It’s almost impossible to go anywhere without seeing someone snapping a photo or recording a video with their smartphones. Whether it’s at a party, concert, or while walking down the street, it seems everyone needs to capture each little moment.
Designed to combat the habit of always taking your smartphone out, Ubiquiti Labs’ FrontRow is a wearable “lifestyle” camera. We took it for a test drive.
Looks stylish, until you wear it
Based on its marketing, regardless of whether you’re a skateboarder, photographer, or musician, FrontRow assures you its camera can keep up. It’s also supposed to be discreet enough that it can fit in with any outfit. We went with the black option, but FrontRow also comes in Rose Gold, which will be available soon.
On the outside, it’s an extremely sleek looking device. Upon first glance, it looks more like a stopwatch — taking on a teardrop shape with two buttons on the side of the device. One button is for taking photos and recording video and the other is a power button that can also be used to lock and unlock the 2-inch, circular, color touchscreen.
With a multi-wear connector, you have the option of using the lanyard for a necklace or the clip instead – which also doubles as a stand. For such a smooth looking wearable, the lanyard provided looks too rugged and doesn’t complement the camera’s style.
We were also getting serious gym teacher vibes while wearing it; some thought it channeled Flavor Flav. There are third-party accessories that you can use instead, but they don’t make the wearable look any less like a camera hanging from your neck.
We love that the FrontRow can capture such high-quality footage, but we don’t love the look or price tag.
For men, the clip could work — since button-down shirts and t-shirts often include small pockets. But for women whose wardrobe consists of blouses, we can’t possibly see the clip going anywhere but the pockets on your pants. For the hefty price, you should be able to wear it wherever you want. However, the camera’s wide-angle lens will capture most of what’s in front of you, regardless of placement.
It’s not discreet when it comes to size. While it fits in the palm of your hand, it looks much bigger when it’s actually worn. It doesn’t weigh heavy on your neck, at just over 2 ounces, but people will definitely notice it’s there. We wore it on two different occasions and couldn’t help but wonder if people were staring at us.
Easy to use FrontRow app, but you don’t always need it
The FrontRow camera — which runs on a modified Android operating system — connects to your phone via the FrontRow app using Wi-Fi (Bluetooth is used for quick pairing between camera and phone, while functions like sharing remote operation utilize Wi-Fi). We found the initial setup and pairing process easy.
Unlike other connected cameras, the FrontRow can operate independently. That means you can save photos and videos on the device, create a live broadcast (provided the FrontRow could connect to a Wi-Fi network), or adjust settings without ever needing a phone. You will need the phone when you want to remotely see a live-view of what’s being recorded, transfer content to your phone and share to social media, or leverage your phone’s cellular data when Wi-Fi isn’t available.
With the FrontRow app or on the camera, you can choose between three different modes — camera, video, and story. When you’re in camera mode, you simply press the button on the side of the device to snap a photo. Recording video is equally as simple: Once you hit record you’ll see a notification pop up letting you know the video is now recording.
Our favorite is Story Mode, which captures a time-lapse of your experience. Using a built-in motion sensor, it takes a photo every 3 to 5 seconds and then puts it together to form a video once you’re done. After you download the video from the FrontRow to your phone, you can use the app to edit parts of it, like cutting out a specific frame or adjusting the playback speed.
You can share any of your content to social media platforms, whether it’s Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook. There’s also the option to send it to someone else through email or text messaging, and store it on third-party cloud services like Google Drive. We wish social sharing didn’t require the FrontRow app, however.
For those who use Dropbox, you can add it directly into the app through your storage settings. Whenever you’re connected to Wi-Fi, FrontRow will automatically back up your files to your Dropbox account. You also have the option to only back up the files you’ve specifically favorited.
Either through the FrontRow app or the device itself, you can also live-stream directly to Facebook Live, Twitter, and YouTube. Although you don’t need your phone to go live, in most instances we found ourselves doing so simply because there isn’t always an open Wi-Fi network around, and we like being able to see what we were recording. When we first went live, we received notifications telling us our network connection was poor, but the most recent firmware update has improved the issue.
The app also gives you access to your gallery known as “Moments,” and your settings where you can keep track of your stats — ranging from how many times you’ve gone Live, to how many photos and videos you have stored. You can also use it to change the wallpaper on the FrontRow’s display.
As mentioned, the camera can be used as a standalone device. We liked how highly responsive the touchscreen was. On the main screen, you can scroll through the carousel of apps ranging from social media platforms to FrontRow Story. You can also play back photos and videos. In its most recent firmware update, there was even a translation app added for those who travel. Because it’s running Android, it’s possible we could see new apps that go beyond imaging, turning the FrontRow from camera to a smartphone companion.
