smartfilming

Exploring the possibilities of video production with smartphones

#33 Auto-transcribe all your audio for free with Live Transcribe! — 26. October 2020

#33 Auto-transcribe all your audio for free with Live Transcribe!

While writing my last blog post about Google Recorder 2.0, I stumbled upon a hack that can also be utilized for another app from Google, one that currently understands over 70 languages, not only English: It’s called “Live Transcribe & Sound Notifications” and is available for pretty much every Android device. Have you always been looking for a tool that transcribes your audio recordings but doesn’t require an expensive subscription? Here’s what I like to think is a very useful and simple trick for achieving this on an Android phone. You will need the following things:

  • Android device running at least Android 5.0 Lollipop (if your phone is less than 5 years old, you should be safe!)
  • the app Live Transcribe & Sound Notifications by Google (free download on the Google Play Store)
  • an internet connection (either mobile data or wifi)
  • a quiet environment

Let’s say you have recorded some audio like an interview, a meeting or a vox pop on your smartphone (look here for some good audio recorder apps) and would like to have a text transcription of it. If you read this before making such a recording, do include a few seconds of silence before having someone talk in the recording and it’s also important that the recording is of good quality in terms of speech clarity, the reasons will become obvious soon. 

Here’s how it works!

Live Transcribe can be used to transcribe speech/audio from over 70 languages.

Open the audio recording app which contains the file you want to have transcribed, select it, but don’t play it back yet. Leave the app and open Live Transcribe. Check the input language displayed in the bottom toolbar (if the toolbar isn’t there just tap on the screen somewhere). It needs to be the same as the recording you want to have transcribed. If it’s a different one, tap on the gear icon and then on “More settings”. Choose the correct language. Unlike Google Recorder which I wrote about in my last article, Live Transcribe works with a vast number of languages, not only English. Also unlike Recorder however, Live Transcribe needs an active internet connection to transcribe, you can’t use it offline! If you are planning on pasting the transcription into a context with a white background later on, you should make sure that “Dark Theme” is disabled in Live Transcribe. Otherwise you will be pasting white text onto a white background. Leave the settings menu and check that Live Transcribe’s main screen says “Ready to transcribe” in the center. Now double-check that you are in a quiet environment and get ready for a brief moment of fast action. Go back to the audio recording app and start the playback of the file, quickly switch over to Live Transcribe. The best way is to use Android’s “Recent Apps” feature which can be accessed by tapping on the square icon in the 3-button navigation bar – some Android phone makers use a different icon, Samsung for instance now has three vertical lines instead of a square. If you are using gesture navigation, swipe up from the bottom and hold. But you can also just leave the audio recording app and open Live Transcribe again without going into recent apps. The recording will keep playing with Live Transcribe picking up the audio from the phone’s speaker(s) and doing its transcription thing as if someone was talking into the phone’s mic directly. This actually works! Don’t worry if you notice mistakes in the transcription, you can fix them later. Once the recording and subsequently the transcription is finished, long-tap on any word, choose “Select transcription” and then “Copy”. You have now copied the whole transcription to the clipboard and can paste it anywhere you like: eMail, Google Docs etc. That’s also where you are now able to correct any mistakes that Live Transcribe has made (within Live Transcribe, there’s no option for editing the transcription yet). Two more things: You can have Live Transcribe save your transcripts for three days (activate it in the settings or activate auto-save under “More settings”) and if you want to clear out the app’s transcription cache, you can also do this under “More settings”, then choose “Delete history”.

Can you do the same with video recordings?

When in recent apps view, tap the app’s icon to show a pop-up menu. This menu looks slightly different on different Android devices. LG G8X (center), Pixel 3 (right).
Active app windows of Live Transcribe and Google Photos on one screen using “Pop-up window” feature on the LG G8X.

What about video recordings? Could you have them transcribed via Live Transcribe as well? Basically yes, but it’s not quite as easy. That’s if you want to do it using only one device (it’s very easy if you use a second device for playback). When you leave an app that’s playing back a video, the video (and with it its audio) will stop playing so there’s nothing for Live Transcribe to listen to. You can work around this by using Android’s split-screen or multi-window feature to actively run more than one app at the same time. On Android 7 and 8 you are able to access split-screen apps by long-pressing the square icon (recent apps) in the bottom navigation bar and select the app(s) you want to run in split-screen mode. Things have changed with Android 9 however. For one, gesture navigation was introduced as an alternative to the “old” 3-button-navigation bar. So if you are using gesture navigation, you access recent apps by swiping up from the bottom and then hold. If you use the 3-button-navigation, long pressing the square icon doesn’t do anything anymore. Instead, just tap it once to access the recent apps view, tap on the app’s icon at the top of the window and you will get a pop-up menu. Depending on what Android phone you are using the menu will have slightly different items, or at least they are named differently: On my LG G8X I get “App info”, “Multi window”, “Pop-up window” and “Pin app”, on my Pixel 3 I get “App info”, “Split screen”, “Freeform” and “Pause app”. The items you will want to choose to run two apps side by side are “Multi window” (G8X) / “Split screen” (Pixel 3) which will split the screen in half or “Pop-up window” (G8X) / “Freeform” (Pixel 3) which will display the app(s) in a small, desktop-like window that you can move around freely. By doing this, you can playback a video clip and have Live Transcribe running at the same time. Of course you can also use this feature to have both Live Transcribe and the playback of an audio recording app on the same screen simultaneously but for audio file transcriptions, you don’t have to go the extra mile.

Can I do this on an iPhone as well?

Google has a whole range of apps for iOS, but unfortunately, Live Transcribe isn’t among them – it’s currently Android-only. But hey, maybe you have an older Android phone in your drawer that you could put to good use again? That being said, there is the possibility that Google will eventually release an iOS version of Live Transcribe or Apple will come up with an app that does something similar.

If you have any questions or comments, leave them here or hit me up on the Twitter @smartfilming. Do also consider to subscribe to my Telegram Newsletter to get notified about new blog posts and receive the new “Ten Takeaways Telegram” monthly bullet point recap of what happened in the world of mobile video creation during the last four weeks.

#32 Google Recorder 2.0 – A fantastic update for an already brilliant app! — 18. October 2020

#32 Google Recorder 2.0 – A fantastic update for an already brilliant app!

Note: The Post-It in this image was added by me and is not part of the Google Recorder app icon.

Not too long ago, I wrote an article about my favorite audio recorder apps for Android. One of the apps I included was Google Recorder. Officially, the app is only available for Pixel phones but can be sideloaded to a range of other Android devices. Google Recorder has a unique place among audio recording apps because of one killer feature: it transcribes audio into text – offline and for free. This can be extremely useful for a lot of people, particularly journalists. With the launch of the new Pixel 5 / Pixel 4a 5G, Google has introduced version 2.0 of Recorder and it packs some really exciting new features and improvements!

Edit the transcript

As good as Google’s voice recognition and subsequent transcription works, it occasionally makes mistakes. Before version 2.0, you weren’t able to make any kind of edits to the transcription within the app (it was possible to export the text and then make corrections). With the update you can now edit your transcript, however only one word at a time.

Edit your recording

Another new feature of version 2.0 is that you can now edit the audio recording itself by cropping/trimming (cut off something at the beginning/end) or removing a part in the middle. You can actually also do this by removing words from the transcript and it will automatically cut the audio file accordingly! You can access this feature by tapping on the scissors icon in the top right corner when having a recording selected. This particular feature can also come in very handy to bypass a limitation of another new feature which I will talk about in a second.

Create a video with waveforms and captions

Quite possibly the coolest new feature of version 2.0 is the ability to create a video with waveforms and captions from your audio file. This is very useful for sharing audio snippets or teasers on social networks where everything is primarily focused on visual impressions. I was even more delighted to find that you can customize a couple of things for the video: You can choose whether you want the waveforms plus captions or only the waveform. You can also select the aspect ratio of the video (square, portrait, landscape) and the color theme (dark/light). This is great! One thing they could have added is an option to choose a photo as a background image for the video. You will also notice that there are two watermarks at the bottom (the Recorder app logo and a “Recorded on Pixel” branding), unfortunately there’s no way to hide them before exporting. You can however use a separate video editing app to crop the image or place a black/white layer over the bottom part to cover it up. One last thing to mention: You can only create videos from clips that have a maximum length of 60 seconds. So for longer recordings you need to cut out a chunk via the editing tool, save it as a copy and then create your video from this excerpt. The export resolution of the video is 1080×1080 for square, 720×1280 for portrait and 1280×720 for landscape, all at 30fps.

