smartfilming

Exploring the possibilities of video production with smartphones

#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!

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.

For an overview of all my blog posts click here.

#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.

For an overview of all my blog posts click here.

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