As an Amazon Associate, Automoblog earns from qualifying purchases, including the radar detectors featured here.The RAD 480i in this review was supplied to us by Cobra Electronics, an affiliate partner. Automoblog is a member of the Radar Detector and Countermeasures Forum to ensure truth and accountability when covering radar detectors.
Front and rear laser detection, different sensitivity modes, and real-time alerts via the iRadar app are just some of the features that make the Cobra RAD 480i portable radar and laser detector a near-steal at about $150. Although it offers a good array of features for the money, our overall opinion is still mixed after three weeks of driving with the 480i through Michigan, Ohio, and Indiana.
As of this writing, the RAD 480i is available for $150 on Cobra’s website and via Amazon for the same price. In this article, I will run through the RAD 480i “spec sheet” and summarize our three-week drive as I go along. After covering the features and specs, I will suggest a few other units if you are thinking about purchasing the RAD 480i.
Cobra RAD 480i In-Depth: What It Offers
The Cobra RAD 480i comes with a 12V power cord, suction cup windshield mount, a hook-and-loop fastener for dashboard mounting, and a quick reference guide. I prefer the windshield mount as the hook-and-loop fastener makes it impossible to adjust the angle of the RAD 480i. Unfortunately, the RAD 480i does not come with a carrying case.
Radar & Laser Protection
The Cobra RAD 480i will alert you to X, K, and Ka radar bands and laser (LiDAR) guns. Cobra’s proprietary LaserEye technology (located on the top left-hand side of the unit) means the RAD 480i can detect signals from both the front and rear. The RAD 480i is also VG-2 capable, meaning it can identify the infamous “radar detector detector.” If you receive a VG-2 alert after switching it on in the settings menu, it will be of a similar intensity to that of a laser threat.
Audible & Visual Alerts
The Cobra RAD 480i issues a specific alert tone for each type of radar band. The tones will become faster for X, K, and Ka bands as you approach the source, whereas a laser alert will be more sudden and direct by contrast. You may find the RAD 480i will issue a slow alert as you approach a hill or bridge. Be mindful if this happens, especially if the intensity increases as you climb the hill or cross the bridge. Most likely, there is a patrol car waiting on the other side.
Display Screen & Detail Modes
Unlike other radar detectors, the RAD 480i does not have a color display, opting instead for a black-and-white combo that is softer on the eyes. The OLED display screen is one of our favorite things about the RAD 480i, especially when driving at night. You can change the brightness settings via the DIM button on top of the unit based on your preferences (Bright, Dim, and Dimmer).
The display screen will show you alerts according to your desired “detail mode.” In More Detail mode, the RAD 480i displays the detected band, signal strength, and frequency (pulse rate for lasers). Five squares represent the signal strength on the display screen. The more squares that appear, the closer you are to the source of the radar.
However, you can simplify things via the Less Detail mode. Here, you will only receive three bars based on the intensity of the radar alert: one for low, two for medium, and three for high. You can access these modes via the Menu button. More Detail is the factory setting, and it’s the setting we prefer.
The Cobra RAD 480i offers four different sensitivity levels: High, Medium, Low, and Auto. You can toggle through them by hitting the SEN button on top of the unit. They function like this:
High: Zero filtering for maximum sensitivity (best for highway or open road driving).
Medium: Minimal filtering to reduce unwanted alerts.
Low: Maximum filtering to reduce unwanted and/or false alerts (best for city driving).
Auto: When connected to the iRadar app, this mode adjusts the sensitivity according to your current speed.
Driving With The Auto Sensitivity Mode
We didn’t have the best luck with the Auto Sensitivity mode, opting instead for Low or High, depending on where we were driving (you can still manually change the sensitivity when connected to the iRadar app). While driving in Auto mode, especially on roads like I-94 and M-10 through Detroit, we would often receive a barrage of false alerts. Switching to Low, however, corrected this.
As a specific example: There is a busy section of M-10 that separates the New Center and Virginia Park neighborhoods here in Detroit. Many things could potentially set a radar detector off in that particular area, most notably Henry Ford Hospital and a police precinct (no joke; Detroit’s 3rd precinct is right there on West Grand Boulevard). In Auto mode, the RAD 480i constantly alerted on this stretch of M-10, despite no legitimate threats (patrol cars are pretty easy to spot in this area).
To experiment, we ran through the same area (both north and southbound) in Low sensitivity. It was a stark contrast. The Cobra RAD 480i went from making a lot of racket to nothing. Maybe we should have switched to Medium sensitivity in hindsight, but regardless, the Auto mode felt too jumpy.
False Alert Filtering & Range Detection
Auto sensitivity wasn’t much better for us on the open road, either, especially with regard to false alert filtering. We went to a family wedding in Bryant, Indiana, about a 200-mile drive from Detroit. In Auto mode, the RAD 480i alerted to every road construction zone and flashing sign on I-75 through Michigan and Ohio. Further road construction in Indiana sent the RAD 480i into a frenzy.
