Giroptic iO 360 camera review

Giroptic’s iO is the affordable, intuitive 360-degree camera we’ve longed for

The compact and affordable iO makes short work of immersive video and live-streaming, thanks to an effortless setup process and a focus on simplicity.
The compact and affordable iO makes short work of immersive video and live-streaming, thanks to an effortless setup process and a focus on simplicity.
The compact and affordable iO makes short work of immersive video and live-streaming, thanks to an effortless setup process and a focus on simplicity.

Highs

  • Excellent design
  • Very easy to use
  • Direct Lightning connection
  • Facebook, YouTube, and Periscope live-streaming
  • Competitive price

Lows

  • iOS only (for now)
  • Limited to 1920 x 960 video
  • Battery not user-replaceable

As the still nascent 360-degree video segment continues to figure itself out, 360 cameras tend to lean strongly toward one of two extremes: The high-end models are often large, expensive, and complicated, while those made to be more approachable all too often come across as gimmicks. The new, $249 Giroptic iO is perhaps the most approachable 360 cam currently available – at least, for iOS users – yet it manages to avoid crossing over into gimmick territory by focusing on its key strengths of portability, ease of use, and effortless live-streaming.

Designed for speed and simplicity

The first thing you will notice about the Giroptic iO is how small it is. It would easily fit in just about any pocket, although you’ll want to be mindful of the bulbous dual-lens head that extends beyond the width of the camera body (and your phone). Giroptic includes a hard plastic case to keep the iO protected when it’s not attached to your phone, and we recommend using it. A plastic sleeve with “legs” helps secure the device to your phone and allows it to stand on edge with the lens elevated when not connected.

This is the 360 cam we’ve been waiting for.

In absolute terms, the device weighs just 2.5 ounces, but it feels surprisingly heavy – in a good way. The casing is made from aluminum and it conveys the sense of a premium product, even if the legged plastic sleeve makes it look like an abstraction of a panda wearing a blue jacket. (Bearing resemblance to some sort of cute creature seems to be a requisite of 360 cams, so as far as that goes, we’re certainly down with pandas.)

Beyond the adorable exterior, what impressed us most was the setup process: Essentially, there isn’t one. Taking a cue from the DXO One, the iO has a Lightning connector built into it. It plugs directly into an iPhone or iPad without any Wi-Fi or Bluetooth setup required. Users will first need to download the free iO 360 app, but after that, it’s plug-and-play. When you connect the camera, it even launches the app automatically.

The first time we plugged in the iO, we were immediately prompted to download the latest firmware update. We didn’t need to enter an email address or register the device; with one tap on the screen, it just worked. Within a minute or two, the iO had its new firmware and we were ready to go.

On the iPhone 7 Plus that served as our test machine, performance was very snappy. Dragging across the screen to pan and tilt within the spherical video field is smooth and responsive. There is a brief delay (around a quarter of a second) between reality and what’s shown on the screen, but considering this is 360-degree video being stitched in real time, we can’t complain. Giroptic says the iO is compatible with iOS devices as far back as the iPhone 5S and iPad Mini 2, but we would expect performance to take a hit on those older devices.

If there’s one downside of the iO’s hardwired connection it’s that you won’t be able to plug anything else into your phone while you’re using it. That means no charging and, for iPhone 7 series owners, no headphone monitoring. In practice, we don’t expect this to be a huge issue given the iO’s intended use cases, but it’s something to be aware of.

One of the best consumer applications of immersive video tech that we’ve yet seen.

Users who put their iPhones inside a case may encounter an issue with fit. Some cases may be too thick, making it impossible to connect the accessory to the Lightning port – something we had to deal with when using the DXO One. However, using Apple’s low-profile leather case with our iPhone 7 Plus, we didn’t have this problem; we can’t say this will be – excuse the pun –the case with every user.

The iO forms a symbiotic relationship with your iPhone, but fortunately it won’t leech your phone’s power. Instead, a 915mAh internal battery powers the camera for around an hour and twenty minutes, based on our tests (the camera stopped responding after it hit 21-percent battery remaining). That’s not a ton of time, but it is respectable given the ultra compact size of the device. Thanks to a Micro USB port nestled beside the Lightning connector, you can also recharge it on the go with a USB battery brick.

