Insta360 Nano review: Bringing 360-degree photos to the iPhone

Price when reviewed

Apple’s engineers have worked hard to make a quality camera barely noticeable on the iPhone 6s. A circular lens protrudes a tiny bit from the back of the handset: present, but in no way blemishing the overall aesthetic.

It’s something of an irony, therefore, that a small percentage of its owners will leap at the chance to undo all that hard design work and strap the faintly ridiculous-looking Insta360 Nano on the back of the handset.

Is a 360-degree camera upgrade worth spending £219 on?

Insta360 Nano: Design

The Insta360 Nano isn’t an official Apple product, and sleek and stylish as it appears when you open the box, its aesthetic limitations are starkly revealed as soon as you attach it to your iPhone.

It connects to the phone via the Lightning port on the bottom edge, meaning the camera juts out of the bottom of the phone unconvincingly, its black fisheye lens staring back at you. Flip it over and it’s the same story, only the longer side (the whole thing is a little bigger than a cigarette lighter) stretches halfway up the iPhone’s back, ruining the iPhone’s minimalist appearance from not one, but two angles.

What’s more, if you’re picturing this in your head as we go along here, you’ll quickly realise that having a camera jutting out the bottom of your handset isn’t ideal for capturing the most impressive snaps. That’s taken care of: when you connect the camera, the Insta360 app automatically boots up, and flips the screen upside down.[gallery:2]

This makes sense in one respect, and ensures it’s easier to use, but it does mean you have to flip it back around when you’re done and want to return to sleek normality. Also, if you’re just dipping in to look at your photos without connecting the camera, the app will still flip upside down, which is a touch annoying.

Whether this disruption to style and design is worth it depends on your commitment to capturing the moment in 360 degrees, making your experience re-liveable through a VR headset. Oh, and don’t worry if you don’t have a VR headset to enjoy your snaps: in a moment of design flair, the camera’s box turns into a Google Cardboard viewer. It’s a very nice touch, given that – for the moment at least – Apple has no confirmed VR plans.

Other than that, there’s not a great deal to say, except that it loses a couple more style points in the name of substance along the way. To avoid draining the iPhone’s battery, it has its own micro-USB charging point and onboard power cell. There’s also a microSD slot, so you don’t need to spend precious internal storage on your photos and videos. That’s a good thing, given how storage-hungry 360-degree media can be, although you will need to provide your own memory card.

Insta360 Nano: Features

Interestingly, the images exported from the Insta360 Nano are labelled in the EXIF data as originating from a Ricoh Theta S. The Ricoh Theta S is a handheld 360-degree camera that sends photos wirelessly to your handset for editing and uploading, and works with both iPhone and Android.

If, as we suspect, the pictures bear the Theta S tags because the technology in the camera is from the same family, then that’s interesting for a number of reasons.

The Insta360 Nano is around £80 cheaper.
Its form factor, although clever, is considerably more limited.
While the Theta S outputs images at 5,376 x 2,688, the Insta360 Nano maxes out at 3,040 x 1,520.

In other words, you’re saving a few quid, but in return you’re getting a camera that outputs at a lower resolution and that works with only one kind of smartphone.[gallery:3]

Technically, it can be used without a phone. There’s a button on the back that allows you to capture images and video straight to memory card, but since feedback is limited to a tiny, blinking LED, you’re more likely to catch an expression of surprised unreadiness than anything worth sharing on Facebook.

Still, the Insta360 Nano has pretty much the same features you’d expect from any 360-degree camera. You can capture photos, videos or even live streams, should your life be interesting enough to justify the bandwidth. Unlike the Gear 360 camera, there’s no time-lapse option, though. And because the camera has no stand, no threaded tripod socket, and works best when attached to your phone, you’ll need someone to hold it at all times, making it a more limited proposition.

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