Your laptop’s built-in webcam doesn’t compare to the best Android phones out there when it comes to video quality, which is why many people use their Android phone as a webcam for their PC. The only problem with this approach is that it’s not as convenient to set up, which is why most people settle for external webcams that are usually plug-and-play. That’s why we were initially excited to see Google bringing native webcam functionality to Pixel phones with an upcoming Android 14 update. However, after trying it out for ourselves, our enthusiasm has waned.
Those of you running Android 14 on your Pixel phone may be a little confused because this native webcam functionality is nowhere to be found. This is because it is currently only included in the Android 14 QPR beta versions. The way this internal feature works is quite complicated, but all you really need to know is that it turns your Android phone into a standard USB webcam that most Windows, macOS, or Linux PCs will recognize. All you have to do is connect your phone to your PC via USB, open your phone’s notification panel, open the USB preferences page, and then change the USB mode to “Webcam”.
You don’t need to change any settings or install any additional software on your phone or PC; Your phone will simply appear as an “Android webcam” in video conferencing software like Google Meet or Zoom. Android 14 offers a preview of the video stream, lets you adjust the zoom level, and change the camera lens being used, but you don’t get any of the countless controls offered by third-party webcam software like Camo.
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with Google keeping Android 14’s webcam feature simple, because most Android phone cameras can handle typical home office lighting scenarios well. But there seems to be something wrong with the way Google set up the feature in the first place, because for some reason, the video quality is substantially worse than it could be.
For example, here are some screenshots from a Google Meet call where I used Android 14’s webcam feature, Reincute’s Camo app, and the scrcpy tool’s camera mirroring feature on my Pixel 8 Pro. Android 14’s webcam feature doesn’t let you choose resolution or frame rate, although since it maxes out at 1080p 30fps, I used that resolution and frame rate in Camo and scrcpy.
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Just to make sure that neither Google Meet nor my Pixel 8 Pro were the problems here, I also tested my Pixel 6a, Pixel 6 Pro, and Pixel 7 Pro on a separate PC, with different cables, and also in Zoom and OBS Studio. . The results were consistent: Android 14’s webcam feature offered substantially lower video quality compared to Camo and scrcpy. I recorded a couple of videos locally via OBS Studio and uploaded them to YouTube in case you want to see how dramatic the difference in quality really is.
I’d be lying if I said that Android 14’s webcam feature can’t be used; in fact, far from it. When I used it on my Pixel 6 Pro to record episode 18 of the Android Faithful podcast, none of my co-hosts or audience members complained about the quality of my video. However, when I switched to using scrcpy as a webcam in episode 19, my co-hosts definitely noticed that there was a big increase in quality.
You might think that increasing the webcam quality to 4K30 like I did when recording episode 19 of faithful android would cause my Pixel 6 Pro to overheat and lose a ton of battery even when plugged in, but that wasn’t actually the case. Before the show, I ran scrcpy’s camera mirroring feature at 4K30 for an hour and noticed the battery level and temperature of my Pixel 6 Pro.
After an hour, the battery level only dropped by 5% and the temperature only reached 36°C. When I re-recorded this data during the two-hour period that the podcast was recording, the battery level only dropped 6% and the temperature only reached 37.3°C. The tests I performed were far from scientific and of course depended on the device I used and the ambient temperature in my recording environment (~23°C). Still, I think I’ve shown that thermal/battery concerns are not In fact in question here.
When Google’s own marketing tries to sell the idea that Android 14 will let you use “your epic Android camera” as a “beautiful webcam,” I think it’s fair to have high expectations. I think most people are so used to mid-level webcams and the compression of video conferencing software that the bar has been set so low for what constitutes a “good” webcam. My $1,000 Pixel 8 Pro shouldn’t just be a good webcam; should be a amazing one.
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I’m not exactly sure what the problem is with Android 14’s webcam feature, but I’d be surprised if it’s something Google can’t fix. It’s not that Camo or scrcpy are doing anything special to improve video quality when you use your Android phone as a webcam; after all, they are using the same API (Camera2) to access the device’s camera. My hope is that Google has chosen fairly aggressive compression settings so that users on less stable or slower networks won’t face problems during video calls.
I said before that I don’t think there’s anything wrong with Google keeping things simple. Still, I think Google should at least offer a option use higher quality settings, perhaps with a warning that these settings could cause the device to overheat or degrade battery life if used for an extended period. Because as of now, I can’t recommend using Android 14’s webcam feature instead of third-party solutions.