Zenfox U1 - 2 Channel 4K + 1080p Dashcam from Zenfox

DrekiTech

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Please note: Zenfox sent a sample of this camera for review. They've also provided an Amazon coupon "DrekiTech" for 15% off, if you do go on to purchase it (valid until Dec 10). Amazon Link.

YOUTUBE:


Conclusion: The Zenfox U1 is a competent camera (without notable overheating issues), reasonable video quality for the price, and several features found on higher end cams. The slightly soft focus prevents the cam from being a home-run, although if you're watching the video on a small screen, chances are you won't be able to notice.

Specifications:
Front Cam: 8MP IMX415
Rear Cam: 2MP IMX307
Parking Modes: Motion detect, timelapse, low bitrate

Chapters:
0:00 Introduction and specs
0:34 Camera hardware
1:05 Installation
1:40 Daylight samples
3:28 U1 vs A129 Duo 1080p
4:18 U1 vs A129 Pro 4K
5:05 Rear cam
5:30 Night
6:26 Sample 1
6:56 Sample 2 (vs A129 Pro)
7:26 Sample 3
7:56 Sample 4
8:26 Sample 5
8:56 Sample 6
9:26 Sample 7
9:57 User Interface + App
10:47 Conclusion
11:45 Outtro

Video Script:

Zenfox is back with a budget real 4K dual dashcam offering, the U1. It's got true 4K front, 1080p rear, and now after well over a month of testing, let's take a look and see if this camera is smoking hot, or rather not.

Inside the Box:

Inside the box is all the cabling needed to get started. A memory card is not supplied, my suggestions for that is in the description. There's also a USB-C cable for plugging the camera into a computer, an SD card reader, some mounting clips and extra stickers.

Camera Build:

The camera itself is made of a mix of glossy and matte plastic that looks handsome. I find it's not as big as it looks in pictures. Control buttons line the bottom, and a there are two USB type C ports: one for the rear camera and another on the mount. The rear camera cable is thick, which could make clean wiring a bit difficult, but for the most part this camera is installed the same way as any other dashcam. Stick it to the windshield behind the rear view mirror, run the cables around the top of the windshield and down behind the side trim, run the rear camera cables across the top of the door, and plug it all together. This camera will start and stop recording with the car, but cannot continue recording when the car is powered off without additional hard-wiring or battery backup enabled.

Video Samples:
Let's check out some video quality samples, and quickly get the good news out of the way: this camera did not have any noticeable overheating issues. After running for an hour it was comfortable to the touch, and removing the memory card after recording it was hot, but not burning. Now, keeping in mind that the price point of this camera is relatively low for real 4K, I do think the front video performs reasonably well. It's vibrant, colourful, and has modest license plate readability. We'll get into camera comparisons in a little bit, but needless to say, it smashes my main camera, a Viofo A129 duo, 1080p front cam, and it is, respectfully, smashed, by the more expensive Viofo A129 Pro 4K.

Zenfox falls right in the middle of the two pricing wise, so that makes sense.

It's honestly not so much an issue with the camera itself, its sensor, processor or anything software wise. I really like the way the Zenfox U1 processes video overall - it's extremely visually appealing and aligns more with how a phone creates colour. The video would look great for a content creator in terms of colour reproduction and contrast. The little issue is with the lens: this camera runs a little bit on the soft side of focus. The first U1 I had seemed to be very out of focus on one side, so Zenfox sent a replacement, and unfortunately even their replacement was a bit soft focus. I think the focus is too close to my car, with my headlight lenses being tack sharp, while distant trees and street signs are a bit dull. This, in itself, is the one of the only reasons the Zenfox U1 is smashed by the A129 Pro. Lens sharpness is much higher, making license plates more readable, street signs more readable, etc.

Likely if you're watching on a small screen like a phone it would be much more challenging to see the soft focus. For example, when I downsize the footage to 1080p, for comparison beside the A129 standard, this camera is great. In reality, it's just a nature of photography, where more pixels means any slight variance in lens will show much more. My A129 Duo, even, tends to go out of focus when it's running hot but because it is only 1080p the effect is less pronounced.

