Aukey dash cam teardown redux: DRA5 on spotlight

Article By : Brian Dipert

This intrepid analysis engineer revisits Aukey's dash cam product line, this time perusing a more diminutive offering.

Back in January of last year, I mentioned that the prior July I’d purchased and subsequently non-destructively tore down Aukey’s DRA1 dash cam. What I didn’t tell you at that time was that earlier that same month, I’d also bought Aukey’s DRA5 dash cam, with the same teardown aspiration in mind. Both products were bought on sale from Amazon; $29.88 plus tax for the DRA1, versus $26.17 plus tax for the DRA5 (ironically, neither product can be found on Amazon any longer; Aukey was one of the many China-based merchants purged in mid-2021). And, although the DRA5’s more diminutive dimensions, translating into a tinier LCD, are presumably the rationale for its slightly lower price, it’s not necessarily a downgrade at the end of the day.

Potentially quite the contrary, actually; the smaller DRA5’s installed presence on the dash board or windshield is less obvious to others than with the bulkier DRA1, and the DRA5 is also easier to rotate in order to capture footage of what’s going on not only in front of you but also behind and to the side of your vehicle (if, for example, you’re pulled over for a traffic stop and want to record the consequent interaction with the police). Plus, independent reviews claim that the DRA5 delivers higher image quality than does its DRA1 sibling; more on that in a minute:

For comparison, here’s that same reviewer’s earlier take on the DRA1:

I’ll start with some “stock” images of the DRA5:

The accessories suite is a topic of some confusion. Reviews I’d read had indicated that the DRA5 includes only permanent adhesive-based mounts, versus the DRA1 which also included a temporary suction mount; reviews of the DRA5 also made a point of noting the suction-option omission. And indeed, as you’ll soon see, that (adhesive-only) was the case with the DRA5 I bought in early July 2020. But both the earlier product and the following accessories “stock” photos show only a suction mount, as is also solely listed in the user manual:

For comparison purposes, before diving into the DRA5, here’s the earlier “stock” photo for the DRA1 from my January 2021 teardown writeup:

In contrast, here’s the latest version, complete with a suction mount, right off Aukey’s website:

And here’s the original suite of accessories, showing both temporary and permanent mount options, along with the DRA1’s dimensions (presumably unchanged):

versus the latest iteration of the accessory suite from Anker’s website and user manual:

Methinks Anker’s been over time tweaking its included-mounts options for both products, whether for cost-reduction reasons, in response to reviewer and customer feedback, or both.

Onward. Here’s a table containing specification excerpts from both products’ user manuals. Note that, as my earlier review mentioned, there’s some dispute as to whether the DRA1 uses (as documented) the GalaxyCore GC2053 2 Mpixel image sensor and/or the lower-end GalaxyCore GC2023; the DRA5 seemingly exclusively relies on the higher-end GC2053:

I’ve already mentioned the image sensor model discrepancy between various Aukey documents (and versions of them), which could at least in part explain the image quality variance between the DRA1 and DRA5 noted in the earlier reviewer video. One other discrepancy I found is regarding the DRA1 aperture; the user manual claims that it’s f/2.4, while the product page specs it at f1.8; the DRA5’s aperture is consistently documented at f/2. If the former DRA1 spec is correct, it could further explain the image quality discrepancy between the two dash cams; whereas f/2 would lead to narrower depth of field than f/2.4, it would conversely translate into slightly better light capture (exposure) capabilities, particularly important when using the dash cam after dark. That all said, both dash cams apparently employ the same system (including image) processor, the Novatek NT96658. To wit, the image-related specs for the two dash cams are identical—resolutions, frame rates, and formats—along with recording modes and the like.

Overview…err…over…let’s dive inside the DRA5, shall we? I’ll begin with a shrinkwrap side-of-box shot to show a label no longer present once the wrapper is discarded:

Now…off with that clear plastic cover!

Opening the lid, who wants to bet that that’s the dash cam inside the protective white bag?

Underneath it and the black Styrofoam it’s also nestled in is the documentation-and-accessories assortment, per earlier comments, no suction mount in my particular case:

Here’s a closeup of the “cigarette lighter” power adapter, revealing its specs:

And now back to that mysterious white bag; hey, I was right!