Perfect? Not quite!

Two shortcomings that I already pointed out in my other blog post and that unfortunately haven’t been improved with version 2.0: Google Recorder is still limited to English. I’m sure though that support for other languages will be coming soon because Google’s own Live Transcribe app which I think uses the very same engine for voice recognition and transcription is already polyglot. The second minor set-back concerns its potential use in a professional (broadcast) environment: The app only records with a sample rate of 32kHz. It’s not a problem for professional use per se because I think it’s fair to say that you can also call it a “professional” tool when you “just” use the transcription for your work. But if you want to use the audio recording as such (say for broadcast radio), the sample rate doesn’t match the usual standards of 44.1/48 kHz. If Google Recorder allowed importing audio files from outside the app, this limitation could be circumvented but you can only use files recorded within the app – and I don’t think this is going to change soon as Google probably wants the user experience to be as easy as possible and importing files from other apps might not fit the bill. Ease of use is probably also the reason for not being able to customize anything in terms of recording quality. The sample rate of 32kHz should however be just fine for less “official” formats like podcasts or social media / the web. I have also thought of a hack to record in higher quality but still take advantage of Google Recorder’s features: Record you audio with another app that gives you a higher sample rate (for instance ShurePlus Motiv) and then play it back on your phone while simultaneously recording with Google Recorder. Google Recorder picks up the playback from your phone’s speaker and treats it as if you were talking into the mic. This actually works quite well but of course you need to be in a quiet environment. If you want to use the app’s ability to create a video with waveforms and captions but incorporate the original audio and not the lower quality re-recording, export the re-recording as a video file, then import the video into a video editing app that lets you exchange the audio with the original higher quality recording.

For which devices is Google Recorder available?

Officially, Google Recorder is only available for Google’s own Pixel phones, excluding the very first Pixel (XL). These are: Pixel 2 (XL), Pixel 3 (XL), Pixel 3a, Pixel 4 (XL), Pixel 4a, Pixel 4a 5G and Pixel 5. If you have used version 1 but can’t find the new features, you need to update the app. So are you totally out of luck if you don’t own a Google Pixel? Not quite! It’s actually possible to sideload the app to a whole range of other Android phones running Android 9 or newer (version 1 of Google Recorder) or Android 10 or newer (version 2). However, while the app can be installed on other Android devices that – in theory – should be able to run it, not all do so without problems in reality. I have had excellent results with phones from LG (V30 running version 1 of Google Recorder and now the G8X running version 2) where the app seems to work flawlessly. It also works well on the Huawei P30. On the other hand, the OnePlus 3 only does the recording part, not the transcription. And the Xiaomi Pocophone F1 lets you install and open the app but the moment you try to start a recording, the app crashes. Bottom line: Your mileage will vary with non-Pixel devices and if you’re about to buy a new phone and want to make sure Google Recorder 2.0 runs with all relevant features, you should get one of the recent Pixel phones. If you have a non-Pixel phone that theoretically should be able to run the app by sideloading it, just give it a go, you might be lucky!

How can I sideload the app and is it safe?

Unlike with Apple’s iOS, Android lets you sideload apps to your device. Sideloading basically means you can install apps from other sources than the official app store, in the case of Android the official app store is Google’s Play Store. When you download an Android app from outside the Play Store, you will get an apk file that you can then open and install. For security reasons, installs from other sources than the Play Store are disabled by default on Android and the system will give you a warning when trying to install an apk file. You can override this protective layer though by allowing certain apps (in most cases it will be the browser which you used to download the apk file) to perform installs from so-called “unknown sources”. I highly recommend only downloading and installing apk files from sites you trust. Personally I have only downloaded apks from XDA Developers and APKMirror so far. Now if you want to rush over to APKMirror and get the Google Recorder 2.0 apk, there’s one more hoop you have to jump through, at last for the moment: The download is provided not as a single apk file but as an “apk bundle”, this is a different way of packaging an app to reduce the file size. But while Android can handle installing single-file apks out of the box, you need an extra app to install apk bundles. I used APKMirror’s own APK Mirror Installer which you can download as a regular app from the Google Play Store. After downloading both the APKMirror Installer and the Google Recorder 2.0 apk bundle onto your Android device, open APKMirror, tap “Browse files” and select the Google Recorder 2.0 apk bundle (it has an .apkm file extension). Choose “Install package” and you’re finally done!

To wrap it up: With the 2.0 update, Google has immensely improved its fascinating Recorder app and made it an even more powerful tool for recording, auto-transcribing and sharing audio, one that might be a decisive factor for choosing a Google Pixel over any other phone, be it Android or an iPhone. What’s your experience with Google Recorder? Have you used it? If you have sideloaded it onto a non-Pixel device, how does it work? Let me know in the comments or hit me up on the Twitter @smartfilming. If you like this article, do consider subscribing to my Telegram Newsletter to get notified about new blog posts.

#30 “Android Airdrop” is here – and it’s called Nearby Share! — 6. October 2020

#30 “Android Airdrop” is here – and it’s called Nearby Share!

Nearby Share logo

One of the things I really like about Apple’s ecosystem is the cross-platform integration of a functionality called “AirDrop” which lets you fast, wirelessly and offline transfer (big) files between Apple devices that are close to each other, be it Mac, iPhone or iPad. This is extremely helpful when transferring video files which as we all know can get pretty heavy these days, particularly if one records in UHD/4K. Shooting on an iPhone and then transferring the footage to an iPad for editing with a bigger screen is a pretty popular workflow. Android on the other hand had something called “WiFi Direct” relatively early in its career but it never got picked up consistently by phone makers which preferred to introduce their own proprietary file transfer solutions which of course only worked with phones/devices of the same brand. So for quite a while I resorted to third party apps like Feem and Send Anywhere that also worked cross-platform between mobile and desktop – Android, iOS, macOS and Windows. As for Android-to-Android device wireless file transfers, Google introduced an app called “Files Go” (today Files by Google) in late 2017 which was primarily a file explorer but also had the ability to share files offline to another device by creating a WiFi Direct connection. While the app ventured somewhat close towards becoming a system resource in that it came pre-installed on many new phones as part of Google’s app portfolio, it was hard to deny that Apple’s AirDrop was more easily accessible.

Google is finally giving Android proper wireless file sharing

Enter Nearby Share: Recently, Google started rolling out a new Android feature called “Nearby Share” that should soon be available on all Android devices that sport at least Android 6 Marshmallow (Android 6 was released in 2015, we’re now at Android 11). Nearby Share allows for fast wireless sharing of files to other nearby Android devices, even offline (that is without using an internet connection). The feature is distributed automatically via the Google Play Services app (which comes pre-installed on basically all Android devices) so you don’t need to download anything. Nearby Share is integrated into the Android system, it’s not a separate app. As of now, roughly 90% of my own Android devices (and believe me I own quite a few!) have already received Nearby Share.

Does your Android device have it already?

And here’s how to check if you have it: On your Android device, go into “Settings”, then select “Google” and then “Device connections”. You should now find an option called “Nearby Share” (not be confused with something called “Nearby”!). To use it, you need to activate it by switching the slider to “On”. If you have not yet activated Location and Bluetooth it will ask you to do so because that’s how it will look for and find other devices. There are also a couple of options: You can customize the name of your device (under which name it will be visible for other devices). You can select between three different  “Device visibility” settings (All contacts, Some contacts, Hidden) and you can choose by which means the transfers are achieved (Data, Wi-Fi only or Without Internet). Regarding the last bit, I personally always switch to “Without Internet” so it uses the fast peer-to-peer WiFi Direct protocol and doesn’t consume any mobile data when not connected to regular WiFi. Before actually initiating the first file transfers I suggest one more thing (it’s not really necessary though): You can add Nearby Share to your Quick Settings. Quick Settings is the bunch of settings directly accessible when pulling down the notification shade from the top of the screen. Now it’s not exactly the same on all Android devices, but there’s usually a small pen icon in the Quick Settings which allows to add or remove certain items to/from the Quick Settings. Scroll down do find two horizontal lines that are intertwined (Nearby Share) and drag the icon to the main Quick Settings. The reason I recommend doing this is because you can easily make your device visible to others for Nearby Share or turn the feature on when it’s off. Long pressing the Nearby Share icon will also take you straight into the settings for Nearby Share without clicking and scrolling through the general settings.

