In July, when I was walking through the sea of geek humanity that was San Diego Comic-Con, I saw a bunch of people walking around with these tiny white balls on sticks. It turned out that Samsung had a booth and was allowing fans to borrow their new Samsung Gear 360° camera to record their day in virtual reality. Or at least 360°. Either way, it was a genius marketing ploy. So I figured for this review, I’d get in on that and let you guys know my thoughts on it.
First let’s take a quick tour around the Gear 360°. About the size of a tennis ball, the Gear 360 comes with a pair of fisheye lenses juxtaposed on the front and back. That’s similar in concept to the Ricoh Theta S we reviewed here, but it’s definitely a step up.
With that ball-like shape, it’s not going to fit too comfortably in your pocket, like the Theta does, but when you see the images it provides, you definitely won’t mind so much. The Gear 360 comes with a bag, battery, two cables and a tiny tabletop tripod which can double as a handle.
The Gear has a few buttons on the top to handle turning it on, cycling through the various features which include settings, video, still image capture, time lapse, video looping, and you can also dedicate one lens for a super-wide video or still image capture like a typical action camera. It also has a time code counter, though I’m not sure it’s industry standard.
Samsung says that the Gear 360° can that capture 180° horizontally and vertically. Sort of. I mean, there are a few inches of separation between the front and rear camera, but Samsung says that the camera provides a seamless and complete 360° field of view. The company says as a proviso that there “may be certain blind spots and double images created by the Gear 360.” So it really can’t be a complete spherical view, but it’s close enough.
The key part though, is that the Samsung Gear 360° gives you 4K video of 3840 x 1920, plus 25.9 megapixel still images (2560 x 1440 single cam mode), and with a bright f/2.0 lens on either side — it’s super fast. The Gear 360° promises to be durable too, just like any action camera, with a certified IP rate of 53 for protection against dust and water exposure, but it is not water proof.
It’s also so small and light, that you could mount it to a drone and get a sweet flying 360° aerial shot, and then stitch it together and share it to the net without even landing. That’s the real benefit that the Gear 360° enjoys over its competitors like the Theta S. The Gear 360° can stitch its own 360° video, because you use it in concert with your Galaxy S7 or S7 EDGE smartphone via Bluetooth and WiFi to handle the interface, and get a live view of the action. The interface is easy to use and works as advertised.
I found it to have no real glitches and it recorded just fine. You are going to want to attach the Gear 360 to a monopod, selfie stick, or handheld stabilizer, to be sure, but it has a 1/4-20 tripod mount so there’s no need for any additional mount attachments to make that happen. We used a combination selfie stick and tabletop tripod that came with the unit.
Once you’ve finished recording, you can transfer the files to your phone, and that’s when the Gear App stitches everything together for you. This is a handy feature since, as you may recall we ran into conversion issues with the Theta S. There’s no issues with the Samsung Gear 360° other than the time it takes to stitch together the 4K video streams. Once done, you can upload them to Facebook, YouTube, or watch them with a Samsung Gear VR headset or Google Cardboard.
- Record 360° Spherical Photos/Videos
- Dual 15MP CMOS Sensors
- Dual f/2.0 Fisheye Lenses
- 3840 x 1920 Video Recording at 30 fps
- 30MP Still Images in Dual Lens Mode
- Dual & Single Lens Modes
- Built-In Wi-Fi, Bluetooth & NFC
- Supports microSD Card Up to 128GB
- Google Street View Compatible
To properly watch the videos below, make sure you’re using a Google Chrome browser:
So what are my thoughts? This thing is awesome. The sheer fact that it records in 4K and then stitches the video image together and it still retains a high resolution image is fantastic. You can record as long as you need to but when it’s time to offload the 360° video, the camera works in concert with the app on the smartphone to not only download the video from the camera to the phone, but to stitch it together so that it’s ready to view or share on the spot.
You don’t have to use any third-party encoding software unless you want to edit clips together. Samsung has their own app called the Samsung 360° Action Director that you can download to your PC, but if all your doing is capturing that ‘Kodak moment’ and sharing it with the world, then everything you need to do is in the phone’s app.
Sadly, that’s the two-edged sword. The Samsung Gear 360° doesn’t work with any other phone but the Galaxy S7 or S7 EDGE. In fact, when Samsung was loaning out the camera to us at Comic-Con, if you didn’t have the right phone, you had to borrow one of their as well. They wanted to make sure we had all the tools to get the entire experience, and that’s more than appreciated. I believe support for the Note 7 is coming soon, but that’s it. So if you’re an iPhone user, or have a different smartphone, you’re out of luck.
So if you’re looking to buy a 360° camera to start shooting virtual reality and 360° videos, you’re going to have to buy into the entire Samsung eco system and get a new phone, as well. That’s kind of a drag, but it’s also shooting in 4K and that’s going to require a boatload of horsepower in order to stitch together that image and then upload it to the cloud for all the world to see. So I understand why Samsung had to limit it to their most recent models.
But there are other Android phones out there that can compete with the Galaxy S7, and the iPhone 6S Plus can also shoulder that load. So it’s unfortunate that Samsung is playing the proprietary game.
There are reports of an app that will enable users to deploy the Gear 360° with other smartphones, but it’s been created by a forum member over at the XDA Developer forums. It’s called the Samsung Gear 360 Manager. and it adds support for the Galaxy S6, Galaxy S6 Edge, Galaxy S6 Edge +, Galaxy Note 5.
But the downside there is that it’ll be in lower quality, the stitching performance will be unreliable and the app will crash, causing you to lose any videos you have. But if you want to try it, it’s called the Samsung Gear 360° Manager. As mentioned above, there’s no support for the iPhone at all, but since the Gear 360° is Google Street View compatible, there’s a rumored workaround which enables to connect through the street view iOS app [affiliate link], but you can only take stills. No video.
Still, even with these shortcomings, I have to say that when it comes to all in one, single unit 360° cameras, the Samsung Gear 360° is the best one out there right now. It records in 4K, doesn’t rely on a desktop app to stitch together the image to enjoy it, and it works as advertised. It’s a pity that iPhone users can’t get in on this, and honestly, I am not a fan of Android. But if you’re a Samsung Galaxy fan and your contract is up, and if you want to get a 360° camera, the Gear 360 is definitely the one to get when it comes to the US this September. Price is $349 [affiliate link].
- 4K 360° video and stills
- Auto stitching via the Samsung 360 app
- Share to Facebook and YouTube
- Excellent 4K VR image
- Comes with tablet top handheld tripod
- Spherical design isn’t easy to pocket
- Not available in the US until this fall
- Only compatible with Samsung Galaxy S7 or S7 EDGE, Note 7 Coming