Seeing the Samsung Gear 360 in person immediately reminded me of my Logitech webcam from the 90s, but it’s really the most cutting-edge VR capture technology meant for consumers.
I was basically able to build my own virtual reality world at MWC 2016 thanks to its dual fisheye lenses that stitched together 360 video and captured 30MP still photos with the press of a button. It’s was easy as that.
The Samsung Gear 360 isn’t the only consumer-grade VR capturing camera I tested at MWC. The LG 360 Cam, also announced here in Barcelona, has the same wide angle ambitions.
But everything is to Samsung’s advantage: it has a popular virtual reality headset on the heads of its Galaxy phone users right now, and it has that clutch Facebook partnership.
The spherical Samsung Gear 360 is built to be palmable and lightweight for on-the-go filming, meaning you’ll be able to tote it around the world and capture your travels in 360 degrees.
This isn’t heavy-duty equipment anymore, measuring 66.7 x 56.2 x 60 mm – slightly smaller than the size of a baseball – and having a weight of 153g when the battery is included.
Neither is the mini, easy-to-connect tripod. It uses the camera’s 1/4 inch thread, meaning it can be taken off and replaced with a real, full-sized tripod.
Camera controls are built right into the Gear 360, even though there are also ways to record in the app. That’s convenient for fast recording reflexes without diving into the companion app.
Sitting right at the top is a giant red record button, and it’s adjacent to a small .05-inch PMOLED display. You won’t have to be clutching the phone all of the time to know your recording status.
Around the side is a Bluetooth button for connecting the Samsung Gear 360 to new devices and a Back button for navigating through the Gear 360 app’s menus.
On the other side, where the camera is emblazoned with the Samsung logo, there’s a tiny door that shields the microSD card slot, micro USB port and removable battery. Yes, this is one Samsung device that supports both microSD cards and swappable batteries.
Everything around the glass fisheye lenses is made of plastic, unlike the Samsung Galaxy S7 you’re going to pair it with, but it should remain durable enough.
Samsung says that its 360 camera can be slipped into a bag. The bigger issue may be its bulbous design. It isn’t as sleek as the more pocketable LG 360 Cam.
The Samsung Gear 360 isn’t waterproof either, but it is certified for IP53 protection. It can stand up to dust and water droplets, but is short of IP68. It’s not ready to go for a swim.
This is where the Samsung Gear 360 is going to be virtual-world changing. It sticks two 15MP cameras back-to-back for high resolution 360 video at 3840 x 1920.
Your spinning world doesn’t always have to be moving, of course. The camera’s dual lens setup also captures still 30MP photos that create panoramic images at 7776 x 3888.
The day you own a Gear 360 is the day you stop painstakingly panning your phone from left to right for panoramic and get shouted at for not going slowly enough. This does it all in a snap.
Halving the video and photo is also possible by turning off one of the lenses for 180-degree wide angle video and images using only one of the camera lens. Trust me, it’s still incredibly wide.
Everything that came out in my tests was properly lit and in focus. This is Samsung making use of its Bright Lens 2.0 aperture that’s always supposed to be ready for low-light conditions.
What I couldn’t see were the sealed-up internals: a DRIMe5s image processor, 1GB of RAM and, accelerometer and gyro sensors. The 1350mAh battery is thankfully removable through a trap door.
Software and compatibility
Everything the Samsung Gear 360 camera soaked up around me was transported to my face as if it were right before me, even if I moved away from where the recording had happened.
Even more surreal was seeing the live results of both videos and photos stitched together in real time on the Samsung Galaxy S7 phone I was using. I could drag screen to see behind me.
The Gear 360 app has more video recording options beyond what you’ll get by tapping that big red record button. Besides 360 degree video and photos there are time lapse and looping video modes.
Everything this Samsung camera records is output in MP4 (H.265) for video and JPEG format for still videos, so it’s easily transferable to your phone, computer, Facebook and YouTube.
All of these phones can run the required Samsung Gear 360 Manager app, and there’s a PC software equivalent called the Gear 360 Action Director.
The Samsung Gear 360 is a palmable VR camera that works best in the hands of early adopters who consider themselves creative types. The Samsung Gear VR’s pre-installed 360 degree photos section does an excellent job at introduction new users to an immersive world, and soon, those same users can graduate to capturing their own 360 degree photo and video content.
Samsung has the right technology to back it all up. The company’s world-class mobile camera technology transitions to this standalone dual 15MP camera setup, and the results are surreal. Its body is bigger than the LG 360 Cam, so I won’t be shoving this bulk camera into my jeans pocket without getting stranger than normal looks, and this version isn’t ready for my underwater snorkeling shots. It’s a bit too delicate at this stage.
If it launches at the right price when it releases in the Q2 2016, it could easily become the de facto VR capture camera for consumers, just like the Samsung Gear VR is doing right now as an affordable headset.
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