How does it work?

So how does a file transfer via Nearby Share actually work? Keep in mind that Nearby Share is for sharing to physically nearby devices, not to someone on the other side of the globe! 

  1. Assuming you want to transfer one or multiple video files, locate the file(s) in your phone’s Gallery app (the native Gallery app or Google Photos). Select the one(s) you need and then tap the share button. 
  2. Now look for the Nearby Share icon on the share sheet and select it. If you are using Google Photos as your Gallery app it will give you three options, select “Actual size”. Your sharing device will immediately start looking for devices that are close by and have Nearby Share activated (it usually doesn’t have to be opened).
  3. On your receiving device you will get a prompt “Device nearby is sharing. Tap to become visible” (If it doesn’t, open Nearby Share from the Quick Settings on the receiving device). After doing so, your receiving device will pop up on the radar of the sharing device.
  4. Select your receiving device and tap “Accept” on the receiving device itself. The file transfer will start and you are done. Your transferred files will be available in the “Download” folder of your Gallery app. 

Is it any good?

So far, Nearby Share worked really well for me and it makes transferring big files to other Android devices so much easier. It’s a bit of shame that unlike with phones, there aren’t too many powerful Android tablets out there to make a phone-tablet workflow a tempting proposition. It’s basically only Samsung that offers a tablet with flagship specs for video editing these days. The biggest shortcoming for me though is that it’s currently only available between Android devices and doesn’t build a bridge to desktop/laptop computers or iOS. This isn’t exactly a surprise. While Apple produces both mobile and desktop/laptop hardware with their own software, Google doesn’t really. “Laptops” is debatable because Google has Chromebook devices like the Pixelbook / Pixelbook Go and Nearby Share is supposed to roll out for their ChromeOS as well but I would assume most of us still associate “laptop” with devices running Windows, Linux or macOS. There’s actual hope though: Google is apparently planning to make Nearby Share part of its Chrome Browser and thereby opening up a whole new sharing world with the option to share to iOS, macOS, Windows and Linux. And even in its current state, Nearby Share can be very helpful in many situations, for instance when having multiple phoneographers in the field and you want to collect the footage on one device afterwards for editing or if as a journalist you talk to a person that filmed something interesting on his/her phone and wants to share it with you.

Does your Android device have Nearby Share? Have you used it already? How does it work for you? Let me know in the comments or hit me up on the Twitter @smartfilming. You might also want to have a look at Google’s own blog post about Nearby Share.  If you like this blog, please consider subscribing to my Telegram Newsletter which will notify you when new posts are released.

#29 Favorite field recorder apps on Android — 27. July 2020

#29 Favorite field recorder apps on Android

After starting to write a blog post about multi-track audio editing apps on Android, I figured it might be useful to do one on field recorder apps first as a precursor so to speak. I chose to use the term “field recorder” as opposed to “audio recorder” since there’s a whole bunch of multi-track audio editing apps that also record audio. And while I’m mostly concerned with mobile videography on this blog, I think it can’t hurt to take a look at audio for once, particularly since field recorder apps can also be used as independent audio recorders with a lavalier mic in a video production environment. I’ll have a look at six different apps of which each single one includes something interesting/useful. It will depend on your use case and personal taste which one qualifies as the best for you. Do note that most Android phones actually come with a native audio recording / voice memo app, some of which are quite good, but for the purpose of this article I will look at 3rd party apps only that are available for (almost) all Android devices. Well, with one exception…

RecForge II (Pro)

UI of “RecForge II” while recording.

One of the first more advanced 3rd party audio recording apps I stumbled upon after getting a smartphone was RecForge (Pro). The UI was visually pleasant (somewhat futuristic) but not the most intuitive, I found navigating around slightly confusing in the beginning. Its successor RecForge II (Pro) got a new look which is less fancy, more focused, but the developer failed to iron out some of the UX issues I had with the app. Two examples: When you press the “Record” button on the main screen, the app takes you to an all-new recording screen with lots of different buttons, timeline, big waveforms and is already recording. I think it would be less confusing if the same button that started the recording remained present and pushing it again would stop the recording. Well, as a matter of fact I just found out that you can change this in the settings but then you don’t get any kind of waveform or audio level meter which is always good to have. When you stop the recording, you need to push a button that looks like an “eject” symbol to get back to the main screen which I consider a bit odd. That being said, RecForge II might have the most complete feature set of all the recording apps listed here. It records in a wide variety of formats including wav, mp3, m4a etc., has options for sample rates and bit rate, basic clip editing (missing a fade tool though!), live audio monitoring, gain control (positive and negative) and live audio level meters (to check/adjust before recording, preview mode needs to be activated in the settings), support for external mics, mic source selection, scheduled recordings, homescreen widgets, a conversion tool and much more. The free version gives you unlimited wav recording but automatically pauses every three minutes when recording in any other format (like mp3). Pro version without limitations and ads is 3.89€.

Easy Voice Recorder (Pro)

One of the many useful homescreen widgets of “Easy Voice Recorder”.

EVR is far and away the best audio recording app on Android when it comes to homescreen widgets, it has a whole variety of them, some minimal, some more elaborate. Just in case you don’t know: Widgets are a special feature of Android (iOS is currently playing catch-up) that lets you add certain app functionality directly to your home screen without having to open the app first. So for instance you can add a button that starts a recording directly to the homescreen. EVR is also the only audio recorder among my list that has a WearOS companion app which means you can launch and control a recording from a smartwatch. It has a range of useful features and options but it’s also missing some more advanced stuff: There’s currently no way to check audio levels or control gain before starting a recording and it’s also lacking the ability to do live monitoring via headphones. I have reached out to the developers and they acknowledged my request, saying that they will look into it but that significant changes to the app’s core would have to be made to provide this. If you like EVR but miss these features I strongly encourage you to contact the devs and make your voice heard! EVR lets you record in wav, m4a and 3gp formats in the free version, plus mp3 and aac in the paid upgrade. The paid upgrade also has more useful goodies in the form of a basic editing tool for trimming/cropping, the option to convert to other formats and automatic upload to the cloud. The paid pro version is 3.99€.

Voice Record Pro

“Voice Record Pro” lets you create an mp4 video file from your audio-only recording. You can add a photo and some text.

This one’s a favorite of many on iOS and I’m glad that the developer decided to bring the app to Android as well. That being said, after launching it in 2018 and providing a few initial bug fixes, the developer hasn’t delivered a single update (be it bug fixes, let alone a feature drop) in over two years. It works reasonably well on most devices but certain (device-specific) glitches have not been addressed with the developer not being available for any kind of communication (I have tried on multiple occasions to no avail). It also lacks the transcription feature and the ability to adjust input gain of the iOS version if that’s important to you. VRP is unique among the apps mentioned here in that it allows you to create an mp4 video from a recorded audio file by adding an image and text to it. Useful for a quick share/teaser on social media platforms. The app has a great set of options for adjusting the quality of the recording, supports external mics and lets you check the input levels before and during a recording – no live monitoring via headphones though. A basic editing tool for trimming/cropping is included. VRP is free with ads. According to the GooglePlay store information, there’s supposed to be an in-app purchase but I have honestly not been able to locate it. I would be happy to pay a few bucks for this app and get rid of the ads but apparently it doesn’t seem possible (do let me know if you have found the IAP!). It’s a potentially great app but I wish the developer would make an effort to keep the Android version up to date.

ShurePlus Motiv

It’s super-easy to quickly apply a fade in/out with the handles in “ShurePlus Motiv”.

I have to admit this one has possibly become my personal favorite for its clean and focused design/functionality, great basic editing tools and solid feature set, notwithstanding its integration with a range of Shure microphones (naturally, this means that it supports external mics and not only Shure mics if you’re worried about that). It’s also completely free without any ads or feature cut backs. Something I absolutely love about the app is the way you can easily apply fades at the beginning and end of a clip, just drag the handles, you can even mirror the fades automatically! The app records in wav format with the option to convert to aac afterwards. You can adjust positive gain before/during a recording, reducing the input level is only possible if you are using some kind of external interface however. The biggest shortcoming at the moment is the lack of an option for live audio monitoring via headphones (which is available in the iOS version of the app). I have been in touch with Shure and they are looking into it. It would also be nice to have one or two homescreen widgets for people who often use it and want to launch a recording as fast as possible, but that’s a minor complaint. All in all, this is a beautiful and excellent audio recording app from a renowned microphone manufacturer – do check it out!

