[Review] Driving around with the YI Ultra Dash Cam

Jan 21, 2019 | Same topic: Best Advice for Car Buyers
YI’s upper tier dashboard camera takes its turn on the open road

What we all wouldn’t give for the ability to know what everyone else is thinking, especially when we drive around the city (or out of town). From erring drivers, wayward pedestrians and even “friendly” traffic enforcers, I’m sure most, if not all Filipino drivers have had to deal with numerous challenges at some point during the time we spend behind the wheel.

Sometimes, one can’t help think that prescience or clairvoyance is a necessary trait for Filipino drivers, given the varying levels of unpredictability inherent in Philippine roads. But then again, driving around with a crystal ball or a deck of cards isn’t exactly the height of convenience for most of us.

The next best thing then, would be a bit of defensive driving i.e. driving with all your wits gathered close, and a proper dashboard camera to record every traffic moment in utmost clarity, day and night. One such dash cam that merits your consideration is the YCS.1517, better known as the YI Ultra Dash Cam.

yi ultra dashcam

YI Ultra Dash Cam

1. The package

As the Ultra is one of YI’s higher offerings in its dash cam lineup, I guess they needed the packaging to make quite the impression. The box is still predominantly white, although it now features a picture of the dash cam in front, with the name near the top of the box accompanied by the YI logo on the upper left corner. The bottom edge lists four of the camera’s salient features, namely a 2.7-in. widescreen viewfinder, voice command function, 4MP resolution and the A17+A7 dual core processor.

yi ultra dashcam

yi ultra dash cam

The box is a little more distinct compared to the usual packaging

Opening the box reveals the Ultra cradled within, surrounded by a number of accessories such as a mounting bracket, mounting tool, 5V car charger, USB cable, user manual and warranty card. Compared to other YI dash cams I’ve tested, the Ultra test unit is notable for having three distinct features on its accessory list.

yi ultra dashcam full box

The Ultra Dash Cam's standard equipment

First, the camera actually comes with two mounting brackets: one with the standard 3M adhesive, and another with an optional suction mount that’s more convenient to remove. Second, the bundled car charger now features two USB ports, so you can charge another device at the same time that you’re using the Ultra on the go. Third, and most importantly, the package now includes a microSDHC card, this one being a 16GB Toshiba Exceria variant.       

2. Design and build quality

The Ultra sports a rectangular design with chamfered corners and is noticeably bigger than the YI Smart Dash Cam, although the body is thinner at 15.6mm compared to the latter’s 19.4mm. Factor in the lens though, and the Ultra’s overall thickness stands at 34.8mm.

yi ultra dash cam

yi ultra dash cam

yi ultra dash cam

yi ultra dash cam

yi ultra dash cam

Yi Ultra Dashcam - Design

Despite the larger overall dimensions, the Ultra’s weight is at a manageable 3.4 ounces, thanks in part to the use of aircraft-grade aluminum on the body, bordered by plastic panels on either side. The aluminum part is rendered in what looks like a checkered finish resembling carbon fiber, seemingly an appropriate choice for the Ultra as a car accessory while providing a bit of surface texture to aid in grip and handling.

What strikes me the most every time I look at the Ultra is the large 6G all-glass lens sitting squarely in the middle of the body, accentuating the camera’s increased height and width. YI ditched the usual minimalist aesthetic in favor of a more conventional design, which actually resembles a miniature SLR camera. I have to admit, this design appeals to me the most, since the size makes it very visible even when viewed from outside.

And because you wouldn’t mistake the Ultra for anything else, I feel it would also serve as an effective visual deterrent for would-be offenders; knowing that a camera is in place would make them think twice before attempting anything unwise on the road. Along the underside of the lens lies the built-in speaker slot.

yi smart dashcam design

The Ultra sports a rectangular design with chamfered corners and is noticeably bigger than the YI Smart Dash Cam

Instead of the usual T-slot found in some YI dash cams, a ¼-in. screw-on mount sits along the top edge of the Ultra, accompanied by the air vent that uses a honeycomb pattern; the same design is echoed at the bottom. The microUSB port, microSD card slot and pinhole reset button are all gathered on the right side, with the left occupied entirely by the product label, serial number and QR code.

The 2.7-in TFT widescreen color LCD can be found out back, accompanied by four buttons used for interfacing with the device. To the left border of the screen are two LED status lights, one for charging and another for recording, while the microphone is located slightly below them.

Build quality on the Ultra is exceptional and has a premium feel. The added weight gives it appreciable heft that matches its size. Buttons are crisp even with repeated presses. It may be a mass-market camera, but the Ultra’s overall design certainly gives it a professional air. Probably the only thing I’d change in terms of looks would be smaller bezels on the screen.     

