Beltronics GT-7 Review: Beltronics Produces a Brilliant Radar Detector

 

Beltronics GT-7 Review

 Beltronics nails this one, right out of the gate.

By Veil Guy — Updated: November 15, 2015

 

beltronics gt-7 reviewBeltronics GT-7 Review

Introduction

When Ron Gividen of Beltronics recently sat down with me to give my readers an exclusive first look of the new Beltronics GT-7 radar detector, I was thrilled.  Thrilled, because I’ve been a huge fan of the Beltronics brand of radar detectors over the years.  Thrilled, because Beltronics was finally getting some long-overdue and much needed attention.

Realize, it was Beltronics that gave us the venerable Beltronics Pro RX-65 (my top pick more than 10 years ago over the Valentine 1 and the Escort 8500 X50).  It was Beltronics which gave us the revolutionary M3 platform of radar detectors: the Beltronics STi Driver (now the Beltronics STi Magnum), the Beltronics STi-R and STi-R+ remotes,  and the great performing “value-line” Vector series of radar detectors.

While both Escort and Beltronics have been two separate brands within the same company, for some time Beltronics has been “subordinated” to Escort’s line of radar detectors with Escort being marketed as their “premium” brand. I never cared for that management decision and have been pretty vocal about that over the years. I felt that it was unnecessary as each brand has had garnered their own loyal following and owner demographic that could have been nurtured independently of the other.

To the lay person, it’s entirely understandable to believe that the Beltronics GT-7 is simply a “repackaged” Passport Max for $50 less.  At first blush that would seem logical.  Escort and Beltronics have been closely related brands for some time and as mentioned earlier both the Beltronics GT-7 and Passport Max share the same underpinnings.  But after actually driving with the Beltronics GT-7, I believe referring to these radar detectors as the same, is like calling the Porsche Cayenne the same as a Volkswagen Toureg.

The simple fact is I believe the Beltronics GT-7 is noticeably better than the Passport Max in many aspects, which I will share below.  The Beltronics GT-7 “rights” the “wrongs” of the previous iterations of the M5.  I shared a number of constructive criticisms of the early production Max’s in Escort Passport Max review. I also provided a list of suggestions on how to correct those early issues and fortunately for us, it appears that Escort has been listening to the feedback.  Thank you very much, guys. (I also need to revisit looking at both the Max and Max2 now that the detectors have had some time to evolve themselves).

So, let’s get to it.  Let’s see why the Beltronics GT-7 is such an impressive radar detector.

Appearance & Handling

If you think the Beltronics GT-7 looks like Beltronics’ largest radar detector, you’d be right, but not by much.

The radar detector also feels very solid in your hands and has some heft to it but only weighs about a half-ounce more than an Escort Passport Max.

beltronics gt-7 review

The Beltronics GT-7  is trimmed in a subtle copper color.  The pictures tended to make the detector appear more orange, but in person, I find its appearance very pleasing to the eye.

Where the displays of the Passport Max series of detectors can be very difficult to read during the daylight hours, the Beltronics GT-7 display is recessed an 1/8th of inch more and what a difference it has made.  I found the display of the Beltronics GT-7 readable in all lighting conditions.

The Beltronics GT-7 features several different metering configurations.  My preference is for their “tech” display mode.  In this display mode, when you get an alert, the Beltronics GT-7 indicates radar band, radar frequency, and signal strength in a large, well placed, and easily identifiable manner.  The display also indicates your current rate of speed as well as your “over speed” setting– which can alert you when you exceed a pre-set speed.  The Max series also had a similar display mode, but it appears to be better executed here.

beltronics gt-7 tech display

Beltronics GT-7 Tech Display Mode

Where the Max and Max2 were limited to a two digit over speed alert setting of 90 mph or 90 kph (too low to be practical), the Beltronics GT-7 allows for a three digit speed of 160 in either miles per hour or kilometers per hour.

Like their previous OLED-based detectors, the Beltronics GT-7’s is capable of displaying four different colors: Red, Blue, Amber (now called “Copper“), and my favorite and easiest to read, Green.  The top-placed buttons also illuminate with whatever color scheme you select.

