Call recording crippled on Android – FIX THIS NOW Google!

I recently passed up the opportunity to wait until the end of the month and upgrade my battered iPhone 3G to Apple’s whizzy new 4G model. Instead, I opted for the similarly whizzy and well-spec’d Dell Streak, running Google’s Android operating system. While I love the iPhone’s user interface, I have become increasingly frustrated with Apple’s strategy of keeping the system so determinedly closed. I wanted a device that I could simply transfer media files to and from without having to go through a proprietary file manager like iTunes. I wanted the ability to choose which apps I wanted to run simultaneously, not a system whose creators place arbitrary limits on users and developers in a bid to maintain system performance.

But my most pressing, specific need was for a device that would allow me, if I so chose, to record any incoming or outgoing voice call and save the result as an MP3 file or similar.

As a researcher and journalist, I often need to record phone interviews in order to later produce  accurate transcripts of conversations. It ensures I don’t misquote people, am able to review complex points until I understand them fully and allows me to concentrate closely and think of intelligent questions to move the discussion on, rather than missing points as I struggle to maintain an on-the-fly written shorthand transcript. And as I increasingly seek to produce more audio content, it would be useful to be able to record certain interviews on the phone for later editing and podcasting.

So, for me, call recording functionality is essential and I have been constantly frustrated by the lack of this feature on the iPhone, or in any of its millions of available apps. Apple has refused to expose the phone’s incoming and outgoing call voice streams to application developers, and there’s no hope of any call recording app emerging until they do – or until they build it into the OS itself. My previous Symbian-based Nokia phone had no problem recording calls, and it has been a standard feature of many simpler mobile handsets for years.

I had assumed that by changing to a phone with a more open operating system – Android – produced by the world’s #1 cheerleader for open platforms – Google – my frustrations would be over. How wrong I was!

Before I opted for a Dell Streak, I made a cursory check in the Android Marketplace and saw there were several call recording apps available. Great. But when I got my device and downloaded one, it didn’t work. Tried another. That didn’t work either. “What’s up?” I thought. Had my carrier, O2, crippled the device in some way? After a few tweets back and forth with one of Dell’s people, I found that no, everything should be working fine. Try another app, he suggested. But I’d exhausted the free ones, and didn’t want to part with any cash until I knew the app would work. So I Googled – and what I found left me utterly dismayed, enraged and incredulous.

After reading (and commenting on) a long thread over at the Google Code forum I discovered that, just like the iPhone, Google Android does not have a facility for developers to access the phone’s incoming voice stream. The call recording apps available in the Android Marketplace depend on an ‘analogue kludge’ – the only way to record both sides of a call is to turn on the phone’s speakerphone at sufficient volume for the incoming caller’s voice to be picked up by the phone’s mic. Not only does this mean you can’t record conversations without broadcasting them to everyone around you, but use of the speakerphone will produce a horrible echo for the other participant in the call and, unless you are in a totally silent environment, the resultant recording will be virtually inaudible. Completely useless if, like me, you ever take calls via a headset or need to record one somewhere other than a silent, isolated room.

And it’s not as if Google is not aware of the problem – the thread mentioned above was started some 15 months ago, and there’s still no word on any resolution to the issue. Some commenters suggested legal restrictions on call recording in certain countries were to blame, but it’s perfectly legal in the UK and many other places to record calls for the purposes I described above. And, as I also pointed out, many older and less complex phones have been offering this facility for years with no problems.

So my plea to Google is – FIX THIS FAST.

Ironically, with the introduction of limited multitasking on the new iPhone 4G, we may soon find ourselves in a situation where Apple decides to permit call recording, leaving Android phones among the only ones lacking such basic functionality. And if that happens, I may well be kicking myself for switching.

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23 Responses to “Call recording crippled on Android – FIX THIS NOW Google!”


  1. 1 Anonymous 24 July 2010 at 10:46 am

    I also expected this functionality.

    I’m very disliked it’s not possible.

    As a previous owner of a Motorola A780 Linux powered mobile phone, I upgraded to a Windows Mobile 6.1 powered one…

    But what a surprise!!! It doesn’t record calls!!! Only raising volume of the speakerphone, but anyway, still completely UNUSABLE.

    I used to record addresses when I had no paper or pencil at hand, and whithout interrupting the conversation. Now I can’t. The iPhone can’t. The Windows one can’t.

    As my A780 was Linux powered, I expected Android to do it too, but what’s going on? Can’t I record calls?

    My previous Motorola A780 recorded calls in such a noise free and clear environment, with just an assignable hardware button action, that it was fantastic…

    I’d like a Linux powered one, but if I can’t I think I’ll keep searching Motorola mobile phones and Nokia’s, as I’ve seen a lot of people recording calls on Nokia’s.

  2. 2 kim 27 August 2010 at 9:00 pm

    Yeps I too feel like a bought the google-cat in the sack.

    My Symbian works nice with total recall, but the same app or androiocy does NOT.

    I even bought it for real money on the symbian…

  3. 3 GD 15 September 2010 at 10:25 pm

    There is not such an app in android nor in the iphone.

    Therefore I am still using my old loyal Treo 650 and the excellent app mVoice.

    It looks I am stuck with the Treo for a long time…

  4. 4 Jonny H 7 October 2010 at 8:51 am

    That’s two strikes against androids now. No matter how much they may talk about opening things up for developers and letting the market demand what it wants, you still have businesses trying to control their customers. First, no skype on my android after I”ve been using it on my pc for years. Then this: I can’t record a call? Why on earth not? This is silly.