Time for some pre-dissection shots; front, with the microphone above the lens and the speakers below it (at least per the user manual; stand by for contrary evidence) and the as-usual accompanied by a 0.75″ (19.1 mm) diameter U.S. penny for size comparison purposes:

One side: once again, Aukey went with a geriatric mini-USB power input. And re the GPS input, it’s an industry-standard 4-pin 3.5 mm female connector. You mate it to an Aukey GM-32 (or third-party equivalent) external GPS antenna-plus-receiver, which’ll set you back another ~$20:

Other side: that’s the microSD memory card slot, supporting capacities up to 128 GBytes (Class 10 or higher write speeds recommended):

Two bottom-side views, showcasing even more passive ventilation slots, along with dubious certification claims:

A top-side peek at the mount locking clip:

And last, but not least, that 1.5” LCD, non-touch-supportive therefore accompanied by control buttons below it (along with a user-feedback LCD in the upper right corner):

Here’s a refreshing change of pace; getting inside required only my fingernails to breach the seam between the two case halves:

Open sesame:

Disconnecting the flex cable between the PCB and display at the PCB end enables an unobstructed view of the LCD backside:

along with our first glimpse of the PCB (stack, as it turned out; keep reading):

Particularly notable is the earlier-mentioned system SoC, along with the switches associated with the four control buttons seen before. Three of the four screws whose removal are necessary to get the PCB out of the half-case are also obvious to the naked eye. And who wants to bet that there’s a fourth screw under that black foam piece in the upper right corner?

I win again!

Unsurprising, especially in retrospect (but then again, what isn’t), given the DRA5’s much smaller size than the DRA1 precursor, Aukey went with a two-PCB stack this time around versus being able to squeeze everything onto one circuit board. The approach necessitates two flex cables this time around, one (which we’ve already seen) between the processor board and the LCD, and the newly revealed one between the processor board and image sensor board. Unsnapping another connector…

The other side of the processor board now can be viewed unobscured:

At left are the GPS and power input connectors. At right is the microSD slot. The mic connects to the PCB at lower left, with the speaker connections at upper right; hold that thought. At top is the other end of the flex cable connecting this PCB to the image sensor board. And in-between the flex cable connector and speaker solder points…is that a battery I see? Just like the one in the DRA1? Even though both dash cams were supposedly supercapacitor-based? Hmm…

Discrepancy snark concluded (or not?), let’s look at what was previously attached to the other end of that flex cable:

Remember how I previously mentioned that the user manual said that the microphone was above the lens? Sorry, Anker, that’s the speaker; the microphone is in the lower right corner. Then again, you did the same transducer switcheroo with the DRA1, so at least you’re consistently wrong. Sigh…discrepancy snark now concluded.

Here’s a closeup of the PCB, clarifying the path forward:

If you look closely, you might be able to tell that the heads of the two screws in the center are slightly bigger than the one in the upper right corner or the ones in the lower corners. Sufficiently loosening them releases their hold on the lens assembly:

And removing the other three screws enables extraction of the board from the case and a look at the image sensor itself:

One of the lens mount screws remains associated with the PCB, as you can see. And look at that weird-shaped bubble of what’s presumably supposed to be the environment (moisture, dust, etc.) barrier translucent adhesive at the lens base-to-PCB junction:

With the PCB removed, the lens can also be extracted out the back of the case:

Here’s the infrared filter at its back end:

And two side views, once again showing evidence of assembly-line focus fine-tuning, subsequently retained via a dab of fast-drying solid-grip glue:

I’ll conclude with some unexpected news. As regular readers may already realize, whenever possible I strive to conduct my teardowns in a non-destructive manner so that I can reassemble my victims and, after confirming ongoing functionality, donate them to charity. Although I was able to accomplish this with the earlier DRA1, I doubted I’d be able to replicate my success this time around, given the multi-PCB and multi-cable added complexity of the DRA5. Nevertheless, I persisted. And after carefully putting Humpty Dumpty back together again:

Woo hoo! Excuse me while I finish typing so that I can pat myself on the back. I’ll hand the keyboard over to you, dear readers, for your thoughts in the comments.

 

This article was originally published on EDN.

Brian Dipert is Editor-in-Chief of the Embedded Vision Alliance, and a Senior Analyst at BDTI and Editor-in-Chief of InsideDSP, the company’s online newsletter.

 

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