Interested in getting a dash cam? Whether you want an extra set of eyes in the case of an accident, or you’re just curious about your own driving habits, there’s no doubt that having a dash cam can help you.
If you’re not sure you need a dash cam at all, watch the following video. It’s a news story about how prevalent dash cams are in Russia due to insurance fraud and police corruption. It might just convince you that having a dash cam is a good idea where you live too.
But should you spend a few hundred dollars on a stand-alone dash cam or should you use the camera and GPS device you already have – your Android smartphone? I’ve set out to test three of the most popular and well rated Android dash cam apps to let you know what I think of them.
The equipment used for testing was my Samsung Galxy SIII running Android 4.3. For the cellphone holder, I used a generic clamp-style suction-cup window mount, like the one pictured below. The phone had to be slightly offset from being centered in the clamp, to avoid the clamp taking up the shot. You may notice a black object in the top-right corner of the videos. I believe this contributed to the vibration of the whole rig. That was countered by wedging the phone and clamp up against the rear-view mirror. Not the best fix, but a suitable workaround for the test. The holder is excellent for its price, but not recommended for recording video.
Each app was used for my 45 minute commute in the morning, late afternoon, and after dark. The video after dark was pretty much useless for all three apps, so it isn’t included here. From what I’ve seen on YouTube of dedicated dash cams, unless you’re driving in a well-lit area at night, the video isn’t that great either. My test videos and dedicated dash cam videos all look pretty much like the one below.
Since my commute is so long, I did cover a variety of road surfaces as well – brand new roads, pot-holed asphalt, even roads that might be classified as dirt. This helped to determine how stable the video was. As long as the mount was rigid, the video quality was appropriate for the type of road traversed. Parts of the commute go through rural and urban areas, so I was able to assess how the dash cam apps performed in these environments as well. I can say that they all performed equally well and were able to take readable video of license plates just a few meters ahead of me. In order to avoid any legal issues, I didn’t include video from the urban areas in this article. People get funny about being recorded on a camera.
For power, I used the phone’s AC charger plugged into an inverter. All three of these apps use a ton of power for video recording, so I advise that you do the same thing. Also be prepared for the fact that your phone may heat up a fair bit. The heat level wasn’t high enough to affect my phone, but if your phone model has a record of overheating, you might choose not to do this. I believe that in the summer when I have the AC on, the heat would not be an issue at all.
CamOnRoad – Free
CamOnRoad is a solid app for use as an Android-based dash cam. The interface is very simple and intuitive, and setup is a breeze. Plus, they offer you 2 GB of free, permanent cloud storage for your dash cam video. According to CarOnRoad, that could be up to 3 hours worth of video. The application is set up to upload your choice of videos when there is a WiFi connection available. So, if something happens to your phone, at least there’s a chance you’ll still have the video.
Additional features are very simple and easy to configure as well. You can choose to track GPS information such as your location and speed, and CamOnRoad will attach that info to your video file. When you play the video in the app, the date, time and your speed are overlaid on the video to help confirm when you were there and how fast you were going.
There were only a few issues I found with CamOnRoad. There are a couple settings that are still written in Russian. This is a minimal issue and will most likely be updated in the near future. The final issue was that it recorded sound whether I turned that option on or off. That might not bother you, but I tend to sing along with the radio, poorly, and that’s not what I want people to remember if they find me dead in a car wreck. Minor issues.
Recommendation: Good. If you just want a straightforward app to test out if this dash cam thing could be for you. It provides all the basic information that might help you to fight a frivolous insurance claim or a traffic ticket. CamOnRoad has the right price and the essential features needed. Definitely a good entry point into the dash cam world!
AutoGuard – Free, AutoGuard Pro – $2.79
The Free version of AutoGuard does all the basic things that you would find in CamOnRoad. It records video and sound, incorporates location and speed from GPS information, and overlays date and time on the video. Understandably, the free version also has ads in it. That alone is worth paying the $3 bucks to upgrade.