In what may be a cause of concern for some, we found the iO to get very hot after extended periods of use. After 30 minutes, it was hot enough that we didn’t want to touch it for too long – it wasn’t hot enough to burn, but it certainly wasn’t comfortable. And while it’s not powered by your phone, keep in mind that your phone’s battery will still drain considerably faster when using the iO for long stretches of time, just as it would if you were using the native camera app.

Share it as you see it

The iO is all about sharing experiences as they happen, with a level of immersion that’s only possible with 360-degree video. While it will shoot 360 video and stills straight to your phone’s camera roll (complete with “little planet” and virtual reality modes), its real strength lies in being able to live-stream to Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter/Periscope. (Power users can even set it up for a custom streaming server).

Starting a live stream is about as basic as it gets. At the bottom of the preview window, just above the record start/stop button, are three options: Photo, Video, and Live. Swipe left for Photo mode or right for Live mode. You can even go live over 4G, although you’ll want to make sure you have a good connection. Working in an area of poor service, our test stream to Facebook was cut short, and the few seconds that did make it through were pixelated almost beyond recognition.

With a strong connection, however, the iO is an excellent camera for live-streaming, perfectly suited to cover anything from a garage band practice to a newsworthy event like a protest or parade. The camera’s unobtrusive size also means you won’t draw as much attention to yourself in public, unlike that guy running around with a Nokia Ozo.

The iO forms a symbiotic relationship with your iPhone.

However, the iO definitely won’t match the resolution of a high-end camera, like the Ozo. In fact, with video captured at just 1,920 x 960 pixels, it also falls short of many consumer-oriented 360 cams. Samsung’s new Galaxy Gear 360 shoots at a considerably higher resolution of 4,096 x 2,048 pixels, although it is larger and likely to be more expensive than the iO. When it comes to immersive video, having more resolution really makes a big difference, since those pixels need to be spread out across 360 x 360 degrees. As such, the iO won’t produce the sharpest results. (Note: Still photos are a bit better, at 3,840 x 1,920 pixels.)

That said, this shouldn’t be a huge issue. The iO’s bread and butter is live-streaming, where video quality is limited by numerous factors (such as the aforementioned signal strength). Even the new Gear 360 reverts to Full HD when live-streaming, not the full 4K that it’s capable of. Furthermore, when viewing on a phone, we found the sharpness to be just fine. It does get a bit soft around the stitching line, but for a panda-shaped camera that fits in the palm of your hand, it really does quite well.

Warranty

Giroptic offers a one-year limited warranty on the iO.

Our Take

The Giroptic iO may just be the 360 cam we’ve been waiting for. It is compact, ridiculously easy to use, and affordable at just $249. Giroptic has nailed the formula first put into use by DXO of hardwiring an accessory camera straight into the Lightning port. The seamless integration between camera, phone, and social media has removed all the pain points of sharing immersive experiences, as we’ve encountered with standalone models – including Giroptic’s first camera, the 360cam.

There are 360 cameras out there with better resolution, bigger batteries, and more features, but none that have repeatedly put a smile on our faces the way the iO has. Maybe that’s just the panda thing, or maybe there really is something to Giroptic’s approach of choosing a few key elements and building a refined product around them.

Is there a better alternative?

First off, if you’re not an iOS user, then you are currently out of luck with the iO. However, based on what the company has said at CES, an Android version of the iO may be coming later this year. We’re also eagerly waiting to review the Samsung Gear 360 (the new one), which will support iOS in addition to Android phones this time around. However, we doubt anything will match the iO’s powerful combination of portability, simplicity, and affordability – there’s nothing currently on the market like it.

How long will it last?

Our biggest concern is the battery, which is not user replaceable. We’re not sure how many charge cycles it will handle, but this could put a limit on the device’s long-term survivability. Over time, there’s also the chance that the lenses could get scratched. Again, the product feels well made, but its portability gives it an increased chance of living a more rough-and-tumble lifestyle.

