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Samsung’s 4K Gear 360 camera now lets you broadcast live on Facebook, YouTube

Continuing its push on virtual reality in the consumer market, Samsung announced the second version of its Galaxy Gear 360 camera, alongside the Galaxy S8-series phones. Part of a Samsung VR trifecta that includes phone, camera, and headset, Samsung has upgraded its new 360-degree camera with improved resolution, live-streaming to Facebook and YouTube, and compatibility with more devices.

Update on April 17, 2017: The new Gear 360 app is now available for download from both the Google Play and Apple iTunes stores. This story has been updated to reflect the new information.

Familiar design, but completely different

The new camera retains the funky, eyeball-shaped design of its predecessor, which has two wide-angle (195 degrees), f/2.2 lenses on either side for capturing 360 degrees (there’s also a single-mode function). In our review, we thought the original’s form-factor was hefty and awkward, but the new camera is smaller and lighter (100.6 x 46.3 x 45.1 mm; 130 grams versus 152). It’s still dust and water resistant, but not waterproof. We think it stills heavy when held in the hand, but it’s solidly built and fits nicely.

Samsung also redesigned the way it’s held. Gone is the tripod that attached to the camera: Instead of a small, tapered tripod that’s hard to hold onto, the new Gear 360 now has a handle that’s part of the form-factor, making it easier to hold. On the handle is a small display (relocated from the top, as in the previous camera) as well as a shutter/record button for easier access. The memory card tray and USB port are also found on the handle, and there’s a screw mount at the bottom for tripods. It’s definitely smaller, and the periscope-like design also looks like a cute little robot from a sci-fi movie.

Video resolution has increased, from 3,840 x 1,920 to 4,096 x 2,048 — Samsung is officially marketing it as 4K, although don’t expect it to be comparable to higher-end 4K cameras. However, the frame rate has dropped from 30 frames per second, to 24 fps. We can’t say if the lower frame rate would have any detrimental effects to the viewing experience, particularly when using a VR headset, until we test it. In general, higher frame rates reduce unwanted artifacts in video, but we doubt most users would notice the difference between 30 fps and 24 fps, particularly in a consumer camera like this. In single-lens mode, the camera is capable of shooting Full HD 1,920 x 1,080 at 60 fps.

Another specs downgrade (on paper, at least), Samsung is using two 8.4-megapixel CMOS sensors – the same sensor used in the S8 – instead of two 15-megapixel sensors used in the original. This affects still images, since it can only produce 15-megapixel JPEGs rather than 30-megapixel ones. Samsung tells us that the new sensor is better for shooting in dark environments. Frankly, for casual users, a 15-megapixel image is plenty, but it would be interesting to see if the lower resolution would have any noticeable effects on 360-degree panoramas — something we’ll look at when we get the chance to review one. Megapixels are less of a concern when it comes to video.

Going live

Samsung says the new camera has been designed for improved portability, which is likely important as it now supports 360-degree live streaming to Facebook, YouTube, and Samsung VR (Twitter’s Periscope platform in to be determined, Samsung tells us). Due to bandwidth issues, the Gear 360 broadcasts only in Full HD, not 4K, but Samsung promises an improved experience than what consumers have been used to in the past with other products. It’s in line with what Samsung describes at its Unpacked 2017 event as the breaking down of barriers to share immersive experiences.

With Wi-Fi Direct, the camera can be paired with a compatible phone without losing connectivity to a Wi-Fi network, which would make uploading content more seamless. Stitching is handled by the app on the phone. Because the body of the camera is narrower, Samsung says there are fewer dark areas where the two images meet — an issue we didn’t like with the original camera — and it’s a better stitch.

As for the app, it has also been redesigned: You can now preview immediately, zoom in and out, invite friends to a live broadcast via text, and generally easier to use.

Support for more devices (yes, iPhone too)

Another big improvement is that the camera now supports non-Samsung devices. Previously, the Gear 360 only worked with select Samsung devices — one of our complaints. In addition to the new Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus, the new Gear 360 is also compatible with iPhones (6S, 6S Plus, 7, 7 Plus, and SE, running iOS 10), as well as Windows and MacOS. According to Samsung, the Mac and PC apps will be tailored to consumers, but the PC version will also have editing features and an improved user experience.

The camera is also compatible with more Samsung devices — Galaxy S7, S7 Edge, S6, S6 Edge, S6 Edge Plus, Note 5, running Android 5.0 — as well as the budget-friendly Galaxy A5, and A7. Missing still are other Android devices, but the expanded support opens the camera to more users. Samsung says live-streaming on iOS will come later.

Editors’ note: As of March 29, 2017, the app is only available to the aforementioned Samsung Android phones. We will update this story if more Android devices are supported.

The new Gear 360 now supports MicroSD cards up to 256GB. For charging and data transfer, Samsung has switched from Micro USB to a USB Type-C port (in-line with the new S8-series devices), but it’s the slower USB 2.0 variant. Unfortunately, the lithium-ion battery has been downgraded from 1,350mAh in the original, to 1,160mAh; the battery is now unremovable. Whether this will affect battery life, remains to be seen. Samsung officially rates recording time at 130 minutes of continuous recording 2K — less if live streaming, paired with a phone for live viewing, or shooting 4K.

As for shooting modes, Samsung added Landscape HDR to the options (video, photo, time-lapse video, and looping video). Connectivity remains the same: The new Gear 360 uses Wi-Fi (802.11a, b, g, n, ac; 2.4/5GHz), the aforementioned Wi-Fi Direct, and Bluetooth (4.1). However, NFC has been removed – the original camera uses NFC to quickly pair with a phone.

Pricing or availability has not been set, but Samsung told us it will be less expensive than the original, which launched with a price of $350.