps. If you need an extra pair of eyes, the Cobra RAD 380 will do.

The main advantage of the Cobra RAD 480i is its compatibility with the iRadar App. It is up to you whether the $50 extra for the iRadar application is worth it. It depends on which apps you use most often when driving.

Personally, I enjoyed using the iRadar App while driving. The $50 extra cost for real-time alerts, and the ability to report them to other drivers is well worth it. I don’t use any apps while driving, except Google Maps occasionally. For this reason, Cobra’s iRadar application was the best on my phone for the three-week drive and subsequent review. However, my wife uses Waze a lot and thinks the iRadar app doesn’t really deserve $50 more. Apps like Waze are more valuable and offer more functionality than the iRadar apps, so the RAD 380 is her preferred choice.

Is The Cobra RAD 480i worth it?

The Cobra RAD 480i is a great radar detector, but it is not the best. The amount of time you use the radar detector each day will determine what it is worth. Although more expensive units such as the Uniden and K40 Platinum 100 offer perks, it is possible to get a lot of peace of mind by purchasing something at this level.

The RAD 380 emits fewer false alarms, based on our experiences with the Cobra RAD 380 and RAD 480i. The iRadar app is great, but the RAD 380 seems to have better overall performance than the RAD 480i. False alerts were rare, if any, with the RAD 380. The RAD 480i on the other hand seemed to have trouble with false alarms, particularly in Auto Sensitivity mode.

The Cobra RAD 480i remains a top pick in this price range. However, there are many other radar detectors that can be purchased for less than $200. We would choose the RAD 380 from the Cobra product range over the RAD 480i. The Uniden is worth considering in this price range.

You can also purchase the RAD 480i via Cobra’s website for $149.95. The iRadar application is a nice addition, although it all depends on your preferences. The Cobra RAD 480i radar detector is affordable and has a sleek display with great long-range detection.

Carl Anthony is the Managing Editor of Automoblog. He is also a member of both the Midwest Automotive Media Association (MAMA) and the Society of Automotive Historians. He is on the Ally Jolie Baldwin Foundation’s board of directors, a former president of Detroit Working Writers and a passionate Detroit Lions fan.

Cobra RAD 480i

Cobra RAD 480i detects all laser guns and radar bands. It displays alerts via an OLED display that is easy to read. The RAD 480i is a versatile radar detector that can detect all frequencies and locations. It also works with the iRadar App by Cobra.

The Cobra RAD 480i’s lightweight makes it easy to mount on your windshield.

Most Frequently Asked Questions

What is the warranty on the Cobra RAD 480i

Cobra Electronics offers a 1-year warranty starting from the date of original purchase. The warranty covers workmanship and material defects. Cobra will replace or repair your radar detector at no cost (though you must pay shipping).

Is the Cobra RAD 480i able to detect lasers?

Yes. Actually, LiDAR is the correct acronym for the technology most people call laser. It stands for Light Detection and Rangeing. LiDAR works in the same way as radar. Although its signal is not as widespread, it spreads like radar. The Cobra RAD 480i is able to detect LiDAR easily.

Why is my RAD 480i not turning on?

A dirty power outlet, or cigarette lighter socket could be the cause. These areas should be free from dirt, dust, or corrosion. It could also be caused by a loose or damaged power cord. Double-check that the primary power source is connected to the unit. The Cobra RAD 480i has been designed to be maintenance-free. These simple troubleshooting methods may not work. Contact Cobra.

Where can I find the iRadar App?

You can download the Cobra iRadar App for free on Google Play (Android), or from the App Store (Apple). To use the app, you will need an account.

Are radar detectors legal?

Yes, for the most part. Radar detectors are prohibited in Virginia, Washington D.C. and most of Canada. Radar detectors are also prohibited in commercial vehicles weighing more than 10,000 lbs. A radar detector is legal in any commercial vehicle that weighs more than 10,000 lbs. If you have any questions, this guide to radar detection laws in America will assist.

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