Field Recorder

“Field Recorder” lets you flip the UI so you can point the main internal mic of a phone (usually located at the bottom) towards a subject and still see the controls the right way.

If you are used to dedicated portable field recorders, you might find Field Recorder’s UI and functionality particularly appealing since it sort of mimics the appearance of such devices. Others however could be a bit intimidated by the somewhat busy upper half of the UI and the load of options in the settings menu. One very cool thing about FR is that it lets you rotate the UI which in the case of reverse portrait mode helps if you are using the (main) internal mic of the phone (instead of an external mic) which will usually be located at the bottom of the phone. If you are interviewing someone pointing this part towards the subject, the UI would be topsy-turvy for yourself unless you are able to rotate the UI independently from the device’s orientation. FR has you covered here. The app has an extensive range of options to customize the interface/recording process, includes live audio monitoring via headphones, supports the use of external mics and features an optional limiter. It’s missing the ability to edit/trim a recording though. FR records uncompressed wav files with the option to convert to mp3 after installing another app (‘Media Converter’) from the PlayStore to handle the conversion. There’s a homescreen widget but it’s a bit complicated to use. Field Recorder costs 4.99€, there’s no free version but I’d say it’s most definitely worth the price if you like its UI and feature set.

Google Recorder

“Google Recorder” automatically transcribes your recordings.

This one is probably the odd ball among the pack with very little to no control/settings options – but sporting a killer feature that by itself will let many folks crave it badly: It can auto-transcribe any recording offline (only English so far!) and search text within a recording completely for free! When sharing you have the option to only share the audio, only the text as a text file or both. You also have the ability to directly upload recordings to the cloud (GoogleDrive). Recordings are saved in m4a format with a sample rate of 32 kHz and a bitrate of 48Kbit/s. There’s currently no option for higher sample or bitrates or other recording formats like wav. But depending on what you are doing, this might not be a problem. There’s one relatively big catch to this: So far, it’s officially only available for Google’s Pixel devices (excluding the very first Pixel phone apparently). You can however sideload it (meaning installing it outside of the Google PlayStore via an apk file) to many other Android devices, XDA Developers has a great article on how to do that and which devices are currently supported. I sideloaded it to my LG V30 and it works really well. Note: You will need to allow app installs from external sources though first in the settings of your phone (it’s disabled by default for security reasons). Will it be officially available for non-Google Android devices in the future? There are arguments for both sides: Technically it shouldn’t be a problem since Google’s Live Transcribe app which basically taps into the same core functionality of transcribing audio is already available for many Android devices. Google might however want to keep this a special feature on Pixel devices, an incentive to pick a Pixel over other Android phones. We’ll see how that plays out over the next months. Some things Google Recorder is missing: While there’s a live waveform when recording (which is good), you don’t get an audio level meter, gain control, homescreen widgets or the ability to edit/trim a recording. As all the other apps listed here, it generally supports the use of external mics. 

So which one is the best field recorder app for Android? Well, as indicated in the introduction to this article, there’s no clear answer. There are many very good ones and which one specifically suits you best will depend on your use case, what features you absolutely need and which features you can live without, if you love a complex interface with loads of options or like to keep it simple. The good thing is: With the exception of Field Recorder (which doesn’t have a free version) and Google Recorder (which has only limited availability) you will be able to test most of the apps for free to decide which one’s your top pick. And also remember: These are just a couple of candidates that I happen to like, there are many many more in the Google PlayStore and it’s entirely possible that there’s a great one I haven’t discovered yet. If you have a favorite one not listed here, do let me know in the comments or on Twitter @smartfilming. And stay tuned for an upcoming article about multi-track audio editing apps for Android. Last thing: If you like this blog, consider signing up for my Telegram newsletter via t.me/smartfilming to get notified about new posts.

Download RecForge II Lite / RecForge II Pro on Google Play
Download Easy Voice Recorder / Easy Voice Recorder Pro on Google Play
Download Voice Record Pro on Google Play
Download ShurePlus Motiv on Google Play
Download Field Recorder on Google Play
Download Google Recorder on Google Play

#28 Android 11 might be the most important update for mobile videography since Android 5 — 20. July 2020

#28 Android 11 might be the most important update for mobile videography since Android 5

One of the things more tech-savvy smartphone users often criticize about Google’s mobile operating system Android is the fact that new versions of the OS only roll out relatively slowly and to a somewhat limited number of (recent) devices, particularly when compared to new versions of Apple’s iOS for iPhones. There has been some progress (the current version Android 10 managed the fastest and widest roll-out of any Android version so far), but it’s still a long way to getting anywhere close to the swift and wide-spread roll-out of new iOS versions. 

While in general I would definitely prefer to have faster and more wide-reaching availability of new Android versions, I also think that the topic is often way too dramatized, particularly since Google separated regular security patches from the OS version with Android 8 Oreo in 2017. If we look at this particularly from a smartphone videography perspective, there have been hardly any major feature updates to the Android system over the last years that would make having “the latest and greatest” an absolute must. In my opinion, the last crucial milestone was Android 5 Lollipop back in 2014 when Google added the ability for screen recording via third party apps and – most importantly – introduced the Camera2 API which gave developers access to more advanced camera controls like shutter speed and ISO. The following versions surely continued to further polish a now pretty mature mobile operating system and occasionally included generally useful new tweaks and features for the common user but nothing really groundbreaking in terms of mobile videography. The upcoming Android 11 (scheduled for late summer / early fall 2020) could actually be a new milestone however. After checking out the official Android 11 developer information site from Google and various articles (many by the excellent XDA Developers news outlet!) plus getting a (used) Pixel 3 to hop on the beta version of Android 11 myself, I have found a bunch of quite interesting things, some will be immediately accessible in Android 11, others will offer new possibilities for app developers to dig into.

Native Screen Recording

As mentioned before, Android 5 had already introduced the general ability for screen recording back in 2014 but only for 3rd party apps, not as a native OS functionality. While some Android phone makers actually added native screen recording to their phones it wasn’t available right out of the box for most devices. It did finally pop up as a system immanent feature in the beta version for Android 10 but was unfortunately dropped for the final release. Now it’s back on the Android 11 beta and I’m pretty sure it will make it to the finish line this time around! You can simply access this feature via the quick settings when pulling down the notification shade from the top. It’s not there by default but you can easily add it to the quick settings by tapping on the pen icon in the bottom left corner of the notification shade and then dragging the screen record tile to the quick settings. On my Pixel 3, the resolution of the recorded video is 2160×1080 or 1080×2160 depending on the orientation with a somewhat curious frame rate hovering around 40 to 45 fps.

Capturing System Audio

Directly related to the native screen recording is the ability to capture system/internal audio from the device. It’s something that Google wouldn’t allow up until now so all the screen recording apps that came out in the wake of Android 5 were only able to capture sound through the phone’s mic / an external mic or no sound at all, not the ‘clean’ audio of an incoming call or a video that you are playing back. When you launch the native screen recorder on Android 11, it asks you to pick between three options in terms of audio capture: “Microphone”, “Device audio” or “Device audio and microphone”. Why is this important? If you want to record a (video) call for instance, you should now be able to capture both ends directly into a mix or just get your interviewee’s audio without having your own side mixed in. The pop-up when launching the screen recorder also gives you the option to show touches while capturing which is great if you are doing a tutorial on how to use an app as viewers can see what buttons you touch during the process.

Airplane Mode doesn’t turn off Bluetooth

When recording video on a smartphone it’s generally a good thing to turn on Airplane Mode to prevent any kind of interference with your recording. Sure, most of the time you might get away with not paying attention to this… until an important shot gets ruined by an incoming call etc. So far, going into Airplane Mode killed Bluetooth (it’s possible to manually turn it on again) which probably isn’t that big of a deal for shooting video – yet. Most external Bluetooth mics are still lacking in terms of more professional audio quality but this might change soon and it’s already a viable option to use Bluetooth headphones for audio monitoring. It’s a welcome tweak then that when having a Bluetooth device paired to the phone, going into Airplane Mode won’t turn off Bluetooth automatically.

Automatically block notifications when using the camera

Filmic Pro actually already has an option to block notifications while using the app in its settings but Google apparently introduced a new API that will allow developers of camera apps to automatically block disruptive notifications and sounds when people are using the app. The next step could be a feature that would allow the user to automatically activate the airplane mode when launching a camera app.

