Tesla Sentry Mode and Dashcam Apps - Watch in Your Car!
Had a close call while driving your Tesla? Or get back into your car and have a “One incident” Sentry Mode report showing on your screen? One of the things I absolutely love about my Tesla is that the car keeps getting better with time. They release new features and improvements with firmware updates, but with the Tesla Cam and Sentry Mode there’s currently a giant hole in the user experience. There’s currently no way to view those recordings in the car or in the Tesla app, but that’s where the Tesla community comes in. It’s another one of the big things I love about being a Tesla owner. There are third party apps available that let you check out those recordings on the go, and they can be extremely useful. Today, I’m going to talk about two apps: TeslaCam / Sentry Reviewer for Android and SentryView for iOS.
But before we dive in take a moment and hit the subscribe button, so you don’t miss out on future videos like this one. I’m Matt Ferrell ... welcome to Undecided.
If you’ve already setup TeslaCam and Sentry Mode for your car, go ahead and jump to this time code to get straight to the app reviews. If you haven’t set up your Tesla to take advantage of the built in dash cam and security system features, I’ll run you through that right now.
The first thing you’ll need to do is get a USB thumb drive and configure it for your Tesla. Pretty much any USB powered drive will work, which means SD cards plugged into a USB adapter can work, as well as pretty much any USB thumb drive. You can usually pick these up for $10 - $30. There are 3 cameras recording 1 minute video files that come in around 30MB each, so that’s 90MB per minute. I’d recommend at least a 16GB thumb drive, but something like 64GB will give you some breathing room, which should be able to hold something around 12 hours of recordings. Keep in mind that TeslaCam automatically overwrites older videos and Sentry Mode only records when it detects motion.
If you’re a Mac user, plug the thumb drive into your computer and open up the Disk Utility application. Format the drive in the MS-DOS (FAT) format. If you’re on Windows, you’ll want to format the drive for FAT32. Then create a folder with the name “TeslaCam.” Make sure to use the proper capitalization or it won’t work. Eject the drive and plug it into one of the two front USB ports located behind the phone charger. It can also work plugged into a USB hub.
For the TeslaCam feature, which records video non-stop as you drive around, you’ll see a little camera icon appear in the top right corner of the Tesla screen’s UI when you plug in your USB drive. You should see a red dot appear that indicates it’s working and actively recording. With a tap Tesla Cam will save out the last 10 minutes to a “saved” folder on your USB thumb drive, which prevents it from automatically getting overwritten as you continue to drive around. WIth a long tap on the icon you’ll deactivate the feature, which is also something you need to do if you want to unplug your USB thumb drive from the car.
For the Sentry Mode video recording, you’ll want to go into your car controls, Safety & Security, and then Sentry Mode to make sure it’s turned on. You can configure it to automatically activate when your car is parked, as well as set up safe areas where it will remain deactivated. I have my house set up as a safe area, but everywhere else I park Sentry Mode automatically activates.
You should see a Hal 9000 looking camera lens in the top right corner of the the Tesla screen when the feature is active and your USB drive is plugged in. When Tesla Cam is active, you’ll see the lens glowing red. You can turn it on or off manually when you park with just a tap.
TeslaCam / Sentry Reviewer
So let’s kick this off by taking a look at TeslaCam / Sentry Reviewer app for Android, which is free to download and has an in-app purchase for $3.99 for additional features. Most Android devices will let you plug in a USB drive into your phone with a USB adapter. My Google Pixel 3a came with a USB-C to USB-A adapter that works perfectly for this. All you have to do is plug your USB thumb drive into the adapter and into your phone. Android will most likely require you to authorize access to the thumb drive, which you need to authorize to make this work. After that you can open the TeslaCam / Sentry Reviewer app.
Select the TeslaCam folder from your USB thumb drive and you’re off to the races. You’ll see a list of recent clips and saved recordings. Select the group you'd like to view and you’ll see the three camera recordings side by side. These are the recordings from the forward facing and fender cameras. The brilliance of apps like these is being able to watch all three cameras in sync, so you don’t have to manually look through a long confusing list of individual files and try to make sense out of which recordings belong together.
TeslaCam / Sentry Reviewer displays each recording block as a tab horizontally across the UI. It’s clear what this means, but as a UI designer I’d say it’s not the best way to display a long list of data like this. It’s a visual metaphor that doesn’t scale well, but it’s not really getting in the way of the functionality here.
You can control the playback speed, which is a really nice feature. Being able to playback the videos at 2x speed makes it so easy to quickly scan videos. There’s an in-app purchase that unlocks additional pro features like 4x and 8x playback speeds too. I appreciate the playback controls for quickly skipping forward or back through the recordings, as well as being able to delete an event directly from the app. The developer also recently added the functionality to clear all saved events from the drive ... another nice feature.
You can also save out events and share them to something like Google Drive directly from the app. This kind of functionality is probably the most useful for those times that you need to share a recording with someone on the go. If you’ve been in an accident, or witnessed one, you’d be able to easily share those recordings with the police and the people involved.
Overall, I’m very impressed with the app and how well it works. It has all of the basic functionality I’d expect from an app like this, and after reaching out to the developer, there are even more features on the way. It’s an app that’s actively being worked on, so users can expect to see more over time.
As an Apple user, the $7.99 SentryView app has pulled off something I didn’t think was going to be possible. I love my Apple devices, but one area Android has an edge is the ability to access external storage devices plugged directly into phones and tablets. iOS from day one has had that locked down for security reasons, so plugging in unsupported USB drives does absolutely nothing ... unless the USB drive manufacturer has built out their own method to get around that limitation with something like WiFi. That’s where the SanDisk Connect comes in.