Packaging & Workmanship

The Beltronics GT-7 comes with a proper carrying case.  It’s solid, reinforced to better protect the detector when traveling, is beautifully embossed with the word “Beltronics,” and is an improvement to the Max and Max2 soft carrying “pouch.”

Like all of their premium models, the Beltronics GT-7 comes with the well-built coiled Smartcord which sports a push button for muting and marking locations by GPS coordinates.  Optionally, Beltronics does offer a Smartcord with a USB connection for also powering your smartphone. But, given that even value-priced Cobras and Whistlers have been offering this feature as standard for some time, my preference would be for Beltronics to include this as standard equipment.

Overall, workmanship appears very good.  The detector utilizes high density impact-resistant plastic. I did find my unit’s rear plastic lens to not be extruded entirely cleanly.  I’ve also read that another owner found the top buttons to not have the letters properly “etched.”  It looks like the QA/QC process may need a little fine-tuning as Beltronics’ production ramps-up.

Fortunately, Beltronics was wise enough to place the serial number and product identification sticker in plain sight on the bottom of the detector’s case.  For some reason, which remains a mystery to me, the Passport Max had no such labeling on its exterior.

Utility & Behavior

The magnetic mount is a very welcomed update to an otherwise difficult-to-use mount that originally came with the Escort Max/Max2.  With this new mount, the GT-7 can be quickly attached and removed from the windshield without requiring you to depress the button on the top of the detector (in fact the detector doesn’t even have a button to depress as it’s no longer needed).  What’s even nicer is that this updated magnetic mount is usable in some of their other detectors.

While it may be a little early to tell, the mount appears to stick better to the windshield than the previous one.  I’ll get a better handle on this when the weather gets colder.  I’d be disappointed if I come out to my vehicle in the early morning only to find the mount and the detector either on my dash or the ground, like I occasionally did with the Max.

The Beltronics GT-7 does tend to bounce more than other smaller detectors and that concerns me a little because the adapter interface on the detector may be subject to elevated levels of “wear-and-tear” as a consequence.  I believe a little more work needs to be done on that front.

The voice quality and alert volume are exceptional.  The sound levels can be made very loud and still remain clear and undistorted.  This is great for those that drive convertibles or play music at higher levels.  The alert tones are also very distinctive and easily identifiable.  The male voice, a Beltronics’ trademark, sounds more natural and less “synthetic.”

El detector también hable español.

I believe the GT-7 has the best visual and audio signal ramp of any detector to come out of West Chester in my memory.  Beltronics engineers have also given the GT-7 a near perfect dynamic range allowing the GT-7 to accurately convey severity and proximity of any threats.  The quickness of the audio and visual cues appear to in the realm of the V1 and Whistler top models.  This is very high praise to a company that has by and large provided us with detectors that were somewhat lethargic in responding to dynamic changes.

The trailing alert tones are still too long and artificially drawn out, in my opinion, especially with laser detections and could further be tightened-up to improve alerting behavior.  Escort and Beltronics have long been known for doing this and this is unfortunate, because alerting in this manner can blur multiple detections of an approaching instant-on radar trap and also makes each false alert more drawn out and hence more annoying to listen to.

The Valentine 1 and Whistler top-models do a far better job at this.  It should be an easy fix and something that could be incorporated into the programming menu of the detector with two different settings for standard tone alerts, if they wished to continue offering it to drivers who may actually prefer sluggish alerting times.

The incorporation of GPS into the the GT-7 brings some fringe benefits.  In fact, I found that the GT-7 is the first GPS-enabled radar detector from either Escort or Beltronics that I really enjoy driving with.  The GPS functions feel more fully integrated into the overall functionality of this radar detector and brings with it that ability to custom tailor its alerting behavior.

For instance, you can set a “cruise-alert” speed in the menu system to allow the detector to alert with an abbreviated tone when driving below that speed or when you at a standstill.  The speed is defaulted to 20mph, but I preferred to set it at 65-70mph.