Wifi App:
Finally, app time! The Zenfox app worked fine from my experience. A lot of dashcam apps have bad reviews, and I honestly think that is because many many phones will auto disconnect from the dashcam wifi when they detect it does not have internet access. If you force your phone to stay on the wifi the connection is steady, video has live preview and you can change all the settings with a touch screen.
 
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kamkar

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I am not a fan of these hang of windscreen cameras, no matter what shape or size the camera itself are, and even with the windscreen layout of my car i could easy mount on dotted area and have camera peek out below the dots.
I think in regard to lens performance off more or less, i think that can also to some degree be blamed on the lens maker / model itself.

I assume this like most others are using the IMX 415 ?
 
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DrekiTech

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I am not a fan of these hang of windscreen cameras, no matter what shape or size the camera itself are, and even with the windscreen layout of my car i could easy mount on dotted area and have camera peek out below the dots.
I think in regard to lens performance off more or less, i think that can also to some degree be blamed on the lens maker / model itself.

I assume this like most others are using the IMX 415 ?
Front Cam: 8MP IMX415
Rear Cam: 2MP IMX307

I just noticed that I completely borked the processor in video for the specs so I'm doing a "quick" re-render and re-upload. Whoops! This is what I get for copying the text box from a previous action cam video and ADHD'ing straight into another part of the video without changing all the text.

Regarding form factor, yeah, it is a personal preference. For me I do prefer the wedge shape as well. (Well, my ideal form factor would be the main camera body under the dash, and 2x remote cameras like we currently use for rear/interior units, but none of the major brands seem to make this right now)
 

kamkar

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No still very few systems with a remote main unit, i tested two, the K2S and the SG9663DR, the K2S is pretty old now, i think like 3 years ago it came out, and it have insane small camera units, much smaller than the ones for the SG9663DR and the mini wedge shaped rear camera ones we see on many other brands / models.

I am a big fan of the remote main unit as that way you can make it large, and so accommodate really good cooling solution so you can run higher bitrates, and you can probably get the camera to do parking guard longer with the car parked in the mid day sun in summer.
And you could put in a SSD or M2 drive for storage instead of the silly little SD cards.
 
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DrekiTech

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No still very few systems with a remote main unit, i tested two, the K2S and the SG9663DR, the K2S is pretty old now, i think like 3 years ago it came out, and it have insane small camera units, much smaller than the ones for the SG9663DR and the mini wedge shaped rear camera ones we see on many other brands / models.

I am a big fan of the remote main unit as that way you can make it large, and so accommodate really good cooling solution so you can run higher bitrates, and you can probably get the camera to do parking guard longer with the car parked in the mid day sun in summer.
And you could put in a SSD or M2 drive for storage instead of the silly little SD cards.
Exactly! As you stated:
- a huge benefit in cooling with the camera not directly exposed to sunlight.
- remote camera units can be tiny
- more processing power for additional cam units
- if someone breaks into the car and steals the cameras from the windshield, they would not get the main unit unless they knew exactly what/where to look for (and not get the data off of it)

If I ever designed a dashcam, it will be this style / form factor.
 

kamkar

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Both models i mentioned have pretty small main units, and i do not understand that as it dont take advantage of these possible upgrade options, i would not mind if it was cigar box sized, hell i might even take a camera system with half a shoe box size.
The K2S cameras are so small you will not be able to put CPL on them, at least not a CPL like seen today.
A main body / unit like that, it would also allow for connections of camera units specially designed for use on the side of the car, either on fixed glass filming out, or on top of door plastic filming out, or even on the back of front fender filming down the side of the car.
And then you could of course have regular front & rear camera units that are not as demanding as a side camera would be.

I have also argued for some kind of BUS on such a unit, so you could daisy chain other things like a box more for more cameras or maybe a alarm module ASO
But say you got the #1 model with two 1080 p cameras or maybe two 1440p cameras, either way, some time pass by and now there is a new model with two 4K cameras, so you could get that make that your new F&R cameras and move your older cameras to side use / maybe get special side camera modules, and BOOM you have 360 coverage.
 

