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Google to Transform Pixel Phones to ‘Dashcams’ – Here are our Thoughts - - BlackboxMyCar Canada

Google to Transform Pixel Phones to ‘Dashcams’ – Here are our Thoughts

'Dashcam Mode'?

Google has mistakenly released something – and this slip made quite a stir on Android users, car drivers, and even dash cam manufacturers.

So yesterday, we came across some tech news and reports that Google is implementing a major feature on their smartphones, particularly on the Pixel phones, and a few Nothing Phone models.

Based on the articles, the tech giant appears to have accidentally released an internal beta version of the Personal Safety app (version 2023.04.27.532191641.8-dogfood), which 9to5Google dived into and tested. Guess what they found? A dashcam mode feature.

We all know how powerful and all-knowing Google is – it has an answer to almost every question, so our expectations on this new Dashcam feature are way up there. We can’t deny that we got intrigued, so while we already had an idea about how smartphones would work as dash cams, we also looked to see if this new, nifty Pixel feature has what it takes to outperform our well-loved dash cams.

What is Google Pixel’s Dashcam Mode?

It’s obvious that Google Pixel wants their smartphones to be a one-stop for almost all your daily needs – and even for things you don’t think you need. We checked their website and it says “smartphones do so much these days, it’s hard to keep up.” Well, true, and they are certainly doing everything to make things ultra convenient for users, evident with this new “Dashcam” feature.

Designed under the Personal Safety App, the Dashcam feature is a Google Pixel update that comes along with Emergency Sharing, Safety Check, and Car Crash Detection features. While we think these are needed for safe driving, can this mobile feature be a sufficient alternative to actual dash cams? Let’s compare them one by one.

Google Pixel’s Dashcam Mode vs. Real Dash Cam: Mounting Options

To use the Dashcam feature, you must mount your Pixel phone on your car’s dashboard – all throughout your travel. You'll also need a mount to keep your phone stable, or else your footage will be unsteady. Also, if you’re the type of person who needs to check and use your phone for work, entertainment, or for running errands, this can be really inconvenient – unless your Google Pixel works just as an extra phone.

Too Big to Mount?

Another concern is that the size of your Pixel phone may be too big to be mounted, distracting, and worse, prohibited by the law in some states. For example, the Google Pixel 6 Pro is sized almost 7 inches in height and 3 inches in width. So if you’re driving in states with dash cam size restrictions like Indiana, Utah, and Vermont with a Pixel phone as your dash cam, do expect to be called out by the authorities. Convenient? Not at all.

How's the Shape?

Actual dash cams, on the other hand, are designed to be discreet. Whether you’re using a front-only, front-and-rear, or triple channel dash cams like the DR770X Box, the dash cam is built with discreteness in mind. It doesn’t matter if you have a wedge-shaped, a hanging mount, or a cylindrical dash cam, all these are designed to be mounted right on the windshield, behind the rearview mirror, and out of the driver’s line of sight.

Parking Mode: Not Found

Based on our findings, Google enabled the Dashcam feature to start operating once you connect it with a particular Bluetooth device, such as your car’s stereo or infotainment system. So basically, the recording starts as soon as you successfully pair it via Bluetooth, and ends when you disconnect.

So, it means your car must have Bluetooth connectivity for it to record automatically. It means you have to invest time to pair and unpair before you can use it. It means it won’t record as soon as you start the car. And unfortunately, it means you won’t get anything when your car is turned off. Nope, you won’t get the parking mode protection where real dash cams work best!

Security wise, the purpose of your dash cam is to capture your driving (and parking) incidents. So in the event of an accident, traffic violation, or vandalism when you leave your car unattended, you have a witness to rely on. The footage must defend you from wrong accusations, wrong tickets, and could save you lots of money from insurance claims. It’s designed to protect you, and not to put you to harm.

Unfortunately, having a smartphone (as huge as the Pixel phone) on your car’s dashboard can also attract thieves. And who wants to leave their smartphone in their car while they're gone?

If you have a real dash cam installed in your vehicle, you have an eyewitness, you won’t miss a thing, and you get the eyes you need 24/7 with parking mode protection. You enjoy these features, without having to leave your car’s engine… and its Bluetooth device turned on – like what the Pixel phone requires.

Data, Storage, and Memory Usage

While the PIxel 7 Pro can store up to a terabyte, most Pixel phones can only store 128 and 256 GB – similar to dash cam’s storage space. The difference is that dash cams only contain pure video footage, while phones have other apps, media, and files that consume depending on your use.

