Samsung Gear 360 review: A great 360-degree camera, but it only plays nicely with Galaxy phones
There are two main things that I’ve learnt while reviewing the Samsung Gear 360, neither of them good. 1) My hair definitely looks thinner from above than I would like, and 2) My life isn’t really eventful enough to warrant having a 360-degree camera on me at all times.
Nonetheless, if your life does justify the extravagance, then the Samsung Gear 360 won’t let you down. However, there are a few caveats I should throw in there – first of which is the whopping price tag. For the rest, you’ll just have to read on.
Samsung Gear 360: Design
The Samsung Gear 360 is a spherical camera, somewhere between the size of a golf ball and a tennis ball. Do you remember that episode of Red Dwarf where Kryton loses his eye, and it comes back on little legs? The resemblance is uncanny.
It’s somewhere between that and a Portal turret. Only this fits in the palm of your hand, and isn’t intent on killing you – unless you go to dangerous lengths to get that perfect 360-degree panoramic shot.
The camera section – which screws neatly on top of the tripod, and comes ready assembled – has two fisheye lenses on opposite sides. There are three buttons – “power/back”, “Bluetooth connect/menu” and a big old Record button on top. It also has a tiny LED display on top that provides basic information such as battery life and how long you’ve been recording for.[gallery:3]
Opposite the side buttons is a panel that springs open to reveal the battery slot, a micro-USB charging port and a microSD slot. For £350, you’d really hope they’d throw in a microSD card – especially given Samsung make them – but prepare for disappointment. It won’t record anything without a card in place, either, because there’s no internal storage. That’s a tad stingy for such a pricey product.
The tripod can be removed, allowing you to attach the camera section to anything else with the right fitting, or the bundled wrist strap. It’s actually a very effective stand, offering sturdy support for the camera, and the three legs clip together to form a handle if you want to just hold it high above your head for an aerial shot.[gallery:4]
All in all, it’s a very attractive little camera, which for the most part looks as expensive as it costs, with a nice space-age aesthetic going for it. That said, a detached eyeball on stilts can only look so beautiful, so your mileage may vary.
Samsung Gear 360: Features
So, what can the Samsung Gear 360 offer you that your regular camera can’t? Well, 360-degree photos and videos, obviously. Sure, you can stitch images together with the latest smartphones by slowly panning around, but there are a number of problems with this: you need a steady hand, things may change while you’re panning around, and you look like a tool doing it. The Gear 360 fixes the first two of these issues, but the tool problem persists, as the disdain on the face of the gentleman behind me proves.
(Click on the image to see it in 360 degrees)
It’s not all about static images, of course. The real charm of the Gear 360 is that it lets you shoot 360-degree video at an almost-but-not-quite-4K resolution of 3,840 x 1,920 pixels. This can then be dropped straight onto YouTube’s 360-degree video channel, Facebook, or even viewed on your Gear VR headset to put people straight into your very own homemade VR film. As well as basic video recording, you can set the video to loop (so that it records over the start once you run out of space – handy if you’re waiting for something specific to happen) or time-lapse, which takes a frame at set intervals, and allows for cool videos like this:
You’ll notice that’s not in 360 degrees. That’s because the camera lets you pick the front, back or both cameras to shoot from. The back camera would have just shot a wall, so on this occasion, I chose to preserve battery life and memory card space.
With the exception of time-lapse mode, all of these allow you to preview the image from both lenses on your Galaxy smartphone, allowing you to – in theory – line up the perfect shot. I say “in theory” because, well, just look at my results. Sometimes the best gear is wasted on the worst photographers.[gallery:6]
You’ll note I said “Galaxy smartphone”. Like the Gear VR – only with far less justification – Samsung has chosen to limit support for the Gear 360 app to a comically small selection of phones. Unless your phone belongs to the Galaxy S6, S7 or Note 5 family, you’re bang out of luck. I mean, technically you could just use the Gear 360 on its own – and Samsung does include a code for Gear 360 ActionDirector in the box for desktop editors – but it makes it much more cumbersome.
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