You can use the FrontRow display as a live-view monitor. Of course, it’s useless if you’re wearing it as a medallion on your chest or clipped elsewhere on your body; instead, you’d use remote operation via the FrontRow app on a phone. But for lifelogging purposes, you shouldn’t need to look at what’s being recorded, and just trust the FrontRow’s wide-angle to capture it all. In the beginning, we found ourselves with our phone out often, because we didn’t trust what the camera was looking at. But eventually we grew used to not being so in control because it means you’re hands-free and enjoying the moment, rather than fidgeting with a gadget.
Long lasting battery, but not so fast charging
The FrontRow camera comes with a USB Type-C charger along with fast-charging. On standby, the FrontRow will last up to 50 hours but recording and live streaming will give you approximately 2 hours if you’re lucky. When we used Story mode to capture footage, we started on 100-percent battery power and were down to 75 percent within an hour. After leaving it on standby overnight, we still had about 17 percent worth of battery left.
The company claims the camera can fast-charge in 20 minutes, but only if you use a wall charger. Plugging the USB into your laptop will take much longer. Unfortunately, when we plugged it into a wall outlet, it took 40 more minutes to get to 100 percent. Using our laptop, the camera was only at 19 percent after 18 minutes of charging.
It’s important to note this device isn’t meant for all-day recording. Similar to the way you’d record on Snapchat and Instagram, it’s more for capturing moments you think are worthy and interesting of having on file. If you’re looking for a camera that is capable of lasting all day, you’re better off with a standard digital camera, action camera, or camcorder.
Clear image and audio quality
The rear camera is rated at 8 megapixels, with an f/2.2 aperture, and goes from 1080p resolution up to 2.7K. The front-facing camera is rated at 5 megapixels, with an f/2.0 aperture, and starts from 1080p resolution, but only goes up to 2K. Both cameras also have a maximum frame rate of 30 frames per second.
We were pleasantly surprised by how clear not only the photo and video quality was, but also the audio quality. We took our FrontRow to a warehouse event filled with tons of people, low light, and loud noise, which would normally leave you with washed out footage and inaudible sounds. But when playing back the video on the camera, it was extremely crisp.
The device also uses optical image stabilization (OIS) to make sure your photos and videos aren’t shaky. OIS utilizes a floating lens, gyroscopes, and small motors. Using a microcontroller, the lens counteracts external motion. When capturing video, the camera employs electronic image stabilization (EIS), which uses software to make sure the image is stable. EIS isn’t as effective as OIS, but we’d have it rather than not.
Power walking through streets of New York City, footage taken by the camera didn’t seem to wobble much, if at all. That’s good, since the last thing you want to do is nauseate your friends when you show them a video from your day in New York. Your mileage may vary, depending on how labor intensive your activity is.
The FrontRow camera is pricey. It will run you $400, which is far more expensive than any other wearable camera you’ll find on the market these days. For this price, you’re essentially getting features that allow you to be more connected on social media. It’s also hands-free which means you won’t have to spend more money on extra accessories.Our Take
We love that the FrontRow is capable of capturing such high-quality footage with ease. You’re not tethered to your phone when on-the-go and can look back at your photos and videos through the touchscreen. But even with a sleek design, it’s still not practical enough to be worn casually without feeling like everyone is staring at you.
Is there a better alternative?
While Snapchat Spectacles don’t have any fancy specs or features, they definitely make more sense aesthetically, and are more practical and cheaper for $130. But Spectacles only work with Snapchat; you won’t have HD quality footage; and you need to constantly have your phone in your hand. Another option is to get a small action cam like the GoPro Hero5 Session, which you can mount to your clothing and use voice control to activate when to start recording. You can’t connect directly to the internet, but it has two fantastic companion apps (GoPro and Quik) for creating video stories of your day, quickly and easily.
How long will it last?
When it comes to durability, the FrontRow is water-resistant and made mostly of glass, aside from the aluminum border. You probably won’t be able to take it on extremely intense adventures without having anxiety the glass will crack.
In terms of software, FrontRow is on top of updates and releases them often, in order to fix bugs or add helpful apps. During testing, a firmware update added a translation app and beta 4K recording.
Should you buy it?
No. If you’re into simply capturing moments here and there, you’re better off spending your $400 on a device you’ll use more often, like a phone. However, if vlogging your everyday life — especially through social media — is part of your full-time job or hobby, then FrontRow could be the perfect companion. And the potential to run apps and function as a secondary screen (a la smartwatch) could make the $400 easier to swallow.
But we will say, we think the company is onto something. We don’t think FrontRow’s approach to a wearable camera is ideal (we just couldn’t help feel embarrassed while wearing it), but it’s the closest to cracking the formula for what makes a good social camera. Despite our qualms about looks, it is fun and easy to use, and the ability to use it independently is a good selling point.