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1. That hanging off the window and connecting mount to Pins always concerns me. Subject to Vibration and Movements over time. I was given a camera with a similar setup to beta by MyGekoGear (950). Camera has worked fine with a similar design, but hanging from an arm is nowhere near as sturdy as a direct mount to windshield.

2. I agree with @kamkar. I still am at a loss why other manufacturers haven't followed Street Guardian's design to get the main unit away from the windshield. I am glad this model of Zenfox (Unlike the Zenfox T3) doesn't have a heat issue.

1638817659833.png
 
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DrekiTech

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@DrekiTech

1. That hanging off the window and connecting mount to Pins always concerns me. Subject to Vibration and Movements over time. I was given a camera with a similar setup to beta by MyGekoGear (950). Camera has worked fine with a similar design, but hanging from an arm is nowhere near as sturdy as a direct mount to windshield.

2. I agree with @kamkar. I still am at a loss why other manufacturers haven't followed Street Guardian's design to get the main unit away from the windshield. I am glad this model of Zenfox (Unlike the Zenfox T3) doesn't have a heat issue.
The mount was not one a concern I had while testing, it felt reasonably solid, and no issues with disconnection in a over the month. That being said, there is not a second USB-C port on the camera body if the mount does fail like some Viofo cams had. Again, I was not worried about it, but it is still some food for thought.

And yes, no heat issues! Mind you, they sent this one in Winter, it did not feel so terribly hot to the touch like the T3 did.
 

HonestReview

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The mount was not one a concern I had while testing, it felt reasonably solid, and no issues with disconnection in a over the month.

That's good. The MyGekoGear Orbit 950 hasn't disconnected either. But I just worry one day with vibrations, I find the camera having fallen off the windshield, hitting the dash, and being broken. Hasn't happened yet, and I am glad, but this same bit of paranoia carries over to cameras using the Stalk Mount with Pin Design.

That being said, there is not a second USB-C port on the camera body if the mount does fail like some Viofo cams had. Again, I was not worried about it, but it is still some food for thought.

Agreed. Per the above concerns. Whether these concerns prove unfounded, and they very well might be unfounded, time will tell.

And yes, no heat issues! Mind you, they sent this one in Winter, it did not feel so terribly hot to the touch like the T3 did.

+1. But of course, winter isn't the time to test heat. However, 2 Channel cameras generally aren't suffering from heat issues. It's the 3 channel setups that have experienced problems from my experience. Especially in parking mode.
 
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SawMaster

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I've had many 'brick-on-a-stick' cams and the only movement or vibration issues I've encountered were with "T" slot mounts. This one looks like it will be solid there. Looks somewhat like the B4K, perhaps a bit smaller. Very good vid quality day and night but someone's windshield needs cleaning :p

Don't like shiny bits anywhere on the front of a cam (or anywhere really). Do like USB-C. Do like apps that work. Don't like the size of the rear cam. Do like what appears to be a good PS instead of a cheapo. Am somewhat concerned about the focus issues, but will likely get sorted better in production units.

Seems good for what it is, you can definitely do a lot worse. Now for long-term reliability testing ;)

Phil
 

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I've had many 'brick-on-a-stick' cams and the only movement or vibration issues I've encountered were with "T" slot mounts. This one looks like it will be solid there. Looks somewhat like the B4K, perhaps a bit smaller. Very good vid quality day and night but someone's windshield needs cleaning :p

Dear Lord, @DrekiTech windshield needed cleaning at the 8 Minute 48 Second Mark. The Zenfox U1 looked crisp and you couldn't see a damn thing out the window for the A129 Pro! Hint Hint. That bit wasn't the best set of test footage!

What do you mean by the T Slot mounts. Any example of a Model Number.