The developer of the absolutely exceptional Stats app created SentryView. If you haven’t seen my review of Stats, it’s an essential part of my Tesla experience now. I have it on my iPhone and iPad and absolutely love it.
For SentryView you have to use the SanDisk Connect (specifically), which you can pick up for around $30 for a 64GB version. The way it works is that the device has a built in battery to power onboard WiFi to access to the drive’s contents from your iOS device. It’s one of the only USB devices on the market that made it possible for the developer to stream video directly to an iOS device. Other devices with a similar functionality have outdated software development kits or require that you use their specific company app.
To use it in your car, you just plug it into the front USB port like any other USB drive. When you want to view the contents, you need to eject the drive and turn on the onboard WiFi, which is done with a little power button on the side of the unit. Press the button and you’ll see an indicator come on. After a few seconds it should start to slowly blink. On your phone, go into the Settings app and then WiFi, you should see something like “SanDisk Connect” with a series of numbers and letters appear in your WiFi list. Write down that WiFi name and then load up the SentryView app. There’s an on boarding experience to help you get the app setup and automatically connected to the USB’s WiFi, but here are the steps you have to complete. In the apps settings you'll need to type in the SanDisk’s WiFi name that you wrote down and tap save. If you’ve configured your SanDisk drive to use a WiFi password, which you can do using the SanDisk Connect app, you can also enter the password on this screen. By default there's no password. This is a one time setup process. After this, the app will automatically try connecting to the SanDisk Connect.
Go back to the main screen of the app and you should see a dialog box asking if you’d like to join the SanDisk Connect WiFi. Tap “Join.”
After a couple of seconds you’ll see a set of side by side videos appear across the top half of the screen. Along the lower third of the screen you’ll see scrolling lists for “Recent Clips” and “Saved Clips.” The second scrolling column is the list of days for the available recordings based on the first column’s selection. And the third column is the list of times for the recordings available from the second columns selection.
I wish there was a little more of the lists contents in view, but due to space constraints you can only see three items from a list at a time. It’s simple enough to flick your way through the list, but if you have a lot of recordings from a day, it’s difficult to get a sense of how many recordings there are at a glance. Between the two apps, I think this is the better approach. It’s cleaner than horizontal tabs and still very intuitive when you get down to using it. You can also tap the up and down arrows to more precisely skip forward and back in the time list without having to scroll.
You can delete individual recording groups just by swiping left on the row of videos, which causes the videos to dim. You’ll also see a number indicator appear on the trash icon. I’ve been really happy to see the trash system in the app behave much like we’re all used to from desktop operating systems. You can add multiple clips to the trash, but if you change your mind, you can swipe right along those clips to restore them. Once you empty the trash though, they’re gone for good. If you’d like to do some bulk deletions, you can tap and hold on a specific date in the list and all associated recordings will be thrown out.
Basic functionality is exactly what you’d expect. You can play the videos in sync and scrub the video along the timeline. However, there is a problem that I ran into. This isn’t anything wrong with the app, but a struggle I had with the SanDisk Connect. I experienced some extremely slow WiFi transfer speeds between my iPhone X and the SanDisk. This meant that the videos had difficulty streaming and would hit the end of their buffer and just hang. After talking to Ramin, the developer of SentryView, I’m definitely in the minority here ... but it is something that at least one other customer has run into. I’ve also read a few other SanDisk user complaints online about slow transfer speeds (separate from SentryView completely).
I ran through a battery of tests to try and determine if it was my phone, the app, or the SanDisk. The one thing I’m 100% positive on: it’s not the app. I bought a second SanDisk Connect to see if I had a faulty unit, but ran into the same exact problem. I tested both SandDisk Connects with an iPad Mini, iPad Pro, and iPhone 8 and it worked perfectly with all of them. While I still haven’t fixed the issue, I’m positive it has something to do with my specific iPhone X. There’s still some things I want to try to see if I can fix it, but based on all my testing, it really does seem like an edge case. Again, it’s definitely not on SentryView or SanDisk for the problem I’m experiencing. If I figure out a fix, I’ll be sure to pin a comment to the video, but I think all of you will be just fine.
If you're interested, SanDisk is offering a discount for SentryView users. Just to be clear, this isn't a deal associated with my channel. The first 100 units will get 20% off through June 28th. Discount Code: SentryView20.
Ramin has more planned for the app, like possibly using machine learning to highlight Sentry Mode videos that should be checked out, and built in sharing functionality. Right now though, you can use the built in iOS screen recording feature to create a video in your photo library for sharing. There’s more beyond that, but just like we’ve seen from him with his Stats app, he’s going to be building out more functionality over time.
One additional ray of sunshine for iOS users is iOS 13, which is coming out this fall. Apple has finally opened up iOS device access to external storage ... similar to Android. In all of the demos of this new feature it’s been presented as an iPad feature, but it looks like the underlying technology is iOS wide. That means iPhones may be able to view USB thumb drives plugged in using an adapter like the USB-A camera connection kit. Ramin said he’ll be looking into that, so there may be the possibility of additional USB thumb drive support coming to SentryView this fall. No promises (I’m not speaking on behalf of the developer), but hopefully it pans out.
It’s great to see well made third party options for Tesla Cam and Sentry Mode videos on Android and iPhone. No matter what device you’re using, you can now view your Tesla’s camera footage on the go. Hopefully at some point we’ll see the ability to view these recordings directly on the car’s screen (it seems like a no-brainer), but even then third party apps like these make it super easy to quickly scan through footage and share important clips. I give a big thumbs up to both TeslaCam / Sentry Reviewer for Android and SentryView for iOS.