Samsung’s fancy Galaxy S8 flagship is here. With its monstrous 18.5:9 HDR screen, it looks like it will be the de facto Android smartphone in 2017. Forget about it for a second, though. Samsung talked about something else at its Unpacked event in March, which may have slipped under your radar. Here’s Samsung’s new and improved VR-ready camera, the Gear 360.
You’ve probably already spotted the biggest difference between this year’s Gear 360 revamp and the 2016 version. It’s seen a pretty substantial facelift, with the old chunky golf ball and tripod setup replaced with a far simpler, handheld shape. That ball on top is considerably smaller, while the handle (perfect for one-handed 360-degree live streams) is on the bottom, forming one single unit.
This radical redesign makes way more sense than its predecessor. While last year’s design was hardly atrocious, it didn’t lend itself well for on-the-fly footage, and was a little too bulky to carry. This new and improved molded grip is much more appealing, fitting snug in your palm with the sizeable record button sitting naturally under your thumb.
However, there’s a worrying flaw with this impressive new design. That new Gear 360? It doesn’t stand up too well on its own. In a bizarre move, the small profile on the bottom – which houses the tripod thread – is rounded. Unlike those old Weebles toys, the Gear 360 does wobble but in this case, it does fall down.
Samsung rectifies this by attaching a rubber ring via lanyard, which can fit around the base for a bit more stability. It’s hardly ideal, though, and feels like a bit of an afterthought if anything. It will be well worth investing in a reliable tripod for your static shoots, at least for a bit of peace of mind.
This year, the Gear 360 is treated to 4K 360-degree video recording at 4,096 x 2,048 – a slight bump over last year’s model. Fifteen-megapixel stills are also on the cards via those dual 8.4-megapixel fish-eye lenses. The most intriguing new addition, though? Proper support for 360-degree video live streams.
Streaming via Facebook, YouTube and Samsung’s own VR platform, Samsung says this feature is vitally important for the integration of the VR revolution into our normal day-to-day video consumption. You know what’ll make this VR acceptance even more prominent, too? Samsung is opening up its Gear 360 compatibility to smartphones other than its own Galaxy flagships.
Last year’s Gear 360 could only be used with specific Galaxy phones. If you didn’t have a Galaxy S6, S6 Edge, S6 Edge+, Note 5, S7 or S7 Edge, you missed out. This year, Samsung says the 360 will work with a wider range of Samsung handsets, most notably its mid-range Galaxy A lineup. iPhone compatibility, as well as Windows and Mac support, is also on the horizon.
Other than that, similarities between this year’s Gear 360 and its predecessor can still be spotted. There’s still microSD storage – found under a flap on the handle – and there’s a tiny display telling you which mode you’ve selected, as well as its battery status. There’s no removable battery this year, though.
Samsung Gear 360 review (2017): Early verdict
This year’s Gear 360 re-do heralds some welcome changes. It’s far more portable, records at a higher resolution, and is riding that 360 live video bandwagon. Some things, such as the lack of a removable battery, are a little concerning, but it seems Samsung is heading in the right direction for the most part.
And you know what makes this whole thing even better? This year’s Samsung Gear 360 launches for just £199, undercutting the old Gear 360 by a sizeable £150. What a saving.
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