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Why Samsung's 360 camera is perfect... if you're a Samsung fanboy

Review: The Gear 360 is a nice piece of kit, but will only work with a select few high-end Samsung smartphones.

JUST A FEW years ago, the idea that anyone with even a passing knowledge of how a smartphone and camera works could create 360-degree video seemed a bit far-fetched.

Now we can, and that’s great – but what exactly are you going to film?

360-degree video is a clip that is filmed from all angles. Watch it on a computer and you can drag the camera to any viewpoint – you can look behind the photographer, as well as up, down, left and right. Basically, the viewer can put themselves in the midst of any scene.

GIF2 An example of a 360 video filmed underwater.

This also means it can be used to create virtual reality (VR) footage. You can load the video onto your phone, place it in a pair of VR goggles, and the movement of your head is tracked so you can look around the scene.

GIF3 It looks a bit daft to anyone else, but this is how you look around a scene while wearing VR glasses.

If you’re mountain biking down the side of a cliff-face or exploring some long-lost ruins on a exotic holiday, being able to share your experience in such a format is certainly worthwhile, but for most smartphone users the reasons to shoot in 360 are more limited – is that blurry Snapchat of you and your mates in a nightclub at 3am going to translate well in 360?

Facebook has bet big on this. They want users to upload more 360 video. They see it as something that will soon take off, but there is still barriers in terms of perceived difficulty of creating 360 video and also finding subjects worthy of the format.

Samsung is hoping its Gear 360 will help kick-off the 360/VR video revolution – but it remains to be see whether the company’s little white eyeball-shaped camera is the one to do that.

Samsung's Gear 360 camera The Gear 360 along with a pair of Gear VR glasses. Source: DPA/PA Images

The basics

The Gear 360 was first showcased around March 2016 and has been available in Ireland since last autumn, retailing for €350.

The device itself is small, light, and comes with a tripod which allows the camera to sit about two inches off a surface. This doubles as a handle.

Like other 360 cameras on the market, it consists of two opposing wide-angle lenses, meaning it films in all directions and the two videos are then stitched together using editing software to form a single piece of footage.

TEC-Digital Life-Shooting 360 Video Source: AP/Press Association Images

The camera is simple to use – there’s a power button, a menu button, and a shutter button – and Samsung says it is splash and dustproof.

It emits a series of soft beeps and warbles as you navigate through its various functions – you almost become a little attached to it, as if it’s your very own little pocket-sized R2D2. You feel the need to say goodnight as you tuck it back into its case after use.

Our trial

However, our fledgling relationship with this tiny and oddly cheerful white ball hit a stumbling block very early on.

While the camera itself can be used as a standalone device, to access more features you need to pair it with a high-end Samsung phone over Bluetooth.

After downloading the dedicated Gear 360 app (and an extra software package to activate it), the camera refused to pair successfully with a Samsung Gear S7.

Devices were turned off and on and software reinstalled to the extent that this trial almost became a test of how well the device handled being hurled against a wall, but after yet more whirls and chirping from the Gear 360, it finally paired with the phone.

photo5915716554706757571 Source: TheJournal.ie

(That was only after it was successfully connected to another Samsung phone, which worked on the first try and without issue, suggesting the fault may have lie with the individual phone rather than camera, as the S7 is a well-reviewed, capable and powerful phone).

The app allows you to see a live feed from the camera as well as remotely operate it, meaning you don’t have to be standing over it with your finger on the shutter to take a photo. This frees you up to take a group photo, or record a video without you being immediately in shot.

Connecting the camera to a phone also allows you to upload your videos and pictures directly to social media, with Facebook releasing exclusive support for the Gear 360 this week with its 360 app.

For this trial, the videos were transferred directly to a PC to be edited. Samsung provides special software that allows your computer to view and edit the clips – everything here was clear and easy to understand, and a big bonus is that a separate editing program wasn’t required to edit the clips together (a pain experienced with other 360 cameras).

This meant that the workflow of shooting, editing, and uploading video was quick and easy.

PastedImage-48185 A view of the desktop editing software Samsung provides.

This trial shot the video in standard quality, not 4K, as the average user isn’t going to have the buckets of storage required for larger videos.

View it on a small screen and you won’t see much of a problem, but it won’t hold up as well on a computer monitor or TV screen. For personal use this isn’t much of a bugbear.

Here’s a look at our footage:

Source: TheJournal.ie/YouTube

Viewing on mobile? Click here to view video in 360

Step things up a gear with 4K, and you start to see impressive results – but they’re still a little rough around the edges.

This is because 360 cameras – not just Samsung’s offering – do not shoot 4K is all directions. The combined image is 4K, but any one point won’t be.

Here’s a more exciting example than this journalist sitting on a fountain and learning against a tree in a park:

Source: Ty Moss/YouTube

Viewing on mobile? Click here to view video in 360

Should you buy it?

The market for 360 cameras is now massively accessible to anyone with even a passing interest in this kind of photography.

The Gear 360 is no exception to this. Teething problems aside, the app worked without issue, allowing us to immediately watch back videos created with the camera, as well as being able to watch them in full 360 using Gear VR glasses (although reviewing our moment in St Stephen’s Green wasn’t the most exciting content).

But unless you are a dedicated Samsung user, you might be better off looking elsewhere.

To take full advantage of the Gear 360′s pricetag, you must already be locked into the Samsung ecosystem with a particular Samsung phone (the S6 and S7 range, along with the Note 5) and the Gear 360 glasses.

The Gear 360 camera could not be more of a perfect fit if that Samsung fanboy or fangirl is you.

If you’re anyone else, your cash might be better spent elsewhere.

The average user could instead look towards the Ricoh Theta series or the LG 360 CAM, and those in need of high-quality, 4K footage might see value in spending a little more on something like the 360fly Action Camera to ensure it’s compatible with more phones.

The pros:

  • Light and compact
  • Simple to operate
  • High quality 4K footage as good as you will get for the price
  • Accompanying software makes editing a breeze
  • Makes a series of amusing beeps, cheeps, peeps, whirls

The cons

  • Standard video quality isn’t anything special
  • You have to be a Samsung fan with a top-of-the-range Samsung phone to take full advantage of this Samsung device (did I say Samsung?)

Our review of the Samsung Galaxy S7 >

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