How to Use a Smartphone as a Dash Cam

How to Use a Smartphone as a Dash CamThose purchasing a dedicated dash cam for their car should consider using their smartphone instead.  The hardware quality and app capability combined with the raw computing power of most smartphones make it a good choice.  So, let’s look at how (and why) to use your smartphone as a dash cam in the car.

Why Use Your Smartphone as a Dash Cam?

The camera quality on your smartphone is many times better than that found on a dedicated dash cam.  Looking at the recently introduced top of the line Garmin Dash Cam 65W, it sports a 2.1 megapixel camera with 1080p video quality.  The Apple iPhone 8 features a 12 megapixel camera with 4K video.  The Samsung Galaxy S9 also checks in with a 12 megapixel camera with 4K video.  Start looking at the LG V30, now we’re up to 16 megapixels.  A smartphone versus a dedicated dash cam isn’t even close.

How’s that 2″ display working for you on the Garmin Dash Cam 65W?  Kind of hard to see when it’s attached to the windshield.  No problem on a smartphone.  Most current smartphones have at least a 4.7″ diagonal display, many are even larger.  Take, for example, the Samsung Galaxy S9 which features a 5.8″ diagonal screen.  Again, it’s no contest.

A third reason to use a smartphone as a dash cam is update capability.  Few dedicated dash cams give the consumer update capability of the software in the camera.  Using a dash cam app on a smartphone brings automated updates via the app store or Google Play store.  If there are any bugs or new features, you get them for free.

Speaking of free, most dash cam apps for a smartphone are free or only cost a few dollars.  You already own the smartphone.  When it comes to incremental cost, it’s no contest.

Software Features

Most good dedicated dash cams have forward collision alerts with GPS sensors to show when and where an accident occurs.  It writes the associated video to a portion of the media that cannot be overwritten.  These are important features to have and a dash cam without these features is about as good as placing an old camcorder on the car dash.

Video takes up a lot of space on a smartphone.  Figure on using at least 3GB and be aware saved video will loop around once the space is used.  For those lucky enough to have a phone with an SD card (sorry Apple), use that for the video storage, and bump it up beyond 3GB.

Most good dash cam apps have the same features.  They integrate the smartphone’s GPS and other sensors into the app to provide a similar experience to a dedicated dash cam.

Using a Smartphone as a Dash Cam

There are a few things to keep in mind when using your smartphone as a dash cam.  First, constant power needs to be available.  Ever use Waze on your phone when it isn’t plugged in?  Drains the battery pretty quickly.  Using your smartphone as a dash cam will drain your battery just as fast.  So be sure to keep the smartphone plugged into a power source.

Secondly, be sure to use a mount that leaves the rear camera exposed.  The included cradle part of the mount needs to grip the phone tightly from the sides and potentially near the bottom half of the phone as most cameras are located in the upper third of the back of the phone.

We find car dash mounts to be effective.  You might also be able top use a vent mount if the location of your vents are high up on the console and your phone is tall enough to expose the rear camera enough to see through the windshield.  A car windshield mount will work if you can angle the cradle in a way that mount itself won’t get in the way of the camera lens.

A Few Good Dash Cam Apps

Surprisingly, there aren’t many apps out there for using a smartphone as a dash cam.  Out of the batch of apps we looked at, there were a few that we especially liked.

The photo that accompanies this articles is from the DailyRoads Voyager app.  It’s what you see when playing back the video taken by the app.  That’s the 720p video playing alongside a map of where the car was located.  The app flows nicely in the background while other apps, like Waze, play in the foreground.  The app supports video to 1080p and there are a variety of options that control video quality and camera.

A more simplistic, but still capable app is called AutoGuard.  Not as many customization options but easier to use.  Unlike DailyRoads Voyager, there’s no apparent way to use external storage so be sure your phone has enough spare storage to support the video retention.