Support for concurrent use of more than one camera

This one could be a biggie! Here’s a quote from Google’s official Android 11 “Features and API Overview” knowledge base: “Support for concurrent use of more than one camera. Android 11 adds APIs to query support for using more than one camera at a time, including both a front-facing and rear-facing camera.” To me, this very much sounds like the groundwork for giving camera apps the power to capture content from multiple cameras simultaneously. This is not completely new on Android phones. Various phone makers including the likes of Samsung, HTC, LG and Nokia have featured camera modes on some of their devices that let you capture a video with both the front and the rear camera at the same time, creating a split-screen video in the process. I actually wrote a whole article about it and its particular usefulness for covering live events with some sort of presenter. Whether people didn’t like the feature or didn’t even know it existed in the first place will probably remain in the dark (I assume it was the latter) but the fact remains that this very intriguing feature never grew any kind of significant popularity or wide-spread availability. The universal rise of multi-camera arrays on smartphones in the last years however really does call for a revival of this feature! Pretty much every phone nowadays has two or even more rear cameras and one could indeed think of quite a few use cases where a combination of rear and front cameras or both rear cameras (regular and wide-angle/tele) recording simultaneously might come in handy. Apple introduced a dedicated API with iOS 13 just last year and 3rd party developers jumped at the opportunity with Filmic Inc.’s CTO Christopher Cohen even being invited on stage at the Apple Event to show off “DoubleTake”. Unlike with the dual camera feature on certain Android devices before, you can also record the video streams into separate files instead of having a pre-mixed split-screen. It’s easy to see that this resource-intensive functionality would most likely only be available on powerful Android devices in the beginning (it even seems to be relatively fragmented on iOS at this time) but I really hope I’m not misinterpreting this info and some camera app developer can make it happen soon!  

Control external devices

I’m not sure how much can actually come out of this but a new feature called “Quick Access Device Controls” specifically includes “cameras” in its explanatory text: “The Quick Access Device Controls feature, available starting in Android 11, allows the user to quickly view and control external devices such as lights, thermostats and cameras from the Android power menu”. From this, one might deduct that by “cameras” they probably refer to surveillance cameras (or some other internet-connected IoT smart device) but I suppose this could potentially be utilized for controlling other external devices in a media production environment as well so I’ll keep an eye on it and maybe a clever developer finds an ingenious application for this.

Removal of 4GB file size limit

Up until now, Android was only able to write maximum files sizes of around 4GB, a left-over from the very early days that remained unaddressed for too long. As a matter of fact, certain phone makers (Sony for instance) found a way to disable the file size limit in their version of the OS but it remained present on many devices. While this limitation was of little relevance to many (including certain mobile videographers!), it was a major nuisance for others (including me) who wanted to record longer interviews, workshops, events etc. Some camera apps would seemingly record continuously while splitting clips in the background when reaching the file size limit, some would automatically restart the recording, others just stop, forcing a manual restart by the user. With UHD/4K video slowly creeping into the mainstream, this matter got even more pressing in the last years and it’s really about time Android rids itself of this anachronistic relic. Well, it looks like this time is now!

Share Nearby / Nearby Sharing

The last feature I want to mention isn’t actually exclusive to the upcoming new Android version but I still decided to include it here. AirDrop has been a really useful feature on iOS for some time, it allows you to wirelessly transfer (big) files between iOS, iPadOS and MacOS devices without an internet connection. While Google launched its quite useful “Files” app some time ago which lets you among other things quickly send (big) files between Android devices without an active internet connection by using an ad-hoc wifi network and the WiFi direct protocol, it’s still a separate app and not baked into the OS itself. It also doesn’t span the bridge to the desktop if you want to send one or more video files from your phone to your computer for editing. A new feature called “Share Nearby” or “Nearby Sharing” which will be integrated into Android’s share sheet apparently aims to provide Android users with an AirDrop-like experience. And while I first thought that it will not reach beyond the Android OS, thereby seriously curtailing its usefulness, there is some information indicating it could actually link to desktop computers via the Google Chrome browser which would be really awesome! Share Nearby is supposed to roll out in August for all Android devices running Android 6 Marshmallow or newer.

As you can see, this time around there’s actually quite a list of (potentially) useful new features debuting with the new version of Android so it’s fair to say I’m really excited about the launch! What do you think? Let me know in the comments or hit me up on the Twitter @smartfilming. Also, feel free to sign up for my Telegram newsletter t.me/smartfilming to get notified about new blog posts.

 

#27 No, you don’t need a second video track for storytelling! (… and why it really doesn’t matter that much anymore) — 25. June 2020

#27 No, you don’t need a second video track for storytelling! (… and why it really doesn’t matter that much anymore)

As I pointed out in one of my very first blog posts here (in German), smartphone videography still comes with a whole bunch of limitations (although some of them are slowly but surely going away or have at least been mitigated). Yet one central aspect of the fascinating philosophy behind phoneography (that’s the term I now prefer for referring to content creation with smartphones in general) has always been one of “can do” instead of “can’t do” despite the shortcomings. The spirit of overcoming obvious obstacles, going the extra mile to get something done, trailblazing new forms of storytelling despite not having all the bells and whistles of a whole multi-device or multi-person production environment seems to be a key factor. With this in mind I always found it a bit irritating and slightly “treacherous” to this philosophy when people proclaimed that video editing apps without the ability to have a second video track in the editing timeline are not suitable for storytelling. “YOU HAVE TO HAVE A VIDEO EDITOR WITH AT LEAST TWO VIDEO TRACKS!” Bam! If you are just starting out creating your first videos you might easily be discouraged if you hear such a statement from a seasoned video producer. Now let me just make one thing clear before digging a little deeper: I’m not saying having two (or multiple) video tracks in a video editing app as opposed to just one isn’t useful. It most definitely is. It enables you to do things you can’t or can’t easily do otherwise. However, and I can’t stress this enough, it is by no means a prerequisite for phoneography storytelling – in my very humble opinion, that is. 

I can see why someone would support the idea of having two video tracks as being a must for creating certain types of videography work. For instance it could be based on the traditional concept of a news report or documentary featuring one or more persons talking (most often as part of an interview) and you don’t want to have the person talking occupying the frame all the time but still keep the statement going. This can help in many ways: On a very basic level, it can work as a means for visual variety to reduce the amount of “talking heads” air time. It might also help to cover up some unwanted visual distraction like when another person stops to look at the interviewee or the camera. But it can also exemplify something that the person is talking about, creating a meaningful connection. If you are interviewing the director of a theater piece who talks about the upcoming premiere you could insert a short clip showing the theater building from the outside, a clip of a poster announcing the premiere or a clip of actors playing a scene during the rehearsal while the director is still talking. The way you do it is by adding the so-called “b-roll” clip as a layer to the primary clip in the timeline of the editing app (usually muting the audio of the b-roll or at least reducing the volume). Without a second video track it can be difficult or even impossible to pull off this mix of video from one clip with the audio from another. But let’s stop here for a moment: Is this really the ONLY legitimate way to tell a story? Sure, as I just pointed out, it does have merit and can be a helpful tool – but I strongly believe that it’s also possible to tell a good story without this “trick” – and therefore without the need for a second video track. Here are some ideas:

WYSIWYH Style

Most of us have probably come across the strange acronym WYSIWYG: “What you see is what you get” – it’s a concept from computational UI design where it means that the preview you are getting in a (text/website/CMS) editor will very much resemble the way things actually look after creating/publishing. If you want a word to appear bold in your text and it’s bold after marking it in the editor, this is WYSIWYG. If you have to punch in code like <b>bold</b>  into your text editing interface to make the published end result bold, that’s not WYSIWYG. So I dare to steal this bizarre acronym in a slightly altered version and context: WYSIWYH – “What you see is what you hear” – meaning that your video clips always have the original sound. So in the case of an interview like described before, using a video editing app with only one video track, you would either present the interview in one piece (if it’s not very long) or cut it into smaller chunks with “b-roll” footage in between rather than overlaid (if you don’t want the questions included). Sure, it will look or feel a bit different, not “traditional”, but is that bad? Can’t it still be a good video story? One fairly technical problem we might encounter here is getting smooth audio transitions between clips when the audio levels of the two clips are very different. Video editing apps usually don’t have audio-only cross-fades (WHY is that, I ask!) and a cross-fade involving both audio AND video might not be the preferred transition of choice as most of the time you want to use a plain cut. There are ways to work around this however or just accept it as a stylistic choice for this way of storytelling. 