In line with this, Google claims that to conserve storage space, their Dashcam’s recordings will be automatically deleted after three days unless you save them. So, if you ever notice an unfamiliar dent in your car, and need to backtrack footage you recorded with your Pixel phone’s Dash cam four days ago, there’s no way you can find it, unless you manually saved it.

Additionally, the Dashcam feature says that the videos themselves are compressed, averaging around 30 MB per minute with a maximum recording length of 24 hours. Doing some math, the estimated file size for this would take approximately 43,200 MB or 43.2 GB!

Dash cams actually segment their footage into 1-2 minute long clips on average, which is useful to prevent footage corruption. If power is lost abruptly, or there are SD card issues, then there’s a real possibility of the most recent recorded file to be corrupted. With a dash cam, that would be a single minute-long file, but with the Google Pixel Dash cam? You would lose the entire, up to 24 hour, recording. 

For dash cams, recorded videos are rather compressed too. However, dash cams typically use a standard video codec, such as H.264 or H.265. These video codecs work by reducing the amount of data needed to represent the video, while still maintaining high-quality visuals.

With real dash cams, the story is different. Since it has motion and impact detection, buffered recording, Emergency Lock or Live Event Upload features present in Cloud services, videos of incidents get automatically saved — not just during, but also before and after the actual incident. This gives you enough evidence, while also making sure that you won’t lose them.

Overheating Issues

We know how phones are temperature sensitive, and Google Pixel is not an exception. When we did a test last December 2022 about smartphones being used as dash cams, we tried installing a Driver App to a Google Pixel 6. Just note that Google isn't the first to do something like this. There are various dash cam apps available on the iOS and Android store too! There’s Droid dash cam, Drive Recorder, AutoGuard Dash Cam - Blackbox, AutoBoy Dash Cam - Blackbox and DailyRoads Voyager.

To be fair, its lithium battery didn’t explode or melt. However, it got significantly warm. Take note, it’s December so it’s pretty chilly! Now, what more if you use your smartphone as a dash cam on a hot summer afternoon?

We also brought up this concern among others in our video discussing more general apps that also turn your phone into a dash cam. Check it out here.

Upon checking other reports online, we stumbled upon a related blog by Android Authority. The author says:

Source: Android Authority

So, if you use your smartphone as a dashcam, especially if you’re traveling a long distance, you have to be ready for overheating issues. Dash cams also heat up after hours of continuous recording. But since they are built with supercapacitors and are designed to be left on the dash, with plenty of ventilation, they can withstand a reasonable amount of heat, varying between the different models.

Video Quality, especially in Night Time and Low Light settings

If there’s one thing that could impress us with this Google Pixel feature, that can be video quality. Interestingly, Google is one of the smartphones equipped with the same image sensor brand for dash cams, Sony Exmor. However, we discovered that the Dashcam mode cannot be enabled in ultrawide cameras, therefore, don’t expect a wide angle view for your footage either. Yup, lanes are limited too.

And when it comes to night time driving and low light situations, we can say that dash cams do better. Aside from having Super Night Vision, new dash cams like the Thinkware U3000 and the VIOFO A139 Pro already sport the latest Sony technology, the Sony STARVIS 2 image sensors. Unlike smartphone cameras, the Sony STARVIS 2 tech in dash cams work best in low-light, has improved clarity, and even assists in saving energy for parking mode. That’s how advanced it is!

Again, to be fair, in broad daylight, the Google Pixel camera does a decent job of capturing videos. It can also record audio, too! So, if you need short clips for your travel vlogs and adventures, we also see this as a good replacement for a GoPro. 

Our Final Thoughts…

The fact that Google must have mistakenly pushed out an internal beta version of the Dashcam app reminds us of two things – that all-knowing Google is unstoppable in transforming one device to another, and that consumers like ourselves must be careful with all the ‘smart’ options given to them.

At first glance, you will surely be amazed with how a smartphone can be a dash cam at the same time. But if you think about the overall convenience, cost, and safety in the long run, you would certainly pick a real dash cam over this.

Still, we think this innovative smartphone-to-dashcam feature is not a mistake, especially for light recordings for travel vlogs, reels, and TikTok videos. However, in terms of protection and security, installing a dash cam will not in any way be a mistake, but definitely a best decision.

Make the Right Choice, Choose a Dash Cam From Us

As North America’s dash cam experts, we at BlackboxMyCar only carry and recommend dash cams that are proven to deliver in all aspects possible – video quality, parking mode, safety features and long-term reliability.

Whether you’re looking for a budget-friendly but full-featured dash cam like the VIOFO A139 Pro, a 4K and Cloud ready option like the BlackVue DR970X-2CH LTE, or the industry’s most premium dash cam to date like the Thinkware U3000, we have everything you need, bundled up for you.

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