However, the Pro version adds so much more. It also uploads videos direct to YouTube. It can start recording automatically when your device is docked or connected to a Bluetooth device that you assign, provided that it is still running in the background. This does mean that if you plug it in to a wall charger while AutoGuard is running in the background, it will start recording.
AutoGuard can also capture still pictures in important situations such as hard braking or impact, and has One Button Emergency Call. The One Button Emergency Call could be a real life saving feature, as you only have to hit the button on the screen to call emergency services and you can set what number to call. Definitely a worthwhile feature.
Recommendation: Better. For less than $3 you get the equivalent features of a dedicated dash cam with the potentially life saving One Button Emergency Call feature. If you want to use your smartphone as a dash cam, this is the one that I would recommend to the masses. You’ll get decent video evidence for protection against traffic incidents, and easy access to help in the case of an injury. Pretty good protection.
CaroO Free is a well-equipped free dash cam app, offering recording in 640×480 pixel and 720×480 pixel resolution, ability to control focus and exposure, trip data, and an emergency call and SMS button. The emergency call and SMS button can be set to whatever number you prefer. You can also choose to save to the phone’s internal memory or to an external SD card. That may be a good idea in the event of a crash where the phone becomes damaged.
It is a bit easier to use than the other two apps as it can be set to start recording when you start moving and to stop recording when you stop the car. You can also set it to start recording as soon as you connect your phone to the charger. Like AutoGuard, if you have CaroO set to do this, it will start recording if you just plug it in to a wall charger. Something to be aware of.
For even more flexibility, you can configure two quick-start buttons to run whatever program you want when you touch them. Perhaps your phone’s GPS program or Google Maps would be a good choice. You can even set an over speed warning to pop-up should you exceed the maximum speed that you set for yourself.
Obviously CaroO has a lot going on, and a lot going for it, so give it a shot. If you do, you may well consider upgrading to CaroO Pro for its amazing car monitoring capabilities. If you’re vehicle is OBDII compliant and your phone supports Bluetooth, you can get a Bluetooth OBDII reader, plug it in to your car and monitor all sorts of things about how your car is running. You can track battery voltage, running temperature, fuel economy, fuel consumption, and any malfunctions that might occur. All that information gets stored in the CaroO Pro application so you can review it later, or share it with your mechanic.
If you’re not sure what OBDII is, the OBD stands for On Board Diagnostics and the II or 2 stands for the second version of the standard. All cars made since 1996 are OBDII compliant, but may have slight variations. If you’d like to know what variation your car has, this page on OBDII Protocols for different car makes will help.
I didn’t have a Bluetooth OBDII reader to test the app with, but after testing it in so many other ways, I’m going to get one just for this. They can be had for $10 to $20 on Amazon.
My concerns about the CaroO app are pretty insignificant. There are several spelling mistakes in labels and instructions, but that’s not a big deal. The user interface works just fine, however I find some of the buttons on the small side for my stubby fingers. Very minor issues indeed, and updates are frequent so expect those complaints to be addressed.
Recommendation: Best. CaroO Pro does more than most dedicated dash cams and for a fraction of the price, so this would be a great choice for the person who wants to know what happens around, and in, their car. All the features of the other dash cam apps, and a vibrant online community on Facebook make it a no-brainer. You get all-around protection in the form of the video evidence, the emergency call button, and the information you need to protect your car’s health.
With a solid, stable smartphone mount, any of these Android dash cam apps is worth using. Find the one that works for you and your car, and let us know how it goes. Have you got a dedicated dash cam? Have you compared it to a smarphone app? What did you think? How about your own dash cam videos? If you’ve got one you’re proud of, why not share it with us?
Don’t have an Android? Maybe you have a Windows Phone. If so then take a look at Action Cam, it might be for you. If you’ve decided on getting a dedicated dash camera, read up on how to choose the right dash cam for you