One-Shot Method

Another very interesting way that results in a much easier edit without the need for a second video track (if any at all) but includes more pre-planning in advance for a shoot is the one-shot approach. In contrast to what many one-man-band video journalists do (using a tripod with a static camera), this means you need to be an active camera operator at the same time to catch different visual aspects of the scene. This probably also calls for some sort of stabilization solution like phone-internal OIS/EIS, a rig, a gimbal or at least a steady hand and some practice. Journalist Kai Rüsberg has been an advocate of this style and collected some good tips here (blog post is in German but Google Translate should help you getting the gist). As a matter of fact, there’s even a small selection of noticeable feature films created in such a (risky) manner, among them “Russian Ark” (2002) and “Viktoria” (2015). One other thing we need to take into consideration is that if there’s any kind of asking questions involved, the interviewer’s voice will be “on air” so the audio should be good enough for this as well. I personally think that this style can be (if done right!) quite fascinating and more visually immersive than an edited package with static separate shots but it poses some challenges and might not be suited for everybody and every job/situation. Still, doing something like that might just expand your storytelling capabilities by trying something different. A one-track video editing app will suffice to add some text, titles, narration, fade in/out etc.

Shediting

A unique almagam of a traditional multi-clip approach and the one-shot method is a technique I called “shediting” in an earlier blog post. This involves a certain feature that is present in many native and some 3rd party camera apps: By pausing the recording instead of stopping it in between shots, you can cram a whole bunch of different shots into a single clip. Just like with one-shot, this can save you lots of time in the edit (sometimes things need to go really fast!) but requires more elaborate planning and comes with a certain risk. It also usually means that everything needs to be filmed within a very compact time frame and one location/area because in most cases you can’t close the app or have the phone go to sleep without actually stopping the recording. Nonetheless, I find this to be an extremely underrated and widely unknown “hack” to piece together a package on the go! Do yourself a favor and try to tell a short video story that way!

Voice-Over

A way to tackle rough audio transitions (or bad/challenging sound in general) while also creating a sense of continuity between clips is to use a voice-over narration in post production, most mobile editors offer this option directly within the app and even if you happen to come across one that doesn’t (or like Videoshop, hides it behind a paywall) you can easily record a voice-over in a separate audio recording app and import the audio to your video editor although it’s a bit more of a hassle if you need to redo it when the timing isn’t quite right. One example could be splicing your interview into several clips in the timeline and add “b-roll” footage with a voice-over in between. Of course you should see to it that the voice-over is somewhat meaningful and not just redundant information or is giving away the gist / key argument of an upcoming statement of the interviewee. You could however build/rephrase an actual question into the voice-over. Instead of having the original question “What challenges did you experience during the rehearsal process?” in the footage, you record a voice-over saying “During the rehearsal process director XY faced several challenges both on and off the stage…” for the insert clip followed by the director’s answer to the question. It might also help in such a situation to let the voice-over already begin at the end of the previous clip and flow into the subsequent one to cover up an obvious change in the ambient sound of the different clips. Of course, depending on the footage, the story and situation, this might not always work perfectly.

Text/Titles

Finally, with more and more media content being consumed muted on smartphones “on the go” in public, one can also think about having text and titles as an important narrative tool, particularly if there’s no interview involved (of course a subtitled interview would also be just fine!). This only works however if your editing app has an adequate title tool, nothing too fancy but at least covering the basics like control over fonts, size, position, color etc. (looking at you, iMovie for iOS!). Unlike adding a second video track, titles don’t tax the processor very much so even ultra-budget phones will be able to handle it.

Now, do you still remember the second part of this article’s title, the one in parentheses? I have just gone into lengths to explain why I think it’s not always necessary to use a video editing app with at least two video tracks to create a video story with your phone, so why would I now be saying that after all it doesn’t really matter that much anymore? Well, if you look back a whole bunch of years (say around 2013/2014) when the phoneography movement really started to gather momentum, the idea of having two video tracks in a video editing app was not only a theoretical question for app developers, thinking about how advanced they WANTED their app to be. It was also very much a plain technical consideration, particularly for Android where the processing power of devices ranged from quite weak to quite powerful. Processing multiple video streams in HD resolution simultaneously was no small feat at the time for a mobile processor, to a small degree this might even still be true today. This meant that not only was there a (very) limited selection of video editing apps with the ability to handle more than just one video track at the same time, but even when an app like KineMaster or PowerDirector generally supported the use of multiple video tracks, this feature was only available for certain devices, excluding phones and tablets with very basic processors that weren’t up to the task. Now this has very much changed over the last years with SoCs (System-on-a-chip) becoming more and more powerful, at least when it comes to handling video footage in FHD 1080p resolution as opposed to UHD/4K! Sure, I bet there’s still a handful of (old) budget Android devices out there that can’t handle two tracks of HD video in an editing app but mostly, having the ability to use at least two video tracks is not really tied to technical restraints anymore – if the app developers want their app to have multi-track editing then they should be able to integrate that. And you can definitely see that an increasing number of video editing apps have (added) this feature – one that’s really good, cross-platform and free without watermark is VN which I wrote about in an earlier article.

So, despite having argued that two video tracks in an editing app is not an absolute prerequisite for producing a good video story on your phone, the fact that nowadays many apps and basically all devices support this feature very much reduces the potential conflict that could arise from such an opinion. I do hope however that the mindset of the phoneography movement continues to be one of “can do” instead of “can’t do”, exploring new ways of storytelling, not just producing traditional formats with new “non-traditional” devices.

As usual, feel free to drop a comment or get in touch on the Twitter @smartfilming. If you like this blog, consider signing up for my Telegram channel t.me/smartfilming.

#26 Checking detailed properties of video clips on Android and iOS — 16. June 2020

#26 Checking detailed properties of video clips on Android and iOS

Have you ever had sleepless nights wondering whether the video recording app you are using really shoots in the frame rate and bitrate that it says it does? What’s the codec of the video file that was just sent to me? And (how much) does my editing app of choice crunch the bitrate (“quality”) of the original clips when exporting the project? No? Good for you, you may skip this article! But since you are already here you might as well read it anyway! I’m going to look at three different apps, one Android-only, one iOS-only and one that is available for both Google’s and Apple’s mobile platform.

You might ask, “Do I really need an extra app to get some basic info about a video file? I can do that with a keyboard shortcut on my desktop computer!”. Well, yes and no. That depends on what you consider to be “basic info”. Generally speaking, it’s a lot easier to access some standard file properties on Android than on iOS. Not only does pretty much every device come with a file manager that actually deserves the name but you will also be able to get file size, file container format and the resolution from the device’s Gallery app. Usually, an option labeled “Details” or “Info” is available in a menu after selecting a video clip. One would think that such trivialities should also be accessible from iOS’s Camera Roll, but … no. In case you don’t know, “Gallery” (Android) and “Camera Roll” (iOS) refer to the “image bucket” where all photos and videos go unless they are stored directly within an app. The only info about a video you get in Apple’s Camera Roll is the length of the video. Yes, there’s a way to get a little bit more data without installing a 3rd party app: Select a clip in the Camera Roll and share-copy it to iOS’s “Files” app by choosing “Save to Files” from the share options. Tap on “On My iPhone/iPad” and select any folder (or create a new one!) where you want the copy to go, then tap on “Save” in the top-right corner. Next, open the Files app, locate the file and long press on it. From the pop-up menu, select “Info”. You will now at least know the file size and the resolution (“Dimensions”) of the video. A tad tedious? Seriously? Ok…

“Metapho” for iOS.

Head on over to the Apple AppStore and download an app called Metapho (shout-out to Mr Marc Blank-Settle who initially pointed me towards it). The app is free (never mind the App Store always telling you that it’s “processing payment” when downloading an app, even if it’s free!) and will give you the following info for video files: File container format (usually it’s a Quicktime Movie aka .mov), length, frame rate, resolution, file size and video codec (in most cases either H.264 or the newer HEVC/H.265). There’s an in-app purchase for 4.49€ but it doesn’t give you more in-depth specs, “only” other additional features like removing or altering the metadata. If you need to dig deeper and are curious about video and audio bitrates, audio codec, audio sample rate etc. you will need another app though.

“VidTrim” for Android.