Should you buy it?

If you have an iPhone or iPad and at least a passing interest in 360 video or live streaming, then absolutely. The Giroptic iO makes 360 video production effortless, affordable, and, perhaps most importantly, fun. Simply put, it is one of the best consumer applications of immersive video tech that we’ve yet seen. There will be competition, but the iO can hold its own.

Product Review

Packed with features, the Ring Spotlight Cam Wired makes home security a breeze

With an integrated spotlight, crystal-clear video, and color night vision, this device makes home security a cinch. Here's why we like the Ring Spotlight Cam Wired as a great choice for outdoor home security.
Product Review

From tables to porches, Ring's Stick Up Cam watches wherever you want

Ring’s latest home security camera offers more versatility than ever before, with the ability to mount it, set it on a table, or put it inside or outside. We got a chance to test it out. Here’s how it went.
Product Review

Nokia’s 3.1 Plus is an affordable phone that’s crippled by its camera

The Nokia 3.1 Plus is HMD Global’s first smartphone to be sold by a U.S. carrier in-store. It’s only available on Cricket Wireless right now, which underlines its focus on affordability. Should you buy a phone this affordable?
Wearables

To be blunt, the Vuzix Blade smartglasses just don’t cut it

We tried out the Vuzix Blade to find out if it’s worth shelling out $1,000 for smartglasses. Are these augmented reality, Android-powered glasses really ready for primetime or just an expensive gimmick that no one really needs?
Photography

Using A.I., Lightroom can now boost the resolution of RAW photos

Need to eek a bit more resolution out of a RAW file? Adobe Lightroom and Camera Raw can help with a new feature called Detail Enhance. The tool uses A.I. in the demosaicing process to enhance details and reduce artifacts.
Photography

Tight on space? Here’s how to transfer photos from an iPhone to a computer

Never lose any of your cherished selfies or family vacation photos from your iPhone again by learning how to transfer photos from your iPhone to a computer, whether you want to use a cable or wireless transfer.
Product Review

Canon democratizes full-frame with the EOS RP, but keep your expectations low

At just $1,300, the RP is Canon's least expensive full-frame camera yet, but it was born into a world of high-end, high-cost lenses where it doesn't yet feel at home.
Photography

Corel VideoStudio adds tools for customizing color in simple video edits

VideoStudio is Corel's more consumer-oriented video editor but the software recently gained advanced color correction tools. The update adds custom transitions, along with speeding up performance, and adding new shortcuts.
Computing

500px reveals almost 15 million users are caught up in security breach

Almost 15 million members of portfolio website 500px have been caught up in a security breach. The hack occurred in 2018 but was only discovered last week. Users are being told to change their 500px password as soon as possible.
Photography

Olympus packs an enormous zoom ability in its latest interchangeable lens

The Olympus Digital ED M.Zuiko 12-200mm F/3.5-6.3 has the widest zoom range of any interchangeable lens with a 16.6x zoom. The lens, which covers a 24-400mm equivalent, is also weather sealed.
Photography

Nikon brings a classic workhorse lens to the Z series with new 24-70mm f/2.8 S

The Nikon Z series finally has a bright zoom available without an adapter. The Nikkor Z 24-70mm F/2.8 S offers new coatings and more customizable controls in a smaller, lighter body than the comparable F-mount lens.
Photography

Nikon will bring eye-detection autofocus to the Z6 and Z7 in May

An upcoming firmware update will bring Eye AF to the Nikon Z6 and Z7 -- along with improved autofocus performance in low light. The update will also give the cameras support for the CFexpress format.
Photography

Fujifilm’s X-T30 is a semi-pro, feature-rich camera that’s affordable to boot

Fujifilm's newest mirrorless camera delivers the premium features of the X-T3 without the premium price, giving aspiring enthusiasts a lower-cost option that can still match the image quality of Fuji's flagship.
Photography

Fujifilm XP140 squeezes more durability, low-light ability into a waterproof cam

Fujifilm's waterproof compact can now head even further underwater. The Fujifilm XP140 features several upgrades, including a more durable body, a wider ISO range for low light, and expanded auto modes.