360 photos and videos are all the rage nowadays. With the arrival of 360 cameras, we no longer have to settle for apps which help you stitch together multitudes of photos taken at all angles, just to have that one-shot of everything. Who wants to rotate their body to snap away to fill the spaces within the 360° scape around, looking like a clown?
The Samsung Gear 360 is just the thing to skip all the tedium, as it allows the snapping of a full 360 photo in an instant, thanks to its dual-lens design, with each covering 180° on each side.
My first impression of the Gear 360 was how much it reminded me of the Sentry Turret from the Portal game series,. When the tripod is detached from the camera, it resembles Wheatley from Portal. This alone has already won me over in terms of its design aesthetics. There is a 0.5″ PMOLED display at the top which works well outdoors, and does a great job of showing its various modes, settings, and photo/video count.
Flip open the side panel and you’ll get access to the MicroSD card slot (supports up to 200GB), the removable battery, and USB port. The camera can take admirable photos in 14M or 30M resolutions. As for video, it ranges from 1920×960 up to 3840×1920 at 30fps (frames-per-second). There’s even a 2560×1280 option which clocks in at 60fps! As if stills and videos aren’t enough, the camera also has a third mode which allows taking of time lapse videos.
In terms of using the camera with the accompanying Gear 360 app, it was an absolute breeze. Upon launching the app, the Bluetooth and Wi-Fi direct of your smartphone will turn on automatically. With a quick tap on the “Connect” button, you’re all set. There’s an even quicker way to connect the two devices though – simply turn on NFC on your smartphone, and touch the Gear 360 to the back of your phone, and voila!
Between taking shots and videos, you’d have to make sure to power off the camera often when not in use, otherwise it can be quite a battery drain on your phone.
With all those specs and aesthetics, the Samsung Gear 360 doesn’t come in cheap, at S$498.
The first thing you should know is that the Gear 360 only works with select Samsung phone models, so if you aren’t using any of the flagship phones in recent years, you’re out of luck. As of this writing, the device supports the Galaxy S6, S6 edge, S6 edge+, S7, S7 edge, Note 5, Note7 and all future releases.
If you don’t own any of these phones, you’re not entirely out of luck as the camera can also function independently without a phone. The catch is you’d be taking photos and videos blindly, via the top button on the unit. You can then extract the files directly off the MicroSD card after.
360 Photos in Action
Though the first instinct is to upload 360 photos to Facebook, I decided to go with Flickr instead for the purpose of this review, since it is able to support embedded 360 photos (which Facebook doesn’t, unfortunately). One problem I did notice though, was how the top and bottom of the photo had jaggies, which were absent when uploaded onto Facebook (this is clearly an issue with how Flickr post-processes the photos, so the camera’s clearly not at fault here).
Here is the first 360 photo, taken at the Star Trek Beyond World Premiere at SDCC 2016. If you’re wondering how this would look as a Facebook 360 photo, you can have a look here. My preference is to have it uploaded onto Facebook, as the Facebook software seemed to handle the stitching much better, which is very apparent with the “Gear 360” logo at the base.
Next up, a 360 photo taken on the show floor of the San Diego Comic-Con (SDCC) 2016.
Lastly, a 360 photo taken at the Yosemite National Park. Once again, there are some graphical jaggies on the top and bottom of the photo, which is only present when uploaded to Flickr.
360 Video in Action
Now let’s head back to the show floor of SDCC 2016, but this time in 360 video form, and recorded in 2560×1280 (60fps). While the quality of the videos taken with the Gear 360 was admirable, they pale in comparison to the amazingly crisp and gorgeous 360 photos above. Audio was decent, and comparable to what most modern day smartphones could produce.
Unfortunately, I did not manage to make a recording at the full 3840×1920 (30fps) resolution, which may have bumped up the overall quality. Clearly, my inner geek couldn’t resist the thought of having a video at 60fps versus 30fps!
The Minor Gripes
Now for a few downsides to the Gear 360. The first thing you’ll notice when you first hold it in your hands, is how bulky it is. It’s fine when you store it in a bag, but should you stuff it in your pocket, like I did, the bulge is pretty significant, and quite a hindrance to mobility. Yes, I’m that happy to see you.
Another issue I noticed on quite a number of the photos taken, were how the stitching of the two camera lenses weren’t quite handled very well. It’s understandable, since the device makes use of two different cameras, that it would have different exposures to light from the front and rear camera, but surely the software could have done something to “auto-blend” the colour variances down the middle of the image. Perhaps an app or firmware update is in order? Have a look at the two examples below, where the stitch lines are pretty apparent.
Another problem I had with the device is how the bottom portion of the photos and videos always tend to show bits of its tripod legs or shadow, which I suppose is unavoidable. One way to get around it though, is to enable the “Gear 360” logo via the phone app’s settings. This essentially slaps a big grey circle to the base, to cover it all up. It worked out pretty well (for all the photos and videos I took), but it might be a huge turn off for some, with just how blatant the Samsung branding is.
- Camera: Dual CMOS 15MP sensor (Dual F2.0 Fisheye Lens)
- Movie Resolution: Dual Cam – up to 3840 x 1920 (30fps), Single Cam – 2560 x 1440 (30fps)
- Still Resolution: Dual Cam – up to 7776 x 3888 (30M), Single Cam – 3072 x 1728 (5M)
- Sensor: Gyro, Accelerometer
- Dimensions: 66.7 x 56.3 x 60.1mm
- Display: 0.5″ (72 x 32) PMOLED
- Memory: 1GB RAM and MicroSD Card (up to 200GB)
- Battery: 1350mAh
- Connectivity: WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac (2.4/5GHz), Wi-Fi Direct, Bluetooth 4.1, USB 2.0, NFC
- Compatible Devices: Galaxy S6, S6 edge, S6 edge+, S7, S7 edge, Note 5 with the Samsung Gear 360 Manager app