Handy: Pixel’s next Dashcam feature is solid but requires accessories

Over Memorial Day weekend, I tried Google’s upcoming Dashcam feature on my Pixel 7 Pro and found it to be a surprisingly OK experience, but it needs the right set of accessories.

Earlier this month, we exclusively reported that Google was preparing a new way for Pixel phones and potentially other Android devices with the Personal Security app to automatically act as a dashboard- or windshield-mounted camera (or dashcam) during guide. The goal, of course, is to keep you physically and legally safe on the road. For example, in the event of an accident, you would have a video recording of what happened, hopefully providing proof that you were not the cause of it.

What will you need.

First, please note that Google has not officially launched or even announced this Dashcam feature. We were only able to test it out through the efforts of our APK Insight team. As such, Dashcam isn’t available on most Pixel phones yet, and we don’t know when (or if) Google will release it.

Also, depending on where you live, using a dashcam, whether it’s a dedicated device or a feature on your phone, may require you to comply with specific laws and regulations. For example, some states require a dashcam to be no larger than 5 square inches (although the rules may be different for a phone), while other states prohibit mounting anything on a windshield. Also, because the Google Dashcam can optionally record audio, you’ll need to make sure you’re compliant with the recording laws in your region.

With these disclaimers out of the way, there are also a few other things you’ll need to get the most out of turning a Pixel into a dashcam: accessories! For this hands-on, we mostly used equipment provided by Spigen.

The most obvious need here is mounting the dash itself. Suitable for most Android phones, Spigen offers a traditional OneTap holder that squeezes the sides of the phone to hold it in place.

However, we strongly recommend that you look for MagSafe-compatible media. For one thing, there’s a certain simplicity to attaching the phone to the mount and getting it to stay on the first try. More importantly, MagSafe makes it easy to mount your phone sideways, giving your Dashcam a wider view.

Spigen MagSafe Dashboard Mount

Since Pixel phones aren’t MagSafe-ready, you’ll need to buy one of the many MagSafe cases on the market. Alternatively, if you like your current case, Spigen also offers adhesive metal rings that add MagSafe to almost any phone case.

If you go the MagSafe route, your first instinct may be to choose a dashboard mount that also includes wireless charging. However, I strongly advise against it. The combination of continuous camera use and direct sunlight can produce significant heat, and adding wireless charging would only make it worse. Also, the Dashcam is likely to drain the battery faster than most wireless chargers can recharge.

Instead, my personal recommendation would be to buy a simple non-charging MagSafe dashboard mount and connect your Pixel with a USB-PD car charger. This would normally prevent you from using Android Auto, but there are ways to connect it wirelessly as well.

How the Google Dashcam works

As we reported earlier, Dashcam is an upcoming feature of Google’s Personal Security app, found mostly on Pixel phones. During setup, the app will ask if you want it to start and register automatically when your phone connects to your car’s Bluetooth. Fortunately, these automatic recordings also end when you log out.

Alternatively, you can launch Dashcam from a link on the Personal Security home page. If you follow this path, the recording will continue until you manually stop it.

Notably, while the app says it will start recording when you connect to Bluetooth, I’ve found that it often doesn’t start until I plug in a charger (wireless or wired). This is for the best, as Dashcam is a bit power hungry. Also, if you share a car with someone, only the current driver’s phone should record.

Our APK Insight team also discovered that Google may use other factors to determine whether to start recording, including the tilt angle of the phone and its stability.

The most important detail of the Dashcam, which distinguishes it from simply recording with the Google Camera app, is that it continues to record even if you switch apps (to open Google Maps) or turn off the screen. You can save energy and heat by turning off the screen, or the phone can still be useful for hands-free navigation.

By default, the Google Dashcam records using your main rear camera. There’s a button to switch cameras if you’d rather record your car’s interior, but you’d have to press it every time. There doesn’t seem to be a way to switch to the ultrawide lens, which is a shame, as it would provide a wider angle.

For security and privacy reasons, you will see a persistent notification when Dashcam is active. Also, just like any other camera-enabled app, the privacy indicator from Android 12 and above is visible in the upper right corner.

My test drive weekend

Although summer doesn’t officially start until mid-June, this past Memorial Day weekend was warm and sunny, even in New Hampshire, with temperatures in the 80s and 90s. Considering how many readers mentioned concerns about the Dashcam generating excess heat, this seemed like the perfect opportunity to put the feature to the test.

At first, I feared these concerns were valid, as I initially tested the Dashcam using the Pixel 7a. Within minutes of recording and running Google Maps in direct sunlight, Maps was forcibly switched to dark mode due to excessive heat, even with the air conditioning running.

Thankfully, things improved when I upgraded to the Pixel 7 Pro. In fact, I found that the Pixel 7 Pro was able to lightly charge the battery despite all the activities it was handling. I’d be lying if I said the phone didn’t get particularly hot to the touch, but everything still worked as I expected. However, excess heat isn’t great for your phone’s long-term battery life, so this feature may not be right for everyone, depending on your climate and driving habits.

As for the recording itself, I’ll let you judge. Here’s a sample video (slightly cropped but otherwise unedited) recorded with the Dashcam on the Pixel 7 Pro.

Google estimates that Dashcam uses 30MB of storage per minute of recording, which seems to be perfect. The 1080p sample video above weighs in at 93MB for three and a half minutes of footage. Another recording I captured, 17:01 in length, takes up 367MB ​​of space, far below the estimate.

However, I believe Google needs to rework its compression for these videos. In the example above, it’s often nearly impossible to read the license plate of the car ahead as far as yours close enough. Considering that the license plate can be a crucial detail for example, in a hit and run scenario it’s a shame to see this video so blurry at times. Honestly, I was expecting better quality from my $900 smartphone.

Outside of that text readability issue, the Dashcam footage is otherwise acceptable. Much of what is normally visible to the driver is also visible in the recording, although this will vary depending on the design of your car, the location of your mount and your phone’s camera. And again, it would have been nice to see support for the ultrawide lens.

At around 2:25 in the video, a ray of sunlight reveals a spot on my windshield causing the autofocus to pixel shift. It seems to work as expected, but underscores the need to keep your car glass clean for better video.

If you were hoping for a way to automatically back up your Dashcam footage to the cloud, sadly that’s not possible today. Personal Security doesn’t include any backup features, and the app stores your saved videos along with your other internal files. That means the videos aren’t even accessible through Google Photos.

Instead, you can choose to save a video, which prevents it from being automatically deleted, while the Share option lets you export it to any other app.

Honestly, this file management solution is fine considering I’ll never watch 99.9% of these Dashcam recordings. Instead, I’ll just have to save the video or even really Think about this feature in case of emergency or unusual situation on the road.

Is the Google Dashcam Worth Using?

If you’ve already decked out your car with a charger and dashboard mount, it’s almost a no-brainer to use Dashcam when it officially arrives for Pixel phones. However, if you haven’t, you’re potentially looking at nearly $100 in accessories to properly use this feature.

Meanwhile, you can find dedicated dashboard cameras for under $100 on Amazon that will record correctly and consistently, regardless of who’s driving your car or if your phone is present. Those affordable gadgets aren’t going to have particularly great video quality, and saving videos can be a chore at times, but dedicated cameras have a set-and-forget nature that’s undeniably appealing.

That said, speaking as someone who has wanted to invest in a dash camera for the last five years but never quite got around to it, Google’s Dashcam has finally inspired me to improve the safety of my vehicles. It’s also fascinating to see that our smartphones are still finding new ways to be smart in our daily lives.

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