According to Cobra Electronics, the RAD 480i has best-in-class range detection thanks to its digital signal processing technology (here is a cool engineering lecture on how digital signal processing works). Best-in-class, in this instance, requires some clarification, as it’s relative to the more affordable $150 price tag of the RAD 480i versus other, more expensive radar detectors. That said, despite the lackluster false alert filtering, the RAD 480i’s detection range is better than expected.
As an Amazon Associate, Automoblog earns from qualifying purchases.
Detection range is better than anticipated for a radar detector in this class.
Black-and-white display is nice for driving at night.
Report or receive real-time alerts via the iRadar app.
The RAD 480i is compatible with Cobra’s iRadar app (hence the “i” in the name). With the iRadar app, you can either report or receive real-time alerts generated by an entire network of users. iRadar alerts include red light and speed camera locations, speed traps, air patrols (we received these warnings in Ohio), photo-enforced locations, and other caution areas.
Should you receive an alert while connected to the app, the type will show on the OLED display (like a red light camera or speed trap, for example). From there, a black warning bar serves as a “count down” of sorts, working from right to left. The closer the bar moves to the left, the closer you are to the iRadar alert.
What’s neat is how the Cobra RAD 480i can simultaneously display iRadar alerts with the countdown bar alongside other standard radar alerts with the signal bars. Although the screen is small, it’s easy to decipher between multiple threats simultaneously.
Through the iRadar app, you can view an alert history, set over speed reminders, and manage different devices (a number of other Cobra products are also compatible with the app). The iRadar app will take a toll on your phone battery, so having a charger for longer trips is a good idea.
Cobra RAD 480i vs. Cobra RAD 380
When it comes to the more affordable radar detectors offered by Cobra, there are two to consider: the RAD 480i and the RAD 380.
The Cobra RAD 380, the little brother of the RAD 480i, retails for $100. We spent several weeks driving with the RAD 380 and were more impressed by its performance versus the 480i. The RAD 380 is a no-frills unit that detects police radar and laser guns; it’s all the benefits and none of the mess compared to the 480i. There are no apps or fancy tech features to worry about; if you just need an extra set of eyes, the Cobra RAD 380 is a better choice for less money.
Although the visible displays differ, the main selling point of the Cobra RAD 480i over the RAD 380 is the iRadar app compatibility. The question is whether or not the extra $50 is worth it for the iRadar app. To answer that, it depends on what apps (if any) you are most likely to use when you drive.
I personally enjoy the iRadar app. Having real-time alerts and reporting them for other drivers to see is a nice perk. However, I rarely use apps when I drive, other than Google Maps on occasion. As such, for this three-week drive and subsequent review of the RAD 480i, Cobra’s iRadar app had little competition on my phone. My wife, by contrast, frequently uses Waze and believes the iRadar app is not worth the extra $50. For her, apps like Waze offer more value and functionality than the iRadar app, so the RAD 380 is the better pick.
Cobra RAD 380 (top) and Cobra RAD 480i (bottom).
Is The Cobra RAD 480i Worth It?
Although the price of the RAD 480i is right, radar detectors are very much a “you get what you pay for” type of product. At $150, the RAD 480i is less expensive than most other radar detectors, but the downfall comes with it trying to punch too hard above its class and being unable to deliver. By contrast, the Uniden R3 will run more money than the 480i, but it’s a much better radar detector, delivering more value and performance for the dollar. Similarly, the Uniden DFR9 is also a solid contender when it comes to performance for the dollar.
Carl Anthony is the Managing Editor of Automoblog and the host of AutoVision News Radio and AutoSens Insights. He is a Midwest Automotive Media Association member and on the board of directors for the Ally Jolie Baldwin Foundation. Like many Detroiters, Carl is holding out for a Lions Super Bowl win.
Cobra RAD 480i FAQ
How long is the warranty for the Cobra RAD 480i?
Cobra Electronics provides a one-year warranty from the original date of purchase. The warranty covers defects in workmanship and materials. Cobra will repair or replace your radar detector free of charge (you do pay for shipping, however).
Does the Cobra RAD 480i detect lasers?
Yes. The correct name for the technology that most people call laser is LiDAR, which stands for Light Detection and Ranging. Its signal spreads out like radar, though not as widely. The Cobra RAD 480i will detect LiDAR. To learn more about how LiDAR works, take a listen to this podcast on the topic.
My RAD 480i does not power up?
One possible explanation is a dirty power outlet or cigarette lighter socket. Make sure these areas are free of dirt, dust, and corrosion. A loose power cord on the unit could also be to blame. If these simple troubleshooting techniques don’t work, we recommend getting in contact with Cobra.
Where do I download the iRadar app?
The Cobra iRadar app is available for free from Google Play (Android) or the App Store (Apple). You will need to create an account to use the app.
Are radar detectors legal?
For the most part, yes. However, radar detectors are illegal in Virginia, Washington D.C., and most of Canada. Radar detectors are also illegal in any commercial vehicle weighing over 10,000 lbs. This guide to radar detector laws in the United States will help if you have additional questions.