3. Mounting, controls and interface

As mentioned, the Ultra is supposed to be screwed on to the mounting bracket, which moves on a ball and socket joint. It’s neither as straightforward as attaching a T-mount nor is it as easy to remove, but it is arguably more secure, especially if your commute frequently involves driving over potholes and bumps. You just need to be careful in screwing the camera body to the bracket until it locks in place, lest you drop the camera unexpectedly.

yi ultra dashcam

Mounted and ready

yi smart dash cam interface

The Ultra uses the same icon-based menu system

yi ultra dashcam interface

When it awakens for the first time, the first thing it requests is for you to download the mobile app

The Ultra features microSDHC (High Capacity) and microSDXC (eXtended Capacity) support, with YI recommending cards that are between 8GB and 64GB in capacity, with at least Class 10 (U1) speed rating and FAT32 formatting.

YI Dash Cam app's opening screen

The YI Dash Cam app's opening screen

Once the Ultra has been properly mounted on the desired position and plugged into the car charger, pressing the power button will activate the dash cam. The first thing it does is to flash a QR code onscreen, prompting you to download the free YI Dash Cam mobile app from Google Play or the Apple Store, depending on your mobile device. Move to set the correct date and time using the buttons, then press the red EMR button to commence recording, with the LCD screen turning into a viewfinder.

Adjusting the camera to suit your preferences is easy with the icon-driven interface; just press the power button once to go to the Settings screen, where you can use the buttons to toggle your way throughout the two-page menu. Since the Ultra will likely be mounted behind your rear-view mirror and therefore be a little difficult to see, a better option would be to use the mobile app; it allows you to adjust the dash cam’s settings direct from your smartphone, from the video resolution, G-sensor sensitivity, audio recording, even allowing you to remove the onscreen watermark if you wish.

More importantly, the app enables you to remotely view your video clips and take photos, as well as downloading and sharing them online. All this is as simple as enabling the Ultra’s onboard wifi, connecting your smartphone, and opening the app.

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4. Performance

In terms of resolution, the Ultra lives up to its name, offering what is possibly the widest range of any YI dash cam to date: 720 x 1280 at 30fps, 1920 x 1080 at 30/60fps, 2560 x 1440 at 30fps and 2688 x 1520 at 30 fps, a maximum of 2.7k video resolution. Whatever resolution you choose though, the camera will also record the same clip using 640 x 360 at 30 fps; this smaller size is for when you intend to stream the video to your social media account, for instance. In any case, the Ultra uses H.264 compression to store the clips in MP4 format.

yi ultra dash cam resolution

Viewfinder with lens distortion control engaged

Viewfinder

Viewfinder with default fisheye perspective

The 140° 6G all-glass lens provided an ample field of view, easily capturing the lower corners of my windshield within the frame. In terms of video, I’m not sure if it’s the advanced processor and lens setup magnifying the effect of the lowest resolution setting, but the 720p clips looked like they had a frame rate of 24fps rather than 30 fps.

It looks a bit cinematic, but it comes at the expense of some detail. Scaling up the resolution progressively improves the overall quality and clarity of the video clips, with details such as signages very much readable even when freezing or pausing the clip during playback. The white balance on the camera had a tendency to add a bluish tint occasionally, which was noticeable in daylight recording.

yi ultra dash cam - field of view

The 140° 6G all-glass lens provided an ample field of view, easily capturing the lower corners of my windshield within the frame

The f/1.9 lens aperture did work its magic during nighttime recording, in conjunction with the 4MP high sensitivity image sensor. Low-light footage showed significantly more detail than other YI dash cams I’ve tested, despite the predictable presence of noise, and the medium windshield tint that the Ultra had to shoot through.

Yi Ultra Dashcam: 640x360 30fps recording for streaming

As a similar issue on the previous YI dash cams tested, it would have been better if the Ultra’s buttons came with backlighting for easier recording at night; either that, or you would need to memorize each button’s placement so you don’t accidentally press the wrong one in the dark.

Yi Ultra Dashcam: 720p 30fps recording daytime

Yi Ultra Dashcam: 1080p recording daytime

As far as audio recording is concerned, the captured sound was crisp and clear coming through the speaker, especially for interior conversations; looks like shifting the microphone location from the lens to the LCD screen helped in this regard, as it is now directly aimed at the vehicle’s occupants.

Unlike the Smart Dash Cam, the Ultra has no audible driver alerts, but it does feature something else that I would argue is way cooler: AI voice control. Yes, this dash cam responds to commands spoken through the built-in microphone. You can direct the Ultra to take a screenshot while recording video using the command “YI, take photo”.

Yi Ultra Dashcam: 1080p 60fps low light

It can also be made to engage the emergency recording feature by speaking the words “YI, begin recording”, and the camera proceeds to store the 10 seconds before and after the command was given. Like on other YI dash cams (Yi Compact Dash Cam for example), emergency recordings are stored in a separate folder, safely preserved when the Ultra overwrites the oldest footage on file to make way for new clips (except when the card is manually formatted).

