Samsung Gear 360 hands-on first impressions

Samsung's Gear 360 VR camera looks like a robotic eye, but it's made for 360 video

Samsung’s Gear 360 camera looks like a cute little robot with a big eye, but it’s actually a 360-degree camera for creating cool VR content.

The main problem with virtual reality right now is that there isn’t a lot of content to view. Samsung wants to solve its own problem with a 360-degree camera called the Gear 360. It’s an adorable, spherical dual-fish-eye-lens camera that’s meant to be a content creation tool for Samsung’s Gear VR. We spent some time with the Gear 360 at a press event in New York ahead of Mobile World Congress.

Adorable design

The Gear 360 looks like an adorable cyclops from the front, but it actually has two eyes. The fish-eye lenses are on opposite sides of the cam, which is smaller than a baseball, and an imperfect sphere. Depending on your frame of reference, you’ll either be seriously creeped out by its staring lens and recall HAL from 2001:A Space Odyssey, or you’ll think it’s an adorable disembodied version of Wall-E from the Pixar film of the same name. We definitely fell into the latter camp, thinking it cute rather than quietly murderous.

The device weighs a mere 153 grams, so it’s easy to carry with you anywhere you go. It comes with a little tripod that screws onto the base using a universal mount, meaning you can also use your own camera accessories. Samsung told us it’ll have more accessories for the device, but the range is to be determined in the future. There’s no need to worry about if the Gear 360 gets wet in a light rain or hit with a little dust, thanks to an IP53 dust and water resistance rating, but that’s not enough for it to survive if it takes a serious dip in deep water.

Related Offer: Mobile virtual reality is here, check out Samsung’s Gear VR

Opening a cover on one side of the sphere reveals a few ports, including a MicroSD card slot for expandable storage up to 128GB, a removable 1,350mAh battery pack, and a Micro USB port. On the other side of the device are two buttons: one for changing the mode and another to power it on. There’s a small screen on the top of the device right next to the record button. You can see what mode you’re in on the display.

Dual fish-eye lenses

Since Samsung’s main intention with the Gear 360 is for you to create more content viewable on the Oculus-powered Gear VR headset, the camera’s main purpose is to shoot 360-degree video. It does this by stitching together two 195-degree images captured by the dual fisheye lenses. A lot of 360-degree cams, including Ricoh’s Theta S and the Nikon KeyMission 360, use the same technique to create 360-degree views. Others, like the Vuze VR camera, use eight different sensors to capture even more image data.

The Gear 360’s high resolution sensors that can capture 3,840 x 1,920 pixel resolution 360-degree video or 30 megapixel still images. It’s higher resolution than you’ll get from less pricey 360 cameras like the Luna 360, though it’s much more limited than the Nikon KeyMission 360 camera, which shoots in 4K. Samsung argues that the resolution it’s chosen is a sweet spot — not so high that the price gets jacked up, but not too low for VR viewing. We saw some video footage of a ski slope on the Gear VR that was shot by the Gear 360, and it looked pretty impressive.

If you don’t want to do 360-degree video, you can use just one of the camera lenses to shoot 180-degree wide angle video or images. Both of the cameras feature Bright Lens F2.0 aperture’s, which should do well in low light, though we didn’t have much opportunity to test it out. It’s unclear how the Gear 360 will stack up in comparison with other 360-degree cameras, and we’re not sure how great its appeal will be with the average buyer.

Sharing and stitching

To tempt people who may not have considered buying a 360 cam before, Samsung has made it easy to share the 360-degree videos shot on the Gear 360, and it’s possible to link the camera with certain Galaxy smartphones, including the new Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 Edge. When the camera is synced to the phone via Bluetooth, you can see live footage on your phone screen and even use it as a remote control. Every video you shoot with the Gear 360 will automatically appear on and be saved to your phone. That way, you can watch what you filmed or share it on Facebook, YouTube, or other social sites.

The Gear 360 looks like an adorable cyclops from the front, but it actually has two eye-like lenses.

The Galaxy S7 does all the heavy lifting and stitches the two fields of view together into one video. Be prepared for a wait though. These are large, complex files, and even on the new Galaxy S7 rendering took time. An approximately 30-second video took around 20-seconds to build, and even 360-degree stills had a visible loading bar to watch before the image was complete. Older, less powerful phones may struggle even more, and larger video files may take a substantial amount of time before being ready to view. Samsung has produced a dedicated Gear 360 app and it’s available through the Google Play Store, but dedicated PC software will allow for more in-depth editing of the footage.

Samsung has yet to announce a price or specific availability date for the Gear 360, though it did say the cam would arrive in Q2 2016 in some countries.

Highs

  • Cute, compact design
  • Quick and easy editing of footage
  • Higher resolution than 1080p

Lows

  • Unknown price
  • Only works with certain phones
  • Potentially long transfer times
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