You may have felt compelled to carry a portable voice recorder back in the day — even if you didn’t use it regularly.
But today there’s a good chance you’ll learn to appreciate the benefits having a digital recorder right inside your smartphone. It can come in handy to record a lecture or a local singing group, to interview a loved one for posterity, or even to leave yourself an audio reminder to pick up eggs at the grocery store after work.
All iPhones and some Android smartphones come with a voice recorder app built in, though you can search Apple’s App Store or Google Play to find any number of third-party recorder apps.
Pixel phones create searchable transcripts
Your Android device might not come equipped with a voice recorder. Google’s Pixel smartphones are among those that do, and their baked-in Recorder app stands out: In addition to an audio recording, it generates a searchable transcript in real time.
Start by tapping the Recorder icon on the home screen, and then tap the red circular record button at the bottom of the screen to begin recording. A waveform moves across the screen as a timer indicates the length of the recording in progress.
Tap the red pause button, denoted with two short horizontal lines, to temporarily pause a recording as you are making it, then tap Resume if you wish to continue. It’s worth noting that a recording session will continue in the background even if the screen goes to sleep — in case you want to record a 40-minute conversation for the nonprofit audio series StoryCorps, for instance. (Remember, state laws differ on whether just you or all participants in a conversation must consent to being recorded. To be safe, ask for permission.)
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While recording is paused, you can tap Add Title and then type a descriptor for the recording using the on-screen QWERTY keyboard that slides up from the bottom. Tap the check mark on the keyboard if you are satisfied with the title and want to proceed.
If you don’t choose your own title, the app will show the day and time and sometimes a keyword lifted from the recording. The location where a recording was made will also appear just below the title, if known. Visit Settings | Location to prevent the Recorder app from accessing your location.
Tap Save if you’re satisfied with the recording you’ve just made to keep it. Tap Delete if you don’t want to save it.
You can access any of your saved recordings from the main screen of the Recorder app. Tap the play button, which resembles a small right-facing triangle, to play the recording you’ve selected from this screen. Or tap the listing for a recording to summon a full-screen view of just that recording.
Within this view, you can drag a slider near the bottom of the screen to move forward or backward within the recording. You can also tap buttons to skip ahead by 10 seconds or retreat by five seconds.
Viewing Google’s transcript
Tap Transcript to view text with each word highlighted as it’s spoken. If you tap the magnifying glass icon at the upper-right corner of the screen, you can search for words or phrases in the transcription to hear them and to jump to that portion of the recording.
You can search for specific sounds, too, such as the sound of applause. Since the automated transcription isn’t always perfect, touch and hold any words you want to correct, then tap Edit Word and make the fix using the keyboard.
While in the main Recorder screen, you can also search transcripts for words and phrases across all the recordings you’ve made. To do so, tap the magnifying glass, now in the upper-left corner of the screen, and enter your search term.
On a Google Pixel 4 phone or later, you can ask the Google Assistant by voice to “search voice records for …” or “find my voice recording about ...” a keyword.
To share a recording, tap its listing and then tap the three vertical dots at the upper-right corner of the screen. Next, tap Share for various sharing options. You can share the audio, the transcript or both.
You can save a particular section of a recording to its own file. Tap the edit icon, which looks like a pair of scissors, and drag the section of the audio you want to save or keep. Tap Crop and then Save Copy. If you’re not satisfied, tap Undo and try again. Either way, you can rename the file and then tap OK when you’re done.
You can also delete a section of a recorded file by tapping Edit, selecting that portion and tapping Remove.
Look for Voice Memos on iPhone
The built-in digital recorder app on the iPhone is called Voice Memos. Tap the Voice Memos icon from a home screen to get started, and then tap the red record button in the lower part of the screen to start recording. As with the Pixel Recorder, you will see a waveform move across the screen, along with a timer.
When you’re finished making a recording, tap the red button a second time to stop it. Your saved recording will be listed in chronological order on the main Voice Memos screen with all the other recordings you’ve made.
To play back a recording, tap it on this main Voice Memos screen and then tap the right-pointing arrow, or play button. You will also see circular buttons flanking the play button that let you skip ahead in the recording by 15 seconds or retreat by the same amount of time. As an alternative, you can drag a playhead or dot in either direction along a slider just above the playback controls, sometimes referred to as the scrubber bar.
Change the playback speed
You can also change the speed at which a recording is played back. Tap a recording and tap the icon with three horizontal lines to the left of the playback controls. To slow it down, drag the playback speed slider to the left, toward the turtle symbol. To speed things up, drag the playback speed slider in the opposite direction, toward the hare. Among other options you will see here is a button that lets you skip any silence in the recording you’ve made.
Voice memos are listed on the main screen of the app by the date and length of each recording and either the location where it was recorded, if known — go to Settings | Voice Memos | Location-Based Naming and tap the toggle switch to gray to turn off that feature — or with the words New Recording followed by a number if not.
You may want to rename a recording with something more descriptive than the title the iPhone has assigned to it. To do so, tap on the given name of the recording and type in a new one. To delete a voice memo, tap the trash can icon.
Performing surgery on a recording
If you want to trim a recording, tap the circled three dots above the scrubber bar, and from the menu that surfaces, tap Edit Recording. Next, tap the crop icon on the upper right so that the waveform now has a yellow hue behind it. Drag the yellow start and end markers at the bottom of the screen to select the portion of the audio you want to keep. You can also drag the waveform itself to a precise spot within the voice memo.
Before making any of your changes permanent, you can tap the play button to preview what everything sounds like. If good to go, tap Trim.
Among your other options, you can replace a portion of the audio in a voice memo by recording over that portion of the recording. Tap the circled three-dot icon to the right of the title, then tap Edit Recording. Use your finger to slide the waveform to the spot you would like to record over, then tap the replace button and start recording. Tap Done when you are finished.
If you have doubts about any of the changes you’ve made, shake the iPhone to undo your last action. And if you want to share your recording, copy it or do something else with it, tap the circled three-dot icon and make your selections from the menu that appears.
Edward C. Baig is a contributing writer who covers technology and other consumer topics. He previously worked for USA Today, BusinessWeek, U.S. News & World Report and Fortune and is the author of Macs for Dummies and the coauthor of iPhone for Dummies and iPad for Dummies.