Video quality is good, especially the rear camera at the 9 Minute 47 Second mark to the ~ 10 Minute Mark. The Zenfox U1 has a brighter night visibility which I like. The A129 Pro had a much darker image, making the cars harder to see. Whereas the U1 Light Sensor could pick up the vehicles.

Don't like shiny bits anywhere on the front of a cam (or anywhere really). Do like USB-C. Do like apps that work. Don't like the size of the rear cam. Do like what appears to be a good PS instead of a cheapo. Am somewhat concerned about the focus issues, but will likely get sorted better in production units.


Seems good for what it is, you can definitely do a lot worse. Now for long-term reliability testing ;)

Phil

I think the big issue here and (@DrekiTech) talked about it in the video. His first Zenfox U1 was completely out of focus. This one was sharp on the right side and soft on the left.

The problem with a lot of Beta Models is they are hand built, giving rise to human error during assembly. If I were @DrekiTech, I might have sent this video to Zenfox support requesting yet another replacement camera that is verified in focus (3rd unit). As I would hope focus issues would be corrected by production level models. Therefore, I would have tried to get a unit that worked properly in order to demonstrate Zenfox's U1 under optimal conditions.
 
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DrekiTech

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Dear Lord, @DrekiTech windshield needed cleaning at the 8 Minute 48 Second Mark. The Zenfox U1 looked crisp and you couldn't see a damn thing out the window for the A129 Pro! Hint Hint. That bit wasn't the best set of test footage!

What do you mean by the T Slot mounts. Any example of a Model Number.

Video quality is good, especially the rear camera at the 9 Minute 47 Second mark to the ~ 10 Minute Mark. The Zenfox U1 has a brighter night visibility which I like. The A129 Pro had a much darker image, making the cars harder to see. Whereas the U1 Light Sensor could pick up the vehicles.



I think the big issue here (and @DrekiTech) talked about it in the video. His first Zenfox U1 was completely out of focus. This one was sharp on the right side and soft on the left.

The problem with a lot of Beta Models is they are hand built, giving rise to human error during assembly. If I were @DrekiTech, I might have sent this video to Zenfox support requesting yet another replacement camera that is verified in focus (3rd unit). As I would hope focus issues would be corrected by production level models. Therefore, I would have tried to get a unit that worked properly in order to demonstrate Zenfox's U1 under properly working conditions.
Aye thanks for the feedback I'll keep it in mind going forward. Even on many of our sunny days it is wet on the road right now, so this is a pretty accurate picture of what real world use would be like, even if not the best side by side shot.
 

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Aye thanks for the feedback I'll keep it in mind going forward. Even on many of our sunny days it is wet on the road right now, so this is a pretty accurate picture of what real world use would be like, even if not the best side by side shot.

True but the wipers didn't engage so the water hanging around the windshield created a "Rain Drop" affect with poor visibility. Rest of your test footage was spot on.
 

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@DrekiTech I'm curious if you've encountered any of the issues I describe below?
  1. Parking mode with the hardwiring kit being used to power the camera seems to work well, but motion based parking mode is inconsistent as to when it starts (usually around 10 minutes of the vehicle being motionless - if it starts).
  2. I found a fairly serious problem regarding lost video footage during file transitions.
    1. I found numerous examples of the rear video file being listed as 59 seconds in length instead of 1 minute, but when you look at that set of front/rear video files and the next video files in sequence, you'll see that 4 to 5 seconds of video has been lost in both the front and rear video files.
  3. App missing some of the camera settings
    1. The "Enter Parking Mode Timer" and "Parking Recording Duration" settings are missing from the app
I've been trying to get Zenfox support / engineering to get me a clear definition of how parking mode should operate with and without the hardwiring kit - still waiting. I'm now a couple of weeks into waiting on a response on the lost video during file transitions.

The video it does capture is very nice, just need to get these issues resolved before I can properly review it and recommend it.
 
