Motrr Galileo review

Highs

  • Dead-easy to set up and use
  • Easily create 360-degree spherical panoramas
  • Fun to watch it work

Rating

Our Score 7.5
User Score 0

Lows

  • Limited apps (for now)
  • Slight discoloration over time
The Motrr Galileo isn't a gadget you need in your arsenal, but if you like making 360-degree panoramas with your iPhone, it makes it much easier.

Update on February 17, 2014: We were able to restore the Galileo back to life, which had somehow gone into a self-induced coma during a failed firmware update. After an easy repair involving reinstalling the app and resetting the device, we were able to use it again.

The iPhone has revolutionized how we take photos in so many ways. Not only is it easier to snap images and share them, the iPhone has made things that were once difficult to capture, now as easy as a simple push of a button. Like 360-degree panoramas.

Third-party apps have made shooting them simpler, but they still require a person to properly set things up and manually go about doing it. That’s where the Motrr Galileo comes in. A successful Kickstarter project, the device automates the entire process of shooting spherical panoramas with an iPhone; all you have to do is push a button, sit back, and watch the device rotate around to capture the world around you. The device itself serves a single purpose, but is it worth adding to your gadget collection? If you enjoy creating beautiful panoramas, read on.

Features and design

The Galileo is a motorized, self-turning dock that automatically swivels and pans an iPhone or iPod Touch around, allowing it to capture 360-degree panorama photos, or turn it into a surveillance camera that you can remotely pan to monitor a room. Available in black or white, the Galileo comes in two versions: one works wirelessly over Bluetooth (supporting iPhone 4S and higher, and the fifth-gen iPod Touch), while another connects via the 30-pin dock connector (for iPhones 3GS to 4S, and the fourth-generation iPod Touch; the 30-pin version can also charge the device).

Unfortunately, not all apps can simply support the Galileo, so don’t expect to take panorama photos through Instagram, for example.

Roughly the size of a small canister, with a diameter of a regular coffee mug, the design of the 7-ounce device is rather simple and neat. It’s not pocket friendly, but it isn’t heavy. It has a soft rubber-like finish all around, on the top is a rubber insert that holds the device snuggly, with a cavity for your finger to press the Home button. Looking at it from the side, you can see the device is divided into three layers: a top portion tilts the device from portrait to landscape (you have to do this part manually), with a motorized component at the top that swivels the device around (tilt rotation). The middle portion could be considered the stationary layer (housing all the internal components), while the base layer rotates around 360-degrees for panning. It’s rubberized at the bottom, so that the Galileo stays firm when the device is rotating and swiveling;. There’s also a tripod mount and a battery indicator (when it’s not connected to an app, turning the base will show you how much battery life is left). A Micro USB port on the side is used for charging and, if you’re using the 30-pin version, deliver power to a connected iPhone or iPod.

The Galileo doesn’t function by itself. Instead, it gets instructions from the apps that are compatible with it. Besides the Galileo app, which is used to connect (the first time) and update the device, there are several others. These include Sphere, a free app for showing spherical, 360-degree panoramas (we tested the Galileo with Sphere, see more below); TimeLapse, a free and for-pay app for creating time-lapse videos; AirBeam, a paid app that turns your device into a surveillance camera; WristVision, which lets you view video through a Pebble smartwatch; and a few others. Some are available now, some are coming soon (click here to see the list). Unfortunately, not all apps can simply support the Galileo, so don’t expect to take panorama photos through Instagram, for example.

And that, folks, is pretty much it. The Galileo wasn’t designed to be complicated. There are no loads of confusing buttons, and all the apps that use the device are equally simple to use. It may only have one function, but within that function there are many uses.

Setup, performance, and use

We were provided with a white Galileo Bluetooth for review, and we tested it with an iPhone 5S. The device comes with two more rubber inserts (different sizes to fit iPhone 4S or iPod Touch) and a Micro USB cable (you’ll have to supply the wall charger, but you can use any, like the one that came with your iPhone or iPod).

Like many people, we keep our iPhone inside a case. This immediately became our first problem: The rubber insert isn’t wide enough to fit the iPhone with the case on, so one would have to remove the case completely. Luckily our Incase Slider Case has a bottom cover, so we only had to remove that small portion to insert the iPhone into the Galileo’s rubber insert. This isn’t a big deal, but a minor annoyance.

Motrr Galileo front angle with phone

Getting started is straightforward: We plugged it in to charge and wake it up from the factory-induced sleep – easy. Then we downloaded the Motrr and Sphere apps, and allowed the Galileo to fully charge up before we started playing with it. Pairing the iPhone and Galileo couldn’t be any more foolproof: with Bluetooth enabled, we launched the Motrr app to have it search for the Galileo. To wake the Galileo, you simply turn the bottom base partway to establish the connection. The great part is that each application handles the Bluetooth connection, which means there’s no need to go into the Settings menu; for pairing purposes, this makes it all easy and quick. When we launched Sphere to create a spherical panorama, there’s an option to use the Galileo; selecting it will ask you to turn on the Galileo, at which point the app and Galileo connect instantly. We didn’t encounter any real connection issues, and found it incredibly easy to set up and use – in technology, that’s an A+.

