Hands on: Yezz Sfera

This smartphone's wacky 360-degree camera may change the way you take photos

We’re used to phones having two cameras, and moving the phone around to capture our subject. The Yezz Sfera, a crazy device by the relatively unknown company, has two cameras as well, but it’ll capture not only your primary subject, no matter whether you point it in that direction, plus the entire world around at the same time. That’s because it has the first 360-degree camera put into a smartphone, capturing VR-style immersive video and stills on the move. It’s revolutionary enough that it may change the way we take photos and video using a smartphone.

Sounds like a bizarre concept that’ll never become reality, right? Wrong. Fine, it still looks like that — it’s a prototype you see here — but its coming to the U.S. as an exclusive release this April, and we’ve given it a try. Its one of those devices that’s the product of various converging factors. VR on mobile has exploded in popularity, Yezz wants attention, and partner MediaTek is really keen to help companies create fun, unusual concepts. That’s the perfect recipe for an unusual and exciting device.

Revolutionary enough to change the way we take photos and video using a smartphone

The bug-eyed camera lenses on the front and rear capture 360-degree footage, just like other action cams. Once recorded, it can be viewed on the phone’s screen, and the viewpoint whirled around using your finger. However, the Sfera will come into its own when used with Google Cardboard. Google has the Cardboard Camera app for taking immersive stills, but the Sfera experience and functionality goes way beyond this.

Taking the 360-degree photos or movies can be done three ways, and all are different to how we’re used to interacting with a smartphone cam. There’s a live view where you can scroll around the frame while shooting, a 360-degree landscape view, and a split-screen front/rear option. Shooting the photos or video is also very different to normal. There’s no longer a need to point the camera at something specific, no need to worry you’ll miss something if you pan away, or if you can capture the majesty of an amazing landscape in a single image. Hold the Sfera in the same position, and it’ll record everything around you, with no need to move it at any point.

If you’re wondering how this is possible with two cameras, it’s down to some software magic that stitches the pictures or video taken by the fish-eye lenses into a 360-degree spherical image. This needs a lot of processing power, and the final Sfera will use MediaTek’s 2GHz oct-core Helio P10 chip with 3GB of RAM, but the footage we captured on the prototype was made using a dual-core chip, hence some slowness and a few glitches. It’s a prototype after all. The version used is also not the final design, obviously, but you can see a mock-up of how it’ll eventually turn out.

Yezz Sfera
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

The Sfera’s 360-degree pictures won’t have to only live on your phone and be viewed on Cardboard either. Yezz has made sharing to social networks, or its own portal, simple. Photos and videos will be converted into YouTube videos ready for direct linking, and are uploaded from the phone itself — no need to transfer to another device, or use special software. This makes the Sfera idea for action photography on the move, and Yezz has made the phone compatible with a variety of action cam accessories. A future version of the phone will even have a cam mount built into the body.

The Sfera is unlikely to appeal to a massive audience, but it’s a really exciting piece of tech — capturing one of the hottest trends around right now, and using it in a new and interesting way. It’s also the Sfera’s downside. This is a really new implementation of the tech, and the cams only capture at 5-megapixels, simply because the processor doesn’t exist that’ll competently handle a higher megapixel count on a phone. Otherwise, the Sfera’s spec is good. It runs Android 6.0 Marshmallow, has a 5.5-inch screen, 4G LTE, a 3000mAh battery, and 32GB of internal storage. There’s also a MicroSD card slot for another 64GB, and you’ll need all that space to store the inevitably large files.

Cool new tech like this is usually previewed a long time before release, and eventually given a prohibitively high price tag. Yezz isn’t doing that. The Sfera is available for pre-order through its own website now for $300, and shipments are expected to start at the end of April. At that price, the Sfera may turn out to be a surprise hit for Yezz, and in turn see the firm come out with more eye-catching, genre-busting tech in the future.

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