Layman’s Tech: a guide to new gadgets, products, and fun — for those who don’t have a degree in computer science.
This year, even more 360-capable cameras will flood the market. Varying in price by wide margins, it’s hard to tell which will work for you. Below, I’ll go over some of Samsung’s consumer version: the Gear 360.
A Cute Little Guy
From the very start, it’s hard not to like the way the Gear 360 looks. The spherical design makes me easily connect the camera to the spherical view it’ll provide. It’s sleek, with one large eye-like lens on the front and another on the back. A top black bar gives the impression of a little mohawk, and with only three buttons, there’s not much to clog up the design.
The included base changes the look further. Without the base, it looks a little like some sort of deflated sports ball of the future. With the base, however, it becomes a different robotic beast altogether. I debate as to whether this contraption looks more like EVE (Extraterrestrial Vegetation Evaluator) from Pixar’s Wall-E or mouth-watering ice cream cone. (Sure, I may be a bit hungry for sugary goodness, but the likeness is unmistakeable. I welcome a healthy debate about this in the comments below.)
This is one of the cheaper cameras on the market, coming in at just $299.99 — $349.99 (depending on if there’s a sale). It also requires a micro SD card, which you have to purchase separately. For quick, one-stop shopping, you can purchase that on Samsung’s site with the camera. If you’re looking for more of a deal, an SD card at a local store or online retailer may save some cash.
I’m a bit hesitant to talk about 360 camera resolution. These days, with the consumer products still in their relative infancy, there isn’t a whole lot of variety. Buying one camera over the next doesn’t provide the types of differences we expect, and as the technology evolves, resolutions will improve drastically.
This is the first 360 camera I’m reviewing, so there should be a small note about how this type of resolution differs from what we’re used to on the cameras of an SLR, video or phone. While those take the resolution (pixel counts) and spread them across a defined, flat surface, the 360 cameras spread it around a sphere. By default, this changes the quality. For example, if your phone’s camera were to advertise a resolution of 3840x1920 and your 360 camera were to do the same, you would find your phone’s image was much crisper. It dictates these pixels to be condensed into a much smaller space, allowing for greater detail.
Since resolution’s a factor, though, there are some things to note. As 360 cameras go, this one has one of the lower resolutions (reflected by its price). For videos, the highest resolution is 3840x1920 (they advertise this as near 4K) and it goes up to 30 MP for photos.
This wasn’t meant to run a spaceship, and it won’t do your laundry or slow-cook a meal while you’re away at work, but it does have a pretty decent list of features.
- Takes 360 videos
- Takes 360 photos
- Bluetooth (with compatible phones)
- Timelapse (it’s an even more fun function in 360 — promise!)
- Delayed start
As with any product, especially ones where an up-sale is a possibility, the Gear 360 promises a lot which is not necessarily possible without the proper purchasing add-ons. Samsung is pretty clear about this, but it’s still worth noting.
- Editing: This is only possible with a phone or a PC. The editing advertised cannot be done within the camera itself.
- Sharing: As stated on their site, Samsung indicates sharing the videos is simple an easy. It’s not quite as one-step as they make it seem, though. A little more effort is needed than would be with a simple phone photo. This is not necessarily Samsung’s issue — it’s that of the platforms such as Facebook and YouTube who haven’t quite added in seamless features for sharing just yet. Regardless, you cannot share from the camera, itself. You must use an external device for these functions.
So, how user-friendly is this little pocket camera?
Well, for starters, it’s relatively easy to use. I need to use some cheaters to see the tiny type on the camera’s display, but the icons and text are minimal and easy to understand.
There are only three buttons on the camera. Between those and the display, the combination of buttons needed to scroll through functions reminds me a great deal a GoPro. However, I think a handy, portable flowchart would be useful when using a GoPro whereas the Gear 360 has fewer menu options and is much easier to navigate.
The delayed start is great. A variety of time settings allow you (or me in a a great deal of tests) to get out of view of the lenses prior to shooting or filming. For a simple photo, this works like magic (the below are not necessarily personal experiences, but there’s a chance I went through some of this):
- Step 1: set timer.
- Step 2: run away as camera beeps like a bomb someone in a predictable action flick has attempted to disarm by cutting the wrong-colored wire.
- Step 3: trip over everything in sight.
- Step 4: hear the camera click.
- Step 5: attempt to delete the image/video prior to actually seeing your curled-up and twisted body hanging out in some awkward corner.
- Step 6: try again until bruises cover legs and arms.
My own clumsiness aside, this function is great at the front end. For video, though, I noticed there was no way to shut stop filming from afar. Nor is there an option to set a film length to any specific duration. For my experiments, this forced me into hiding in the most uncomfortable spaces while I let the camera roll. I then needed to slink in or sneak toward the camera to shut it off. Sure, you can edit that out later (an added step), but I found some of the hiding spots gave my viewers a bit of a start and chuckle.
Cute as it is, the accompanying tripod is short. This makes it easy to stick the camera on a table, chair or the ground. But, from my observations, people tend to enjoy the imagery better when it can be seen from an eye level. Often viewed from within a VR (virtual reality) headset, eye level gives the viewer a more realistic and comfortable vantage point.
While the tripod unscrews, and appears to have the right opening to attach to any standard, fully-adjustable tripod, I haven’t had luck with this. The screw threads don’t match up in the right direction, so it ends up coming down to a precarious balancing act.
It’s by Samsung, so it really only works well with Samsung products. For the most part, you can only use it with one of Samsung’s specifically designated smartphones. From there, you download an app (Gear 360 Manager) to manage things through bluetooth. Doing so is pretty painless, and once you know where everything is and where it needs to go, the steps continue to get easier.
Without one of Samsung’s special phones, independent developers have created apps to use the camera on other androids. Of course, this doesn’t work nearly as seamlessly, and the quality ends up being a bit lower.
Rumors also claim the new version of the Gear 360 will work with iPhones as well as being even more portable than the existing option.
No stitching software is required. Some of the more expensive cameras require external software and manual stitching. This can be time consuming (depending on the camera) and often requires extra funds. With the Gear 360, stitching the two images/videos together is quick, easy, and done within your phone/camera.
Since there are only two lenses on this camera, there are also fewer stitch lines. With the higher resolution options, more lenses are needed. I believe one of Facebook’s cameras had around twenty-five lenses, and I’ve seen GoPro rigs with sixteen. This is a lot of stitching, and that makes for a lot of stitch lines interrupting clear visibility.
If you’re looking for a lightweight, portable, affordable, and (quite frankly, adorable) 360 camera to work with one of around three different Samsung phones, this is a great option. However, unless Samsung finds a way to make it more broad — something available to any android or iPhone user — I have a hard time seeing it last much longer in this emerging market.