I've owned two Valentine 1s, a Bel RX65 Pro, and various other RDs in the past. I've had a 9500i since they hit the market (preordered it). It's the best unit you can by, and here's my impressions of it after over a years use:
1. Range: According to tests by experts such as Radar Roy, it's detection abilities are at least equal to those of the V1 and sometimes superior as well as being comparable to the other Escort/Bel high-end detectors on the market. This makes sense given that it shares the same radar detecting equipment as those other models (save the Bel STi Driver). In my practical day-to-day use (highway, in town, all over Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Arkansas), I found it gave ample warning, almost as good as the V1, with far fewer false alarms. It was comparable to the RX65 Pro I had used before. Also note that it has a Highway and Auto mode. The Auto mode in this unit, though, is speed sensitive. If you're tooling around at low speeds, it knows this means you'll have a lot more time to react to an alert and it tones down the sensitivity on X and K bands (not Ka). Highway is essentially the highest sensitivity, though it still will try and filter out false alerts. You can also selectively disable X-band (which is rare in most places but more common in certain eastern states) and a few other things can be modified in the menu system as well.
2. Display: The display on the unit is somewhat programmable and user selectable. I have the red LED model (who thinks blue is worth $50?) and never had trouble reading or interpreting the display. It is autodimming (if so desired), and was fully visible in bright sunlight but also was easy to interpret at a glance. Much better than the V1 overall.
3. GPS: This, of course, is why you get this unit. This is the main reason that it is superior to every other standalone detector on the market. Up to this point, you could save yourself a chunk of change and get a Passport 8500 or Bel Rx65. However, this makes all the difference in the world. This unit uses the SiRFStar III GPS chip, which is currently far and away the best on the market, being small, inexpensive, and very fast to lock on to the satellites.
If you use your radar detector like I do, in daily driving and commuting, it's amazing how desensitized you can get to the constant alerting. You get numb to the beeps and bleeps that emanate from your dash/windshield. Constantly analyzing the surroundings in familiar territory grows tiresome and you begin to ignore the radar detector, usually at your peril.
So, it was quite a shock when I found I could quickly mark the known false alerts while driving it traffic with a quick hit of the smart-cord mute button (3 hits, actually, make it lockout a false alert). Pretty soon, the unit was dead quiet. Now, all of the sudden, when an alert hits, you know something has changed and your personal alertness level skyrockets. You get into the habit of hitting the brakes before you even get a chance to check your speed because you know if it alerts, something new is in the environment and the chances of it being a police officer are greatly increased.
Also, I found that it helps you on the highway and in new/untravelled areas. This is again due to the psychological aspect of the unit that so rarely alerts you that any time it does alert, you can assess and decide on an appropriate course of action (slow down, ignore, mark as false alert, etc.). It means that you rarely grow lackadaisical about the 9500i alerting. It also means that you can usually leave it in Highway mode safely around towns where you've marked all the false alerts.
I cannot stress this enough. Not only is the 9500i a better radar detector, IT MAKES YOU A BETTER RADAR DETECTOR USER by making every alert that much more significant.
Now, all is not wine and roses in the land of the 9500i. No detector is perfect, by my standards, though this is the best one I'm aware of. Here's a few problems I've had in the past year and a few months.
1. Heat: This unit is heavy, long, and painted very dark. This means that it has a large dark surface area with which to absorb heat from the sun while sitting on the dash. This is bad as the GPS aspect of the device will shut down if overheated. The rest of the electronics will eventually shut down, too, but take a lot more heat to do so. The GPS is the most sensitive (the SiRFStar III GPS chip). Incidentally, with all these electronics in the device, the unit itself generates its own fair share of heat. I have seen it shut off the GPS component on sunny days partly related to this. There is also some concern about how efficiently a radar detector can function in high temperatures (I've seen some internet reviews on this very subject).
2. Heat, part 2: The unit has successfully managed to melt the buttons on top of it that control the functions of the unit. The 9500i continues to go on working, but you can no longer read the text on the buttons.