If you love taking 360-degree photos, the Galileo is one useful gadget to bring with you.

Some apps only work with the 30-pin Galileo, and there are some still in the works (one app we’re looking forward to is Motrr’s LIVE app that lets you make remote video calls a la Facetime, allowing you to control the positioning). TimeLapse is a neat app for shooting time-lapse videos, which generally has been a difficult thing to do using a regular camera, but the Galileo helps automate everything. Same for RecoLive MultiCam, which lets you create TV-show-like, multi-camera videos. AirBeam is handy if you need a surveillance cam in a pinch, but, inconveniently, that would require you to leave your iPhone at home; it doesn’t make sense if you’re traveling. We’re guessing you’d need an iPhone Touch, but that doesn’t solve the issue of keeping the phone charged. Remote operation is a nice idea, but we think the Galileo works best when it’s in front of you.

As we said, the one app we tested the Galileo with is Sphere, a free app for creating 360-degree panoramas – once a difficult type of photography to achieve, now made seemingly uncomplicated with the newest smartphones and digital cameras. The app doesn’t require you to use a Galileo, but if you do, you’re guaranteed a more precise 360-degree view when it’s all stitched together. Here’s how it works: Once the app and Galileo are paired, the Galileo spins the iPhone all around, taking photos throughout the process. Once that’s completed, Sphere stitches the images together, and you can view them on your phone, panning around as if you were looking around with your own eyes. Sphere also uploads the image to the cloud, where you can view it online or share it via the Sphere player. Unfortunately, you can only view the panos on your phone or the player, so you can’t actually send them directly to a friend; you can email a link to the image online. Overall the app and device worked well, although we noticed some issues with stitching and missing images, or if someone photo-bombed by walking past the camera’s view while it was snapping photos and the image doesn’t come together properly (that’s not a fault of the device however). If you love taking 360-degree photos, the Galileo is one useful gadget to bring with you.

In the same panorama below, notice the missing shots.

Unfortunately our time with the device came to an abrupt end…when it died on us. As we went to do one last round of testing, the Motrr app informed us there is a firmware update available. When we test stuff, we usually try to make sure we have the latest firmware installed. There were several failed attempts to upgrade the firmware, and then we were informed of connection issues. One message said the Galileo may be broken, and attempted to repair it. Finally, one last attempt caused the app to hang; after exiting the app, the Galileo went silent. We attempted to troubleshoot it based on what Motrr’s website recommended we do, but it didn’t work. We aren’t going to fault the device for this until we’ve determined what’s wrong, if it’s truly dead – after all, it was working fine. Whether something short-circuited or it was user error, we’ve informed Motrr about the issue; the company has sent us repair instructions, and we’ll update this review once that has been accomplished. It appears the Galileo didn’t die at all, and we were able to bring it back from its coma state. Motrr was able to successfully walk us through a simple fix (delete the Motrr app, hard reset the iPhone, download the Motrr app, reset the Galileo, launch the app to connect to the device), update the firmware, and all’s well again. Welcome back from the dead, little friend.

One other thing we noticed is some discoloration on the white surface of the Galileo. Under bright fluorescent lighting this isn’t noticeable, but we could see two tones of white under natural lighting. We can’t tell if this is normal, but it’s minor and doesn’t affect the device’s operation; if you’re OCD about such things, however, it may drive you nuts.

Conclusion

For $150 ($130 for the 30-pin version), the Galileo might be a bit pricy for a single-function gadget. But if you enjoy taking 360-degree panoramas, or you find some of the other supported apps useful, the Galileo is a handy gadget to bring around. Imagine being in a scenic locale, and instead of photographing one aspect of it, you can capture the entire view around you with this simple device that automates everything – sharing your experience with friends. A photograph is great, but an immersive 360-degree experience is even better. While you can use the Sphere app without it, the Galileo helps you create a straighter, more accurate photo when it’s stitched.

It’s unfortunate that our unit crapped out, because we developed a soft spot for the little guy. Watching it spin, turn, and doing its thing was more fun than anything else. The gadget isn’t a must-have, but it’s an amusing and useful tool. Even if you never thought about shooting spherical panoramas or time-lapse videos, with the Galileo you might find yourself making more of them. We look forward to getting our unit fixed, and testing additional apps as they roll out – stay tuned for updates to this review.

Highs:

  • Dead-easy to set up and use
  • Easily create 360-degree spherical panoramas
  • Fun to watch it work

Lows:

  • Limited apps (for now)
  • Slight discoloration over time