I like email, because it’s permanent. When someone tells me something over email, it stays on record: I can look it up when I need it, and there can never be any confusion about what was said. With phone calls, not so. Have you ever forgotten important directions given to you over the phone? Or has a company ever reneged on its promise to you, and you were left with no way to prove that a service representative did indeed make that promise? That’s when call recording becomes indispensable. Of course, if you have to remember to record every call, chances are you’re going to forget to record that one call that really matters. So, not just call recording, but automatic call recording – that’s what you need.
Why Automatic Call Recording Is Tricky
To automatically record calls on Android is tricky for two main reasons:
- It’s a thorny legal issue: First and foremost, recording your own phone calls may not be legal in your country. I think that’s unfair (they’re your calls, after all, and the NSA probably already has a copy of them anyway), but life isn’t always fair. So, the first tricky part is figuring out if you’re allowed to record calls, and whether you must tell the other side you’re recording. In some countries, even if both parties know about the recording, that would still be violating the law. Wikipedia offers some help in the form of an article about telephone recording laws. That’s a good starting point for figuring out whether or not you’re even allowed to record calls. Do your homework, or you might get into a very unpleasant legal situation.
- It’s a finicky technical problem: Even if you’re allowed to record calls and use them as evidence, chances are the first call recording app you’ll pick isn’t going to work right off the bat. That may have something to do with the fact call recording is a low-level system function, but regardless of the reason, actually getting a call recorder to work requires some persistence and a strategy. That’s what I’ll try to help you with.
The Hard Technical Part: Finding The “Best Call Recorder” for Android
Call recording apps tend to fail in a couple of ways: They may record nothing, or they may record just one side of the conversation. To overcome this, I suggest the following method to record calls on Android:
- Make some time for this (this will take fiddling), and get two phones: One would be your own, and the other would be a phone you’ll be talking to, to simulate the other side of the call.
- Install a call recorder app. Get a free or trial version – don’t spend any money yet. You can try Call Recorder, or Automatic Call Recorder, or any of the myriad other ones. It will likely not be the only app you try. I’ve personally had luck with Automatic Call Recorder, which was the second I tried.
- With the app installed, call yourself using the other phone you have to hand.
- Speak into one phone, quietly, taking care to keep the other phone’s microphone well away from you. Say something distinct so that you’re able to tell which side of the conversation this is (i.e, “this is me, talking into the other phone”).
- Now switch to your own phone, and say something, quietly.
- Repeat this a couple more times, switching back and forth, then hang up. The call should be at least 30 seconds long, because many recorders begin recording only once a few seconds elapse.
Now go to the call recording app and try to listen to the output. It’s very likely you will hear nothing, or only one side of the conversation. That doesn’t mean the app is bad: Now it’s time to dig into the settings and figure out how to change the recording source to something that works for your device. For Automatic Call Recorder, the relevant settings page looks like this:
This dialog differs between apps, but all of the serious apps feature some way to switch recording sources. Don’t give up on an app you like before you try fixing this part. Note that the app offers no less than eight different audio sources. I believe Mic was the first one, and that didn’t work for me. Once I switched to Voice_Call, it started working. This is why people trying to find “the best call recorder for Android” often end up feeling frustrated: It depends on your device. An app that works wonderfully for someone else may utterly fail on your device, and vice versa. Trial and error is the only way to figure this one out.
Once you pick a different audio source, call yourself again and repeat the testing procedure. This is annoying, and the audio source names can be confusing, but it works. Another issue you may have is with the recording levels: Some apps may record your side very loudly, and the other side too softly. Changing sources may help – and sometimes you can configure the recording volume, too.
If you can’t find an audio source that works (or discover you just don’t like the app), it’s time to try another app.
Bonus points: Many apps (and even some ROMs that come with a call recording feature) use file formats called AMR or 3GP. That’s annoying, because it’s not always easy to find a player that can play these recordings. The better call recorders let you switch to a common format like MP3 – see “File format” below:
Now that you have reliable, automatic recording, comes the easy part: Making sure they’re reliably backed up, and that they don’t clog up your phone.
The Easy Technical Part: Never Running Out of Space
When I say “never run out of space,” I mean space on your phone. That always tends to be at a premium, especially if you’re an app junkie or if you have lots of videos, photos, and music. The solution I found is to sync the recordings to the cloud as soon as possible, and automatically remove them from the device once that’s done. To do this, I use Dropsync. Dropsync is a powerful third-party Dropbox client, and it has a feature the official Dropbox app doesn’t have:
It lets you specify any folder on your SD card for synchronization, as well as how exactly you want it synchronized. Above you can see I’ve directed Dropsync at the folder my call recorder uses to store recordings, and told it where to save those recordings in my Dropbox. But the really important bit is the Method: “Upload then delete.” This means I never have any call recordings taking up space on my device.
Of course, you may run out of Dropbox storage space, but that’s something that’s far easier to solve. Once the files are on your computer, you can run a scheduled task to move them to some other folder, or use an app like Belvedere to automatically move them out. Then again, if you happen to own a Samsung device, you may have received a 2-year 50GB Dropbox allowance when you first activated your device, making the whole thing a non-issue.
Final Thoughts: Takes Some Time, But Worth It
This whole setup takes a little bit of fiddling to get right, but it will all be worth it the first time you realize you need to re-listen to a phone conversation. Not only will you have the recording ready, it will already be waiting on your computer, so you can listen to it with a proper audio player and using decent speakers. Another benefit of this system is that it is not dependent on any specific ROM for your device – so if you switch to a ROM that doesn’t have built-in call recording, that won’t matter.
Will you be giving this a shot? I’d love to hear what recording settings worked for your particular device, and what recorder app you ended up picking. Good luck, and let me know below!