  5. 5 rob 6 November 2010 at 2:38 pm

    I have an old nokia 6230i and have used it for 5 yrs now. the reason I have not upgraded is that I have yet to find a phone with a built in call recorded that can record either incoming or outgoing calls. The 6230i lets me do this easily, can record up to 60 mins in one go and the quality is excellent. The only minor downside is that is records to an .amr format but this is easily remedied with a file converter.

    If Apple, Blackberry, Google, whoever can produce a phone with the same level of recording functionality and quality then I will sign up like a shot.

    And I suspect from various forums, threads like this and other sites, there are many people who would do the same!

  6. 6 shashank 3 January 2011 at 11:09 pm

    I loved your article, because that’s all what i wanted to say..
    Google MUST tweak the android to allow call recording as it a basic requirement and need for many of us.

  7. 7 Unsatisfied 12 January 2011 at 1:33 am

    I’m also very unhappy about all this call recording funcionality crippling more and more as time goes by…

    It’s very frustrating to have a very high end mobile phone which doesn’t allow such a basic and useful thing, for taking notes, backing up phone made contracts, and so on.

    Maybe I’m becoming paranoid, but it looks like nobody wants that any single citizen can record his own conversations. How can you claim then that a huge corporation has sold you anything using LIES? How can you prove that? It’s simple, you can’t…

    I think I expected too much from Google’s Android, as for Microsoft’s Windows Mobile or Apple’s iPhone.

    I previously owned (8 years ago) a Motorola Linux powered A780 that made me very happy allowing me to record outgoing and incoming calls with just a physical button keypress, but it’s now obsolete and I’ve not seen anything new like this from Motorola.

    I’m now making up my mind to buy a Nokia mobile, as I think now they are the only ones allowing call recording.

  8. 8 James 22 January 2011 at 10:22 pm

    Actually, some Windows Mobile 6.5 phones, like HTC Touch Diamond 2 (confirmed, tested) can record calls in perfect quality with existing tweaks from xda-developers. I used Diamond 2 for a year and every single call was recorded in hight quality mp3 format on my SD card. I have HTC Desire HD now (android), that’s how I stumbled here…

  9. 9 Namphibian 19 June 2011 at 11:53 am

    You are all incorrect. Google supports this on the software level. However most of the hardware manufacturers have not implemented. So while it is exists on the OS(i.e. Android since version 1.6) most hardware suppliers do not implement this. I have a expensive HTC Desire HD where call recording does does not work, I then got hold of a cheap $70 phone from a chinese website that allows me to records both incoming and outgoing call perfectly.

    While the Android API does provide access to the streams it need to be implemented in the hardware. The GSM radio responsible for connecting and maintaining the stream must be routed through the CPU so it can be encoded into a file for further use. It seems like the producers of the handsets does not include the functionality. Android is not to blame for this go knock on HTC,Motorola and Samsung’s door.

    Since Android SDK 1.6, there are three more audio sources available, all related to phone calls. You can record the entire call MediaRecorder.AudioSource.VOICE_CALL), the uplink side only (MediaRecorder.AudioSource.VOICE_UPLINK), or the downlink side only (MediaRecorder.AudioSource.VOICE_DOWNLINK). The uplink side of a call would be the voice of the phone’s user. The downlink side of the call would be sounds coming from the other end of the call. The only supported output format for audio is 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP).

    I have tested on several models and can confirm that the chinese models seem to implement this but most of the major well known brands have issues.

    Bottom line is that while Android is great it is limited to the hardware actually running android. While more than possible if the manufacturer say we dont support that well then you are pretty screwed.

  10. 10 Adumi 23 June 2011 at 11:46 am

    So important, unbelievable. I hope Google makes that change.

  11. 11 ccris 5 July 2011 at 3:01 pm

    I don’t know if on googles or phone manufacturers side, but it’s a software/firmware problem and it sucks!

    The SE X10 Mini did record calls with the previous firmware and TotalRecall, with the latest FW it does not.

    The Samsung Galaxy S does record with a 2.2.1 FW version and a modified phone app from XDA, but it doesn’t with a newer FW version…so I can’t try a newer version without loosing this function.

    As far as I remember, I had to use a hack also for Samsung Omnia i8000, without it only one side of the call was recorded.

  12. 12 Gabriel Ortiz 29 December 2011 at 12:42 pm

    I think the problem is that with this feature you cannot only record calls but would be possible to implement a SIPGSM gateway with a simple android phone, and that is not what major players would like to see happening.

    Maybe thats why no major smartphone has the feature.

    Good to know that the chinese ones can do!

  13. 13 Jarl Friis 2 April 2012 at 11:09 am

    Google, please fix this… it contradicts your mission “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful” to put ice on this issue. .I simply can’t digg up the information that people have provided me over a phone conversation earlier due to this issue.

    Jarl

  14. 14 Skruf 30 April 2013 at 2:28 pm

    From what I’ve read hardware and OS disables ability to record phone calls. I was suprised to learn that this is also the case with the latest Android version on my newly bought HTC One silver. It is really a serous flaw and I cant see any other reason than this being intentional, such an advanced phone, yet lacks such a very basic feature.

    You can of course, use loudspeaker and install recording app. But this is not really satisfactorily.

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