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@DrekiTech I'm curious if you've encountered any of the issues I describe below?
  1. Parking mode with the hardwiring kit being used to power the camera seems to work well, but motion based parking mode is inconsistent as to when it starts (usually around 10 minutes of the vehicle being motionless - if it starts).
  2. I found a fairly serious problem regarding lost video footage during file transitions.
    1. I found numerous examples of the rear video file being listed as 59 seconds in length instead of 1 minute, but when you look at that set of front/rear video files and the next video files in sequence, you'll see that 4 to 5 seconds of video has been lost in both the front and rear video files.
  3. App missing some of the camera settings
    1. The "Enter Parking Mode Timer" and "Parking Recording Duration" settings are missing from the app
I've been trying to get Zenfox support / engineering to get me a clear definition of how parking mode should operate with and without the hardwiring kit - still waiting. I'm now a couple of weeks into waiting on a response on the lost video during file transitions.

The video it does capture is very nice, just need to get these issues resolved before I can properly review it and recommend it.


1. I tried parking mode with a USB battery bank so I cannot speak for its consistency with a hardwiring kit. I did not have the hardwiring kit for this camera and could not test how it detects with fuse taps. I might be temped to throw the cam back in my car and try again to see if I can reproduce your problems but I would need to find some way to convert my old hardwire kit on the A129 to this USB-C. Not sure if I'm up for it for this cam.

2. I went back and checked several different days of driving and could find no example of any missing footage between clips. I have had two samples of this camera and neither showed this issue.

3. You're right this seems to be missing on the app.
 

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1. I tried parking mode with a USB battery bank so I cannot speak for its consistency with a hardwiring kit. I did not have the hardwiring kit for this camera and could not test how it detects with fuse taps. I might be temped to throw the cam back in my car and try again to see if I can reproduce your problems but I would need to find some way to convert my old hardwire kit on the A129 to this USB-C. Not sure if I'm up for it for this cam.
My problem was using the power port adapter with a dashcam battery pack powering the dashcam. The hardwiring kit powered configuration works as I would expect it to work. When powered by the hardwiring kit, the configuration settings "Enter Parking Mode Timer" and "Parking Recording Duration" actual influence the behavior of the U1 for parking mode.

When powered by the power port adapter (with a dashcam battery pack), parking mode operation being motion based seemed hit and miss. It would go into parking mode if the vehicle stayed motionless for 10 minutes. Sometimes, it would not go into parking mode (stayed in normal recording mode) even if the vehicle was parked for 15 to 20 minutes.

If I recall correctly there were one or two times it when into parking mode when the vehicle as motionless for only five (5) minutes.

2. I went back and checked several different days of driving and could find no example of any missing footage between clips. I have had two samples of this camera and neither showed this issue.
zenfox_u1_missing_seconds_examples.jpg

This is the most recent example I submitted to Zenfox support where I have two pairs (front/rear) file transitions where the rear file has a time length of 00:00:59 instead of 00:01:00. When I look at the front and rear video files in that pair of front/rear files and the next files in sequence:

First example:
20211129111630_002852F.MP4 => last timestamp in video 11:17:29
20211129111631_002853R.MP4 => last timestamp in video 11:17:29

20211129111734_002854F.MP4 => first timestamp in video 11:17:33
20211129111735_002855R.MP4 => first timestamp in video 11:17:34

The timestamps in the videos show that 4 to 5 seconds were lost. The filenames also are not in 1 minute increments like the other files with no time gaps.

Second example:
20211129112535_002870F.MP4 => last timestamp in video 11:26:33
20211129112535_002871R.MP4 => last timestamp in video 11:26:33

20211129112638_002872F.MP4 => first timestamp in video 11:26:38
20211129112640_002873R.MP4 => first timestamp in video 11:26:38

The timestamps in the videos show that 5 seconds were lost. The filenames also are not in 1 minute increments like the other files with no time gaps.

It's not just the timestamps that are messed up, if you review the video itself you'll see a noticeable gap in the video.
 

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FWIW I did see somewhere that the file formats (or was it FPS?) are different for front and rear; that person said playback was choppy too. I experienced a similar problem with the W4K where the front cam was h265 and the rear cam was h264. It seems for good results file types and FPS need to be the same for both cams.

Phil
 
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