This way when driving around town more slowly you get abbreviated tones from X and K-band stationery door openers.  You also get abbreviated and then silenced alerts if you are stuck at a red light or in heavy slow traffic close to a vehicle outfitted with a radar-based collision avoidance system.

By setting the speed at 65-70mph, I get the full alert treatment when I am cruising above the typical highway speed limit of either 55mph or 65mph by 10 or more miles per hour.  I feel that’s when I really need to be alerted in full fashion.  Try it for yourself, you may like it.  Of course, if you are a slow-laner, then by all means leave it at 20mph.

When Escort Live is incorporated into the mix (via the optional bluetooth-enabled Smartcord Live power cord), the cruise alert can be matched to the posted speed limits in real-time that are stored in the GPS database.  While not perfect, that’s a really cool benefit of using Escort Live.

Beyond the cruise-alert feature and just like on the Max and the out of production SmartRadar, the GT-7 can also be configured to alert with mild chimes.  That can be nice when driving around town with other guests in your vehicle.

I do miss the ability to remotely change the volume levels of the detector by simply pressing and holding the mute button of the Smartcord while the detector is not alerting.  This was distinctly a Beltronics feature of the past and one that I hope they would bring back, although I’ve been told that it’s not feasible today because of the Escort Live signaling requirements.

Performance

Where the Escort Max had, what I found to be, mediocre laser sensitivity, the GT-7 appears to be one of their better ones at detecting police laser, still not at the level of the platinum standard Valentine 1, but certainly better than the past.  This makes this detector a great candidate for the Veil G5 stealth coating.

The GT-7 appears to be a bit hotter than the original Passport Max. Relative to my reference detector, the segmented Beltronics STi-R, the GT-7 did extremely well with 10.5 Ghz X-band.  33.8 Ghz, 34.7 Ghz, and 35.5 Ghz Ka detections were also extremely impressive. 21.4Ghz K-band performance was very good, but not apparently at the level of either X-band or Ka-band detections.  Perhaps this is due to the fact that Beltronics is working on reducing falsing rates from vehicle-based K-band collision avoidance technology.

There were times that the sheer sensitivity of the STi-R coupled with its extreme quickness made itself known with some eye-popping detections of briefly appearing weak off-axis radar, but the GT-7 still provided more than ample detection in each of those situations when it did alert.  It’s also important to realize that the STi-R is much more expensive than the GT-7 and is an older model, to boot, that doesn’t possess some of the advanced filtering and rejection technology that GT-7 detector does.

That being said, in the vast majority of encounters I had with police radar, I observed that the GT-7 alerted very closely to my segmented STi-R and occasionally even alerted first (perhaps due to its height advantage on the windshield).

GT7 versus off-axis X and 34.7Ghz Ka bands

GT7 versus approaching 35.5Ghz Ka band

Falsing Behavior

This detector is not immune to falsing (no detector is), but the GT-7 can be configured to be a pretty quiet detector.  When I drive flat-out, I tend to use Highway mode.  But short of that, Autoscan does a pretty good job at taming X and K falses.  When not in New Jersey or Ohio or a handful of other states, AutoNoX is a nice handy mode to use to disable X-band alerts entirely without having to go into the menu system to program out the band.  Remember in either Autoscan mode, Ka-band sensitivity and responsiveness remains unaffected.

The TSR (traffic sensor rejection) mode can do wonders for cutting down on errant K-band falses from automotive systems and traffic flow monitoring sensors, but like most filtering systems found on other detectors, it comes with a timing penalty of nearly 900ms (9/10ths of a second).  That could put a driver at risk to instant-on K-band.  The average triggering time for many police radar operators is about 1/2 second, so depending upon where the detector is in its sweep pattern, that could present an issue.  In Pennsylvania, for instance, all the state troopers use is low-power I/O K-band radar from stationery hidden locations.

The advanced capabilities promised to us in terms of signal rejection still largely seem more aspirational, than reality.  Drivers will still need to enable the TSR “filter” to quiet the detector to those obnoxious signal polluting K-band collision avoidance systems.  Unfortunately for someone like myself who drives in a state where I/O low powered K-band rules-the-day, having to take nearly a one second haircut before alerting doesn’t give me the most comfort.  In fairness to Beltronics, similar delays can be found with other manufacturers’ detectors.