What I like about the voice command feature is that it doesn’t need to have a pre-recorded file of your voice, so anyone can utter the commands as long as they are spoken loud and clear within range of the dash cam. Occasionally the system will have a delay of 1 or 2 seconds, depending on the ambient noise accompanying the spoken commands, such as the radio playing or the sounds of traffic outside.

And yes, the system is currently limited to those two commands, with YI reportedly promising to add more in future firmware updates. Still, you have to admit that it adds another layer of hands-free convenience to using the Ultra.

yi ultra dash cam voice control

The Ultra Dash Cam does feature something else that I would argue is way cooler: AI voice control

One feature I initially overlooked is the lens distortion control or LDC. The wide angle lens of the Ultra produces a fisheye effect on the viewfinder by default, but with the LDC turned on, the distortion is minimized. To be honest, I feel that the camera could have been set to do this automatically instead through the lens, with manual control instead applied on the option to enable or disable the 640 x 360 video recordings, the better to conserve storage memory.

As a nice-to-have feature for an upper-tier dash cam, the Ultra would have been better served with built-in GPS tagging, which comes in handy when you need to indicate the precise location of a specific event or traffic incident.

5. Conclusion

The YI Ultra Dash Cam has become my favorite hands-down, that is, until YI manages to come up with a new and improved model. It is safe to say that this is one of the best dash cam products in the Philippines. I like the size and the heft that give it a premium feel, as well as the use of aviation aluminum in its construction. I’m usually not a fan of carbon fiber, knowing how expensive the genuine article is and how a lot of people generally overuse imitation carbon fiber in their cars to the point of tackiness. But the one used on the Ultra at least has a purpose to it, and I like the way it looks  next to my rear-view mirror.

The design is also a winner for me, primarily because it shows that the Ultra makes no qualms about what it is: it’s a camera, and damn proud of it. In a time of dash cams attempting to look like they were built for more active lifestyles, the Ultra’s SLR design reference might seem a bit clunky and old-school (some might even say hipster), but to me it’s an honest one. As far as accessories are concerned, the inclusion of a suction mount is most welcome, giving users the option to transfer the Ultra around in case they need to use it in other vehicle.

yi dashcam gallery

You can access the photo and video gallery

Video recording is generally clearer and more defined than before, thanks to a better lens, better processor combo, and a better image sensor. I’ve never seen such a wide range of available resolutions to play with before, and ultimately it will be up to individual users to find their sweet spot in terms of video quality and storage size.

Of course, the voice command function is undoubtedly the highlight of the Ultra, and admittedly it’s the one I tend to play with, er, use the most. I am looking forward to YI’s promise of more programmed commands, especially for formatting the memory card, although they should be careful to avoid the drawback of having too many commands for the user to memorize, defeating the purpose of convenience. 

Priced between P4,000 and P6,000, the YI Ultra Dash Cam still has some room for improvement, but that’s no reason to take it out of the running altogether, especially when you’re looking to upgrade. If you stick to what the Ultra does have, you’ll see that it happens to do them very well: amazing video capability, functionality and convenience all in a package that looks like it costs twice as much. That in itself is already a great value proposition any other dash cam will be hard-pressed to match.        

You can get the YI Ultra Dash Cam at YI Store Philippines, YI Technology’s newly-opened flagship store at Cyberzone area of the SM Mall of Asia, as well as various official dealers nationwide: Blade Auto Center, Smart Future PH, URBAN Gadgets, Hey Joe Gadget Store, PRG Photo Shop and Maricel Online Store. If you prefer transacting within the convenience of home, you can also avail of the YI Ultra Dash Cam and other YI Technology products through Lazada and Shopee. For a complete list of dealers serving your area, as well as warranty claims and tech support, visit the YI Technology Facebook page.

YI Ultra Dash Cam specifications 
  • 2.7 inch TFT LCD (960 x 240) screen
  • Dual core A17 (1.25GHz) + A7 (800MHz) processor
  • Built-in Neon acceleration and integrated high-speed FPU processing unit
  • 4MP high-sensitivity image sensor
  • 6-glass F/1.9 lens with wide angle 140° FOV (field of view)
  • Supported formats: 720 x 1280 (30fps), 1920 x 1080 (30/60fps), 2560 x 1440 (30fps), 2688 x 1520 (30fps)
  • H.264 compression, MP4 file format
  • Built-in three-axis sensor
  • Microphone and speaker with noise reduction
  • Voice command functionality
  • 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi 802.11n connectivity
  • Supports 8-64GB Class 10 or above w/ FAT32 format
  • Supports iOS 8.0 or later or Android 4.1 or later
  • 3M/suction mounting bracket 

Special thanks to Darnell Austria, YI Technology Southeast Asia Regional Manager, for providing the test unit used in this review.

Author

Joseph Paolo Estabillo

Joseph has been on the LTO's records since 2004. Old enough to remember riding in taxicabs with analog meters. Keeping his hopes high and his revs low, he dreams about owning a Kei car when he retires. Hates slow parkers.