3. Heat, part 3: This is the most important one of the heat issues to me. The unit I own can no longer be windshield-mounted. The 9500i uses the same bracket mount that my RX65 uses (and the same power cord, by the way). This is fine for the smaller, lighter RX65, but it doesn't work on the larger, heavier 9500i.
For those who do not know what I'm talking about, the windshield mount consists of an angle-bracket that has holes for 2 suction cups on the top piece and several parallel slits on the bottom piece. The bottom piece slides into a gap on top of the unit and a plastic button that is spring loaded helps you lock the bracket in place on the top of the unit with differing lengths sticking out. This allows one to adjust the angle at which the detector sits against the windshield so you can mount it level with the ground.
Unfortunately, this whole mechanism, except for the bracket itself, is made of plastic. Plastic melts in heat. Within a month of being in the Louisiana sun, the plastic clip that is internal to the top of the radar detector has melted and no longer engages with those slits adequately. Therefore, the bracket cannot support the unit on the windshield. This is a major design flaw. For the past year I have had the unit jammed into the angle of the windshield/dash (centered) and only use the window bracket as a sort of lateral stabilizing force to prevent the 9500i from sliding left or right as I corner. I have had it fly through the air a couple of times under hard acceleration and end up in my lap, tethered by the cord (it even hit me in the face once). Incidentally, I have a fast car.
I did find that this is an ongoing concern for Escort and they will repair it under warranty if yours is still under warranty. Unfortunately, mine is not, and therefore I'll have to pay to get it fixed. I wish I had known this 12 months ago.
4. Laser false alerts: Rarely the unit will false alert to laser under a few circumstances. The most common one, by far, is it reacting to certain red taillights of other vehicles. This is a known problem as there are reportedly a number of vehicles whose taillights (particularly the center high-mounted stop light, or CHMSL) send out the same frequency of light as some laser guns. Though this is a problem, it's not as bad as it was on the V1. The other scenario I've witnessed this with was in bright sunlight coming in at a low angle, such as at sunset or sunrise or if you're climbing a hill facing the sun.
And finally, what I miss or would like to have seen.
1. Multiple antennas: I know. I know. Valentine 1 has this patented for now. I've seen estimates that this will be true until 2010 or 2012 or something even longer. You make do a reasonable guess as to the location of radar sources if you monitor your radar signal strength as you drive. If it's increasing, you're approaching the source. If decreasing, you're going away from it. That's all well and good, but it takes time (usually a considerable amount of distance) to make this determination. The V1 arrows help you determine this almost instantly and adjust your speed appropriately. I miss that dearly, even though it wasn't always accurate.
2. Greater range/sensitivity: I know that many of the respected testers, including Radar Roy, report the 9500i and its stablemates to be superior to the Valentine 1 in performance in this regard. In my personal experience, this is not accurate. There are a handful of trailer-based radar guns that are used in my area and I can always tell when the radar detector will go off by using landmarks in the area. The Passport 9500i and the Bel RX65 Pro alert at roughly the same area, within a short distance likely affected by both atmospheric conditions, ambient electromagnetic radiation (time of day changes), and traffic, but it's surprisingly consistent. The Valentine 1 ALWAYS alerts a good distance further away from these signals when placed in the same location, sometimes by over 1/2 mile. I'm not sure why this personal real-world experience differs so much from the testing that experts have performed, but it's just my personal observation as a non-expert.
3. Price: This is a very expensive unit. I think the GPS functionality more than warrants the extra cost over an 8500 or another mode by Bel with the same internals minus GPS, but that doesn't make my wallet any thicker (save for the tickets I avoid).
4. No auto-marking feature: I'm personally not missing this, but it's something that could have been added (and was, to the 9500ci model).
So in summary, you've got a highly sensitive radar detector that, just as importantly, doesn't lull you into ignoring it by having a large number of false alerts. The end result is that you have a very powerful tool to use that helps you become a better user at the same time.
Up next, my impressions of 2 weeks with the Escort Passport 9500ci.