Turn an old smartphone into a dashboard camera

Smartphone as a dash cam
Smartphone as a dash cam

How to turn an old smartphone into a dashboard camera

In-car dashboard cameras are becoming more and more popular in the UK, with everyone from Uber drivers to young and inexperienced drivers beginning to see the benefits of recording their journeys.

If you are starting to think about whether you might need a dash cam, then we have a simple trick you can use to save money…

Instead of buying a dash cam, it is possible to turn an old smartphone you no longer use into a fully-featured in-car dashboard camera. These days just about everyone probably has an old smartphone sitting in a dusty drawer somewhere not being used, so why not make use of it by putting it to work as a dash cam?

Note: the below guide is based on using an old smartphone rather than your current phone as it is safer to use a device that you don’t need for any other purpose e.g. taking calls/messages etc…

Setting up an old smartphone to work as a dash cam

As well as needing an old smartphone you will also need a phone charging cable that is long enough to reach your car’s power outlet and a dashboard/window mount.

Now fix your mount either on the dashboard or the window – whatever works for you – and make sure the camera lens is at a good angle to capture the best view of the road in front of the car. Ideally, you want the camera to capture both sides of the car equally so keeping it pointed as close to the middle of the bonnet as possible is the aim.

The phone should be plugged into the car power outlet at all times, as you don’t want the battery to run out at the critical moment – so make sure the power lead reaches the outlet easily and doesn’t interfere with your driving (gear stick, handbrake etc…).

Finally, you just need to make sure that when the smartphone/dash cam is mounted that it is secure and doesn’t move about with the motion of the car. So do a little test drive and make sure the angle of the camera doesn’t move as you drive.

Choosing the right dash cam app

Now you have the hardware in place it’s time to sort out the software.

As the demand for dashboard cameras has grown recently, so too has the number of different smartphone apps available. These so-called ‘black box’ apps now come with a range of features, but all we need at this stage is a stable app that can record continuously, track where our car is and provide useful data like the speed we are driving and the date/time.

It is also recommended that you use an app that has an option to adjust the video quality. As we are using an old smartphone it’s possible that the device has limited storage space, so lowering the video quality will help maximise the space that’s available. However, we don’t want the quality to be too low as you run the risk of missing crucial information in your recordings (e.g. car registration numbers) so look for a happy medium.

Note: if you require extra space you can always buy an external SD card for your smartphone.

There are lots of apps available for both Android and Apple smartphones, so feel free to browse the app stores and find one that suits you. Below we have identified the apps we believe have the best features…

Dash cam app for Android – AutoBoy Dash Cam – Blackbox

https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.happyconz.blackbox&hl=en_GB

This app has a very clean and intuitive interface and is very simple and easy to use. It has great features in terms of customising the size and aspect ratio of your recording, zooming in/out etc…

It also has the ability to auto-delete recordings so that old files are removed and replaced with new recordings, rather than clogging up your memory, and has a smart crash sensor so you can instantly find the critical part of any recording.

Dash cam app for iPhone – DashCam

https://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/dashcam/id396087757?mt=8

If you have an iPhone then the choice is pretty simple – use the DashCam app. It features everything you need and is very simple to set-up and start using right away.

You may find some premium apps that offer more, but for a free app DashCam is perfect for your basic needs.

The downsides to using an old smartphone

While it may be easy to set up and help you save money, using an old smartphone as a dash cam does have its downsides. The biggest one being heat.

As we all know, smartphones have a habit of getting a bit hot when they are used for a long period of time – so using an old one to continuously record a long journey could result in it overheating. The heat inside the car could also cause problems if you leave the phone in there all day, so you should probably always take it out with you when not in use.

That might feel like a bit of a pain, but it also helps to mitigate another downside: thieves. Most dedicated dash cams are made to be very plain and discreet, so any potential thieves casually checking out cars will easily miss them. However, having a smartphone in plain view on your dashboard is completely different and could lead to your car being targeted by thieves.

Despite the downsides though, if you want the main benefits of a dashboard camera without the cost then using an old smartphone is certainly an option you should explore. For more car tips and tricks pay a visit to Roadweb which is a motoring blog covering a wide array of automotive matters.

To learn more, read Bobatoo.co.uk’s complete guide to dash cams.