But first, let’s move on to Android for a second. If you want more detailed information about a video file than you can pull from the system’s Gallery app or file manager, go have a look at an app called VidTrim. VidTrim is primarily meant to be a simple one clip video editor with which you can trim a clip, transcode it or extract the audio as an mp3 file. But I don’t think I have ever used it for such purposes. Instead, it’s my go-to app for moderately detailed info about a video’s properties: resolution (“Picture Size”), file size, rotation, frame rate, audio codec, video codec, video bitrate and audio bitrate. There’s a paid version for 3.29€ by the name of VidTrim Pro but unless you are bothered by the ads or want to export a video from the app without a watermark, you are totally fine with the free version.

“MediaInfo” for Android and iOS.

If the metadata available in VidTrim is still not good enough for you, you should check out the app MediaInfo which is also available for iOS (although with a little catch). MediaInfo is a well-known standard tool on desktop computers for many video production professionals. There was a time when I wished, MediaInfo would launch a mobile app. And well, they did in late 2018! The UI isn’t really pretty to look at when viewed in portrait orientation (scaling needs to be improved!) so unless you are using it on a tablet, you should always hold the device in landscape mode when working with MediaInfo. I will refrain from listing every single video file property that MediaInfo gives you because, taking the risk I might be wrong on that after all, it appears to me that it basically exposes every bit of metadata there is. So if you really want to go down the rabbit hole, have at it! MediaInfo is free without any ads and full core functionality. There’s the option to support the development of the app with a subscription of 5€ per year, the bonus features including the use of a dark mode are not really spectacular though. Before wrapping this up, I need to add a quick note about using the iOS version of MediaInfo, coming full circle so to speak. While the app’s functionality is no different from the Android version, accessing files can be really painful if the file you want to check out is located within the Camera Roll and not the Files app. For some reason, MediaInfo doesn’t access the Camera Roll, but only the Files app. It’s also not possible to share to MediaInfo from the Camera Roll. This basically means that you need to copy the file you want to inspect from the Camera Roll to the Files app to access it from MediaInfo. As you might remember I explained how to do just that earlier on. It ain’t pretty, but that’s the way it is at the moment. I have contacted the developer about this and they have acknowledged the problem so there might be a fix in the near future.

One last thing: If you only need certain file properties of a video, you might be able to see those in the media library of advanced camera apps already, but the info is usually limited and it’s also good to double check outside the app you shot your footage with.

As usual, comments and questions are welcome here or on Twitter @smartfilming. If you like my blog in general, consider signing up for my Telegram channel t.me/smartfilming.

Download Metapho for iOS

Download VidTrim for Android

Download MediaInfo for Android or iOS

#25 Transferring big (video) files wirelessly between Android and iOS with mobile apps — 12. June 2020

#25 Transferring big (video) files wirelessly between Android and iOS with mobile apps

One of the most fascinating and convenient things about a good modern smartphone is that it lets you do a whole video production workflow involving capturing, editing and publishing on a single device, thereby offering the opportunity to eliminate the tedious but usually mandatory process of having to transfer media files between several devices to get all this done. Depending on the situation however, there’s still a certain need for file transfer solutions. You might be shooting on a phone but want to edit on a tablet with a larger screen, someone else could be the one editing your captured footage or you want to receive footage from another person to incorporate into your phone edit. Of course, nowadays, we want everything to be wireless if possible.

Both major mobile platforms, Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android include the option to wirelessly transfer files to another (nearby) device running the same operating system, using Bluetooth for the devices to find and connect to each other and a WiFi protocol for the actual transfer – no internet connection required! Apple provides the easier and more straight-forward way with its AirDrop feature baked right into the OS while Google requires you (and the receiver) to install its Files by Google app (they also seem to be working on an AirDrop equivalent called “Nearby Sharing” that could launch with the next official version of Android, Android 11). Things get a bit more complicated however if you want to transfer files between the two platforms. Don’t despair though, you do have options depending on what kind of transfer method you prefer.

There are basically four different ways: cloud, temp cloud, device-to-device with internet and device-to-device without internet. You will need an active internet connection for the first three options, you won’t need one for the fourth.

Cloud

I’m sure most of us are pretty familiar with some kind of cloud storage service: Dropbox, Google Drive, iCloud, Microsoft OneDrive, Box etc. You can upload files to a cloud server and access/download them from anywhere, anywhere with an internet connection that is. The good thing is that no matter what mobile platform you are on, you already have some free cloud storage at your fingertips: Google gives you 15GB of free cloud storage on Google Drive and unless you are rocking a very recent Huawei phone, using an Android device basically means you already have a Google account and Google Drive pre-installed on your phone. Apple is a bit more stingy and gives you only 5GB of free iCloud storage. And even if we ignore the amount of free storage, Google Drive is the better cross-platform choice because it’s also available for iOS while there’s no iCloud app for Android. All other major cloud storage solutions including Dropbox, Microsoft OneDrive or Box have apps for both Android and iOS, so no problem there. Another somewhat uncommon choice could be the messenger app Telegram. As I pointed out in my last blog post, Telegram gives you unlimited cloud storage for free. However, while the maximum file size of 1.5GB per file is huge compared to what you can send with other messenger apps, it can’t compete with dedicated cloud storage services in this regard, Google Drive and Dropbox for instance have no file size limit at all, OneDrive recently expanded from 15 to 100GB per file which should cover most common use cases. Generally, you should be aware of the fact that unlike with the device-to-device solutions mentioned later on, the file is not transferred directly to the other device’s storage. Once it’s been uploaded into the cloud from device A, device B needs to download it from there if you (or another person) want(s) to work with it. If you/someone else are/is not using the same cloud service account on both devices this involves the sharing of a download link. Things to consider here are also the available upload/download speed and the consumption of data if you are using mobile internet. Uploading/downloading big video files via mobile data can wreak havoc on your data plan – at least in certain countries… So better make sure you’re connected to a fast wifi network. All mentioned services send files in their original quality without compression as far as I could see.

Temp Cloud

I don’t think “temp cloud” is an actual term but I was looking for a word to describe file transfer services that allow you to temporarily store something in their cloud and create a shareable download link but where the file will be automatically deleted after a short period of time. The most popular service like that on the web is probably WeTransfer. They used to have mobile apps for Android and iOS as well but they discontinued them some time ago, replacing them with an app called Collect. The all-new UI and different structure have generated a lot of backlash from WeTransfer fans though. While it’s true that the whole “Boards” layout can be confusing, one can get the same transfer job done with Collect adding files to a “Board” within the app and then sharing the “Board” with a download link which expires automatically within 90 days. And that’s not all, unlike with the web service there’s no file size limit! In case Collect remains a mystery to you, WeTransfer is still available as a web service with the option to send files of up to 2GB in the free version (20GB in the paid pro version). If you want to send your files encrypted for security reasons, you should have a look at an offering from Mozilla’s popular Firefox brand: Firefox Send. You can send files with up to 1GB and an expiration time of one day without creating a free account, up to 2.5GB and an expiration time of seven days with a free account. It’s still in beta and only available as a mobile app on Android, you can however access the service on iOS as well via a web browser. A popular choice for all kinds of file transfers is Send Anywhere (which will pop up again in the coming paragraphs). While I mostly use Send Anywhere for device-to-device file transfer, they also have the option to send files via temp cloud / download link. You will however have to create a (free) account with them to use this feature. File size limit is 10GB for the free account, 50GB for the paid Plus account. Send Anywhere sports excellent mobile apps for both Android and iOS. Another service that I just recently discovered is the Norwegian company Filemail which also has mobile apps for both Android and iOS. Their file size allowance is huge, a whopping 50GB, but the free version only lets you do two transfers a day. Still a pretty cool option so you should give it a go! You can choose either one day or seven days for the link to expire. All mentioned services send files in their original quality without compression as far as I could see.

