Samsung Gear 360 (2017) review: Improved in (almost) every way, and £130 cheaper

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If you’ve spent the past five years wondering where London 2012 Olympic mascot Wenlock went, it may be worth checking Samsung’s basement. I mean, I’m not saying for certain that the South Korean electronics firm kidnapped him and used him as a model for their new 360-degree camera, but it would explain an awful lot.

It’s an odd-looking specimen, definitely, but for anyone who owns a first-generation Gear 360, this shouldn’t come as a huge surprise and, in fact, the design is much nicer than last year’s tripod-toting effort. And it’s not only the design: this year’s Samsung Gear 360 is an improvement in almost every single way and it still manages to come in £130 cheaper.

It’s comfortably a five star review however you paint it.

Samsung Gear 360 (2017): Design


Let’s start with that design, though. While the original Gear 360 had removable tripod legs that folded away when not in use, like one of the turrets from Portal, the new version is designed with the stand and hand grip built in. Flared towards the bottom and narrower at the “neck”, the new design is more comfortable to hold in the hand and it still stands up on its own.

Out in the real world, however, things get a little less predictable. The bulbous camera module on the top is top-heavy and an ill-timed gust of wind can send it toppling, potentially ruining that perfect shot. Samsung’s solution to this isn’t exactly ideal, but it does the job: a small rubber ring is supplied in the box and attaches to the camera via some string.

The idea is that you sit the Gear 360 in this for added stability. And it definitely works, but it’s not the most elegant of solutions, raising the question of why Samsung didn’t just design it with a thicker base in the first place.[gallery:4]

Still, this is the cost of a design that feels far easier to recommend than last year’s effort. It looks a bit smarter and is considerably easier to carry. It’s hard to tell from pictures, but it’s a fair bit smaller than last year’s model and considerably lighter, too, somehow managing to lose 23g of its 2016 weight.

More importantly, the thing that kept it from being a five-star review last time was Samsung’s bloody-minded decision to only let the device play with its top-end phones. Well, the company has relaxed its rules this time, opening it up to compatibility with most new Samsung phones from the A5 (2017) onwards and iPhones running iOS 10. It’s still a bit of a jerk move to exclude all other perfectly capable rival Android devices, but it’s a small tiptoe in the right direction.

Other than that, it’s business as usual. There’s a tripod thread in the base and it still has microSD support (you can add cards up to 256GB in size this time), alongside a display to show you basic information such as battery left and which mode you’re in. It retains its IP53 rating, as well, which means it will survive a light splash but not a full dunking.

Samsung Gear 360 (2017): Performance


Video footage can be viewed and recorded via the Samsung 360 app on a Bluetooth-connected smartphone and you can use it on its own as well, with recordings activated and stills captured via the shutter button on the neck of the camera.

In terms of performance, the improvements are a series of small increments that add up to a far better product overall. Let’s start with video. Last year, resolution was 3,840 x 1,920; this time around it’s a little higher at 4,096 x 2,160. The bigger improvement, though, is a reduction of 20mm between the two lenses, which means the stitching together of the two images is much less noticeable this time around.

Samsung has also added the ability to live-stream video straight to YouTube or Facebook, if that’s your thing. Just link your account, tap “live broadcast” and you’re away. Video can either be public and broadcast to all and sundry or limited to those with a link, as you can see from the screenshot below, where my new cat steadfastly refused to become an internet sensation.gear_360_cat_shot

I did, however, manage to catch the other cat in the act of eating his food with the other lens. Yes, it’s quite possible that my life isn’t interesting enough to feature in a Gear 360 advert.gear_360_cat_shot_2

It’s not all good news, however. On the specification front, the aperture is now narrower, having gone from f/2.0 to f/2.2, and the megapixel count has also dropped for static 360-degree images, falling from 30 to 15 megapixels.

Generally, though, image quality is decent when viewed on a smartphone with solid lighting. If lighting isn’t great, you end up with noisier video and some signs of compression artifacting.

Even in good conditions, you shouldn’t expect miracles. The thing to remember is that although the Gear 360 takes 4K video, it’s only 4K when taking in all 360 degrees – in other words, what you’re looking at at any given time is considerably lower than that. So while things look perfectly good on a 1080p smartphone screen, blowing them up to a full TV display does dampen things somewhat. Colours appear a bit more washed out, and everything loses a shade of sharpness to what you’d get from your average phone camera.[gallery:7]

This isn’t a problem unique to Samsung of course, and you’ll face it in one degree or another whichever 360 camera you buy. In the greater scheme of things, the Gear 360 v2 is far from being the worst offender. In fact, it’s rather good.

Another slight negative is that the battery is smaller, falling from last year’s 1,350mAh power cell to 1,160mAh here, and it’s now non-removable. I didn’t find this to be a huge issue for me, though. After a day’s heavy use around London, I found capacity had fallen from fully charged to 28%; that should be plenty enough for most people.

Samsung Gear 360 (2017): Verdict


In some respects, the Gear 360 (2017) looks like a small step backwards on paper. However, the advantages over its predecessor outweigh the compromises, especially if you’re more interested in capturing motion than static shots. It’s smaller, lighter and produces more seamlessly stitched together images and video than the original, and it’s compatible with more phones than before.

Most importantly though, it’s significantly cheaper: where last year’s 360 cost £350, 2017’s is £219. In an era when consumer electronics prices seem mostly to be rising, this is something to be celebrated, and it should help 360-degree video on its way to general acceptance.

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