We turned an old phone into a dashcam

MyBroadband used an old Android smartphone as a dashcam, and it worked surprisingly well. However, it also had several significant problems.

Good quality dashboard cameras can be expensive, and many people may have an older smartphone lying around after an upgrade.

Turning that old phone into a dashcam to record what is happening while driving sounds like the perfect way to repurpose it.

Using an old Huawei P10 Plus, we decided to see how well a jury-rigged dashcam could perform.

There is a long list of different apps on the Google Play Store for this exact purpose, but we were entirely happy with the first one we tried, called “Droid Dashcam – Video Recorder”.

While there was no initial setup to guide us, the interface and settings are intuitive and explained well.

Video resolution, bitrate and frame rate can be manually selected, depending on your device’s camera.

We decided on 1080p (full HD) instead of 4K, recording at 30fps at the default 6 Mbps to limit storage use — and with the hope of extending battery life.

Screenshot from Droid Dashcam 1080p recording

The app lets users set a limit on the size of the storage folder, and how often videos are saved.

The app also uses the built-in accelerometer to detect impacts and prevent overwriting those video files.

You can manually trigger the same feature from the recording screen.

The app can also overlay data such as date, location, and speed on the video for later reference. If the phone has a data connection, it can also look up the current address.

One of the most important features is the automatic starting and stopping of the recordings.

The app has several ways to do this, and we selected charging detection. In this mode, Droid Dashcam automatically records when the phone is plugged in.

This works well when connected to a USB charger in a car that only charges when the vehicle is running.

Other methods include detecting a Bluetooth or aux connection, which can be useful when using the same device to play music in a car.

Video quality from the recordings was excellent, making number plates easily readable — something cheap dashcams often struggle with.

The visible number plates in this image have been redacted, but we could easily read the plates of the closest blue, yellow, and white vehicles in the original video.

Number plates were visible in Droid Dashcam recordings

While the software side of things was great, our main concern was that we were using a smartphone instead of dedicated camera hardware.

The first issue we encountered was stably mounting the phone where the camera could clearly see the road ahead.

Dedicated dashcams are usually relatively small and have small mountings that fit behind most rear-view mirrors.

We used a common suction cup phone mount, which works great when using a phone for navigation but also turned out to be quite bulky.

The physical size of the phone turned out to be a problem, as it had to be mounted without obstructing the view of the driver.

The only place we could find in the end was at the top of the windscreen in front of the passenger, limiting their view significantly.

Droid Dashcam — review recordings

The device’s weight also caused the mount to vibrate and instability in the video, as it was not as secure as mounting a lightweight camera close to the windscreen.

These are both minor issues that depend a lot on the make and model of the car you are driving, and with a bit of searching, you could find a more solid mount that works well in your specific vehicle.

We also initially had a few battery-life issues, as the phone would die overnight and have to charge for a few minutes in the morning before it could start recording again.

This will depend a lot on the specific device and age of the battery and can also be helped by switching the screen off and disabling GPS.

The biggest downside of the smartphone dashcam was leaving the device in the car.

While we did not have any problems during testing, a smartphone attached to the windscreen of a car in clear view makes for an attractive target for criminals.

This made us wary of leaving the device set up and had us remove and reattach it every time we parked in a public place.

Eventually, this just made us leave the phone off, defeating the purpose of having it be a replacement for a dedicated dashcam.

Now read: Plex’s free DStv competitor tested

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We turned an old phone into a dashcam