Device-to-Device with internet

If you don’t want to use a service that stores your files on an external cloud server but prefer a direct transfer between two devices, Send Anywhere is a good choice again. Do note that despite the fact that I’m talking about device-to-device transfer, you will need an internet connection and it will use up data if you’re on mobile internet. Transfer speeds depend on the upload/download speed available. Unlike the two cloud solutions with a download link, this way is particularly useful if the device you want to transfer to is right next to you and the file will be used right away. Both devices need to have Send Anywhere installed and open, unless you want to use their web service via a browser which has a file size limitation. After selecting the files you want to send, the sending device will generate a 6-digit key which needs to be entered on the receiving device within a time frame of 10 minutes to initiate the transfer. While there is no file size limit, do make sure that the receiving device has enough free storage available! With Feem there’s another good choice available for Android and iOS. It’s the same principle but works slightly differently from Send Anywhere: After opening the app on both devices, they should detect each other (in the free version the app automatically assigns silly nicknames like “Lonely Gecko” or “Reckless Chicken” to the devices). You then tap on the listed device you want to send files to, choose “Send File” and select the files you want to send, finally tapping the “send” button. Important note: Unlike Send Anywhere (which can also utilize mobile data), Feem only works if both devices are connected to the same WiFi network! Feem is free to use. It has a paid pro version (annual subscription of 4.99 Euro/US-Dollar) which gives you a whole bunch of customization options for the device name, avatar, download folder but nothing really essential. All mentioned services send files in their original quality without compression as far as I could see. 

Device-to-Device without internet

Unlike with all the aforementioned options, Feem also has the ability to work across platforms without an active internet connection which makes it pretty unique and a lifesaver for certain situations! While Send Anywhere has an option to share files device-to-device without the use of an active internet connection via the WiFi Direct protocol, this is only available between Android devices as iOS doesn’t support the standard, so I will have to exclude it here for the purpose of this article. The magic trick in Feem is done by the Android device creating a local WiFi network to which the iOS device can connect (it doesn’t work the other way round but that’s not really a problem). Feem gives you a pretty good step-by-step guide how to do this upon opening the app so I won’t get into the details here (it’s not that complicated, don’t worry!) but you basically switch on the “Turn on Wi-Fi Direct” button in the app and a pop-up with the hotspot name and password appears which you then use to connect your iPhone or iPad to this network and commence with your file transfer from within the app. This is a great feature which you can either use if there’s no internet available at all or you don’t want to use up data. The app is not 100% stable all the time so you might have to redo a transfer on occasion but in general I have found it to work quite well.

One final note: With many/most services you will also be able to send a file using their app without having to open the app first. You can locate a video file in the Gallery (Android) or Camera Roll (iOS) and then use the OS’s share sheet to send the selected file using the file transfer app of your choice.

I’m sure there are many other options out there so this article is by no means a complete overview but just a highly personal selection of available choices that I deem worth checking out. Feel free to drop comments and questions here or hit me up on the Twitter @smartfilming. You can also sign up for my Telegram channel t.me/smartfilming

Download Google Drive for Android or iOS
Download Microsoft OneDrive for Android or iOS
Download Dropbox for Android or iOS
Download Telegram for Android or iOS
Download Collect for Android or iOS
Download Firefox Send for Android
Download Send Anywhere for Android or iOS
Download Filemail for Android or iOS
Download Feem for Android or iOS

#24 Why Telegram is the best messenger app for mobile video production — 7. June 2020

#24 Why Telegram is the best messenger app for mobile video production

Ever since smartphones and mobile internet became a thing, messenger apps have grown immensely in popularity and significantly curbed other types of (digital) communication like SMS/texts, eMails and heck yes, phone calls, for most of us. There’s also little doubt about which messenger apps can usually be found on everyone’s phone: WhatsApp is by far the most popular app of its kind on a global scale with only Facebook Messenger being somewhat close in terms of users. Sure, if you look at certain regions/countries or age groups you will find other prominent messenger apps like WeChat in China, KakaoTalk in Korea, Viber in the Ukraine or Snapchat among the younger generation(s). We have also seen a noticeable rise in the popularity of security and data conscious alternatives like the Edward Snowden-recommended Signal or Switzerland-based Threema. One might say that right in between mass popularity and special focus groups sits Telegram.

Telegram started out in 2013, founded by Russian brothers Nikolai and Pawel Durow who had already created “Russia’s Facebook”, VK. While it was able to avoid being seen as “the Kremlin messenger”, its claims of providing an experience that is very strong in terms of security and data protection have received some flak from experts. It also came into questionable spotlight as the preferred modus communicandi of the so-called “Islamic State” and other extremist groups that want to avoid scrutiny from intelligence agencies. But this is just some general context and everyone can decide for herself/himself what to make of it.

The reason for this article has nothing to do with the aforementioned “historical” context but looks only at the app’s potentially useful functionality when it comes to media production, particularly video production. People are sending enormous amounts of video these days via their messenger apps. For reasons benefitting the sender/receiver as well as the app service provider itself, those videos are usually compressed, both in terms of resolution and bitrate. The compression results in smaller file sizes which lets you send/receive them faster, use up less storage space and avoid burning through too much mobile data. This works pretty well when all you do is watch the video in your messenger app, it’s far from ideal however if you want to work with the video somebody sent you.

While there is a way to prevent the app from automatically compressing your video by sending/attaching it not as a video (which is the usual way of doing it) but as a file (as you would normally add a doc or pdf), the file size limit of most messenger apps is so small that it’s not really suitable for sending video files that are longer than one minute. WhatsApp has a current file size limit of 100MB and so does Signal. Threema tops out at 50MB for sending files uncompressed while Facebook Messenger gives you a measly 25MB! Just for measure: a moderate bitrate of 16Mbit/s for a FHD 1920×1080 video will reach the 100MB limit at only 50 seconds. In this regard, Telegram is basically lightyears ahead of the competition as it lets you send uncompressed files up to 2 GB (around 2000 MB), yes you heard that right! 

Choose “File” and then “Gallery” (or another option if that’s where your media is located) to send a video in full quality without compression.

To send an uncompressed video file within Telegram, tap on the paper clip icon in a chat, select “File” (NOT “Gallery”) and then “Gallery. To send images without compression” (or choose one of the other options if your video file is located somewhere else on the device). It’s that easy! There’s also a cool way to use Telegram as your personal unlimited cloud storage: If you open the app’s menu (tapping on the three lines in the top left corner) you will find an option that says “Saved Messages”. This is basically your own personal space within the app where you can collect all kinds of material like notes, links or files. As long as the file doesn’t exceed 2 GB, you can upload it into this “self chat” like you would in a regular cloud storage service like Dropbox, GoogleDrive or OneDrive. And believe it or not, you currently get UNLIMITED storage for free! I think there’s a chance that Telegram might cap this at some point in the future if people start using it too excessively but up until then, this is a pretty amazing feature most users don’t know about (even I didn’t until a few days ago!).

Telegram gives you unlimited cloud storage, each file you upload can be up to 2 GB in size.

This benefit gets even more powerful when you consider that you can use Telegram across several devices (it’s not only available for Android, iOS and Windows 10 Mobile but also has desktop apps for Windows and MacOS!) with the same account, something you can’t do with other messengers like WhatsApp which ties you to a single mobile device for active use of one account. A side note though: If you have someone send you a big uncompressed video file over mobile data, you might want to tell the other person that it will cut into their mobile data significantly. So if possible, they should send it when logged into a WiFi network.

In-app video editor of Telegram.

And even if your goal is actually to compress a video when sending it, Telegram gives you the best choices to do so. When selecting a video via the Gallery button (instead of the File button) you can adjust the resolution of the clip by using the app’s recently updated in-app video editor. After marking your clip of choice by tapping on the empty circle in the top right corner of the video’s thumbnail, tap on the thumbnail itself to open the video editor. You will be able to trim the clip or add a drawing/text/sticker (brush icon). You can even do some basic color correction (sliders icon), I kid you not! And you can adjust the video resolution by tapping on the gear icon in the bottom left corner of the tool box. By moving the slider you can choose between FHD 1920×1080, HD 1280×720, SD 854×480 and what I will call “LD” (low definition) 480×270.

If your primary focus when using messenger apps is most comprehensive security / data protection or mass compatibility and you don’t need to use the app as a tool for direct (video) file transfer, then you might still prefer Signal, Threema or WhatsApp respectively. Otherwise Telegram is a powerful tool with best-in-class features for a professional video production workflow. 

So despite the fact that Telegram is still far from being as ubiquitous as WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger, it has significantly increased its user base in the last months and years (currently over half a billion installs from the Google Play Store!) and chances are getting better that the person sending video to you is using it or has at least installed it on her/his phone.

Questions and comments are welcome, either below in the comment section or on Twitter @smartfilming. I also just created my own Telegram channel which you can join here: https://t.me/smartfilming.

Download Telegram for Android on the Google Play Store.

Download Telegram for iOS on the Apple AppStore.

Download Telegram for Windows 10 Mobile / WindowsPhone on the Microsoft Store.