In our Escort Max 360 interview, Escort indicated to me that their engineers were beginning to figure out these systems and are now incorporating their advanced signal processing (without significant detection penalties) into new Escort Max 360 with some success.

To be clear, these systems are very difficult for all detector manufacturers to deal with and to make matters worse these systems continue to proliferate at an astounding rate.  In fact, CAS technology is being mandated in all vehicles in the near future.  The FCC has already allocated 76 Ghz W-band radar for these systems, but the lower production costs of the 24.1 Ghz K-band systems are too easy to resist for profiteering by the automotive manufacturers.  Hopefully this will change at some point and the newer systems will use 76 Ghz.

In the meantime, if Escort and Beltronics can figure out more of these systems, then the significance of the M5 platform will finally be more fully realized.  I trust in time, the Max and Max2 will benefit from these advances in signal processing by way of a future firmware update.  But for right now, the Escort Max 360 is the vetting platform for these signal post-processing advancements.

Certain K-band CAS systems still wreak some havoc with this platform.  As I suspected, the mysterious 33.67x-33.70x Ghz Ka-band alerts that appear with regularity where I drive, are actually tied to certain automotive manufacturers.  I came across a Chevy Suburban which not only caused falsing on K-band but also on these Ka-band frequencies.  While it may seem to the lay person that such a thing should never happen, it’s not that simple.

Other detectors can also fall prey to the transmitting nature of these systems.  Since these collision avoidance systems are modulated and “sweeping” themselves, depending upon the radar signal harmonics and the LO (local oscillation) configuration of any given detector, it is possible for a detection to be misidentified since a detector is often listening to multiple frequencies at once.  The Escort Max 360 appears to do a better job of rejecting these sorts of false alerts, but I would say it’s still a work in progress.


33.67x Ghz Ka-band falsing from a K-band CAS

Fortunately, in speaking with the parent company, both Beltronics and Escort are working on effectively dealing with these issues and applying what they learn with the Max 360 to the GT-7 as well as the Max and Max2 radar detectors.  In the interim, using the GPS capabilities, as mentioned above, can go a long way to making the GT-7 an absolute pleasure to drive with in an increasingly challenging RF-polluted environment.

For those comfortable in doing so, GPS also provides the driver with the ability to either automatically or manually lock-out known stationery false locations of X-band and K-band sources.

Like Escort’s and Beltronics’ other GPS-enabled radar detectors, the GT-7 comes preloaded with their class-leading Defender database of redlight and speed camera locations.  However, the detector can still false when you are driving nearby to an photo-enforcement system on an adjacent roadway.

Wrapping Things Up

I don’t agree with the notion that the GT-7 is just another Passport Max for $50 dollars less.  They’re not “identical” detectors.  The may share similar hardware underpinnings, but this detector feels distinctly different. The GT-7 is the first detector built upon the M5 platform that I actually really enjoy driving with.  Compared to the initial versions of the Max, the GT-7 is more fully cured.  More refined.  More evolved.

After encountering every form or police radar currently in use as well as a large assortment of potential falsing sources, I believe the GT-7 is the best all-around radar detector ever to come from Beltronics.

It has a decidedly Beltronics feel to it and it reminds me of my trusty old-friend the Pro RX-65–but a more up to date and sophisticated one–and hence has become one of a handful of my “go to” detectors.

The GT-7 is not simply a Passport Max in Beltronics packaging.  It has its own distinctive character and is the radar detector I regard as superior in many ways.  That’s about as high a praise I can bestow upon it.

The fact that it is cheaper than the Max is a steal. Psst: Don’t tell Beltronics that, they may just raise the price.

Beltronics is back in earnest, and I couldn’t be happier.

You can order your GT-7 now directly from the manufacturer with the added benefits of getting free shipping, full warranty support, and a 30-day free test drive return policy.

Learn how the GT7 and Veil can complement each other to keep you ticket free.

Veil Guy

Back to Top