Car Dash Cams vs. Dash Cam Apps

Is the expense of a dash cam worth it or should you just get an app?

The question of whether to buy a dash cam or download a dash cam app for your phone comes down to price vs. convenience. Dedicated dash cams are generally more convenient, but they cost more. Dash cam apps are cheap but may be a hassle to set up before each drive, and they can compromise your phone's storage space and performance. The right choice for you depends on your circumstances and intended use.

Dash cam vs dash cam app

Overall Findings

Dash Cams
  • Saves video to a microSD card, continuously replacing oldest clip with newest one.

  • No need to replace or remove microSD card unless you need to access content.

  • Many can be set up to start recording the moment the car is turned on.

  • Much pricier than dash cam apps—start at around $100.

Dash Cam Apps
  • Saves video to phone memory in same manner as dash cam, but may chew away at phone storage and performance.

  • Significantly cheaper than dash cam—most can be found for $5 or even for free.

  • More of a hassle to set up before each drive.

Pretty much every dash cam uses looped recording: The camera records continuously onto a microSD card, splitting the feed into a series of three-minute clips, with the newest clips replacing the oldest clips. Because new data replaces old data, the amount of space on the card stays the same and there's no need to buy new ones. Dash cam apps work the same way, but have some limitations that are worth considering.

Storage Space: Dash Cam Apps Take Up Space on Your Phone

Dash Cams
  • Set-it-and-forget-it: No need to acquire more storage space.

Dash Cam Apps
  • Chew up CPU and storage space on your phone.

While both dash cams and dash cam apps record short video loops and replace old ones as new ones are recorded, available storage can still be an issue. Dash cams have more of a set-it-and-forget it design, where you only ever have to retrieve or replace the microSD card when you need to access a recorded clip.

With a dash cam app, any space you dedicate to that app is going to take away from available storage for other apps, pictures, videos, music, and whatever else you carry around on your phone. It may also chew into the functions of other apps while in use.

Convenience: Dash Cams Work on Their Own

Dash Cams
  • Automatically start recording when car starts.

  • No need to bring the camera with you or set it up before driving.

Dash Cam Apps
  • Not automatic: Needs to be set up before each drive.

  • If you take phone with you, you'll need to harness it before each drive.

GPS and G-sensors (accelerometers) are found in most smartphones these days, putting them in closer competition with mid-priced dash cams that feature the same. High-end dash cams often include multiple cameras, more robust memory systems, and higher resolution video.

It is generally easier to ready a dash cam than it is to set your phone in a cradle and start up a dash cam app. For some people, that convenience is worth the expense of a dash cam. For others, a $100 price tag is too steep when you can get a decent dash cam app for less than $5 or even for free.