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Samsung Gear 360 review: A VR camera you won’t love — or hate

Samsung's Gear 360 and Gear VR headset


We’re in peak 360-degree media territory with a marketplace teeming with enabling devices. From the Ricoh Theta to the 360fly, I-mmersive’s Veye, Kodak’s SP360, and others, there’s no shortage of options. Samsung has tossed its proverbial hat in the ring with its Gear 360 camera, which launched in April. But how does it really stack up?

Although it’s relatively easy to use and performs as promised, the Samsung Gear 360 doesn’t stand out as much as it should, especially considering all the resources the company has at its disposal. And since it’s a first-generation product, there are some quirks that stuck out to us when reviewing the device, including issues around portability, software, and its proprietary nature.

Priced at $350, the Samsung Gear 360 is on par with many of its competitors. Weighing in at 5.39 ounces (153 grams), it’s equipped with two F/2.0 fisheye lenses that capture 195-degree photos and videos. Although it comes with a miniature tripod attachment, the device has a universal mount, so you can use it on a professional-grade tripod, a monopod, gorillapod, or even with a selfie stick — perhaps the preferred use case for many people.

Baseball-sized camera looks cool, but is it?

When Samsung first unveiled the baseball-shaped device earlier this year, I was excited about giving it a go, especially with the ecosystem that the company is building around its smartphones and virtual reality. But while the Gear 360 seemed cool at first, I started to feel self-conscious about using it out in public, imagining how odd it must look to see someone holding a round camera in the air perched atop a selfie stick.

And the camera’s unusual shape may be its biggest flaw: It’s not exactly pocket-friendly. This might dissuade some from buying it over slimmer cameras, such as the Ricoh Theta and LG 360.

Comparing the size of the Samsung Gear 360 with a ball.

Above: Comparing the size of the Samsung Gear 360 with a baseball.

Image Credit: Ken Yeung/VentureBeat

Whether walking through downtown San Francisco, attending a Golden State Warriors game, or even recording the annual Bay to Breakers race, the Gear 360 performed as expected. But it failed to fill me with any feeling of excitement around rushing around creating 360-degree content.

Even though the Gear 360 looks durable, it feels fragile — like if it’s dropped, there’s going to be a big dent in the body, or one of the lenses will shatter. And while it’s relatively light, it still falls like any ball — there was an instance where it slipped out of my hand while on a selfie stick and plummeted onto a concrete curb. The top of the Gear 360 was scratched; fortunately it didn’t break, but if there was an accessory or perhaps additional case Samsung could provide, that might provide some peace of mind.

Getting acquainted with the Gear 360

Setting up the device was easy: Download the Gear 360 app on your Samsung Android smartphone (currently there’s no iOS version) and pair it using Bluetooth. The Gear 360 can store videos either locally on your phone or on a microSD card. What makes things more interesting is that you can connect your phone to more than one device — if you are doing heavy-duty recording for a movie, for example.

The Samsung Galaxy S7 edge smartphone with the Gear 360 camera.

Above: The Samsung Galaxy S7 edge smartphone with the Gear 360 camera.

Image Credit: Ken Yeung/VentureBeat

You can review your footage right in the app, which will stitch everything together to make it appear seamless. During playback, there’s a motion view option that you can toggle — if it’s locked, you’ll have to manually move the file with your finger to scroll around. But if it’s unlocked, physically rotating the phone makes it seem like you’re actually there — perfect if you’re using the Gear VR headset.

The app functions as more than a remote control for the Gear 360. While you can switch between the photo, video, time lapse, and video looping modes right on the device, Samsung’s app also offers more granular controls, such as the ability to capture photos or videos through a particular lens. Other editing options include white balance, enabling high-dynamic range (HDR), and adjusting exposure, image size, timer, duration, and recording time.

The Samsung Gear 360 has a universal mount so it can be attached to a tripod, monopod, or anything else.

Above: The Samsung Gear 360 has a universal mount so it can be attached to a tripod, monopod, or anything else.

Image Credit: Ken Yeung/VentureBeat

You can also enable auto-corrected angles, adjust the ISO sensitivity limit, turn on “windcut” to remove wind noise from recorded videos, resize pictures in the app, add a logo to the media, and more.

Of course there are limitations. Motion control only works in modes that rely on both of the Gear 360 lenses. If you’re taking a time lapse video, the app disables live preview. The device doesn’t have any way to take nighttime photos or videos — you’ll need lighting equipment to capture the night effects. And the lenses cannot zoom in or out.

Photos and videos can be saved directly onto your phone or shared to Facebook, Flickr, YouTube, Dropbox, Instagram, or YouTube. Samsung will ask if you want to uploaded videos to be the original or the compressed version. Of course, it’s best to upload these files only when you have Wi-Fi, as the potentially huge files will likely cause you to exceed your data usage.

Buttons on the side of the Samsung Gear 360.
The display on top of the Samsung Gear 360.
Side view of the Samsung Gear 360 where the lithium-ion battery and microSD card go in.

If you want to access files without an internet connection, you can save them to your phone, but you’ll quickly run out of storage capacity. Another option is to download all of the files off of the Gear 360 memory card to your computer.

Samsung promises that with a fully charged 1,350 mAh battery, you’ll get approximately two hours of power. With my usage, that seemed pretty accurate. The Gear 360 can be charged with a microUSB connector.

Motion and presentation issues

While testing the Gear 360, I encountered some motion issues relating to how the device is held. If you record video while holding it so the mount is parallel to the ground, when you try to pan around afterwards using your finger, the process is not smooth.

Here’s an example:

This issue doesn’t appear to occur with photos — just videos. Maybe it has something to do with the gyroscope sensor in the device, but it would be helpful if the Gear 360 always knew which way is up, regardless of how the device is angled.

When the Gear 360 was introduced in February, Samsung touted software that would automatically blur the edges of all photos and videos so that the assembled final version would be seamless. This sounds great, but in my usage, edge lines were still plenty visible.

Be that as it may, for a device that’s fairly inexpensive, it’s tough to get really upset about a few edge lines. If you’re looking for an absolutely perfect creation, it’s probably worth spending money on the Lytro Immerge, Nokia’s Ozo, or GoPro’s spherical camera rig. Hopefully, Samsung will improve its software and firmware on the device over time.

Advanced editing tools for a few

The Samsung Gear 360 app provides you with standard editing controls, but if you fancy yourself an advanced production editor, there is a desktop solution for you: Samsung Gear 360 Action Director.

Screenshot of the Samsung Gear 360 Action Director application that you can use to make advanced edits to your photos and videos.

Above: Screenshot of Samsung Gear 360 Action Director, an application you can use to make advanced edits to your photos and videos.

Image Credit: Screenshot

This desktop app is only available for Windows PCs and requires a Gear 360 serial number to activate it. Powered by CyberLink, the tool lets you add music, transitions, titles, and more advanced editing features to your 360 video. How many people will actually use this app is unclear; it’s likely most people will just capture photos and videos with the Gear 360 and share them right away through the mobile app, skipping the post-production work.

Proprietary usage

Samsung wants to create a connected ecosystem with all of its products and, as a result, only select smartphone models are currently compatible with the Gear 360. If you have the Samsung Galaxy Note7, S7, S7 edge, S6, S6 edge, S6 edge+, or the Note5, you’ll be able to install the associated mobile app. If not, you can still use the device, but it may require a bit more maneuvering to make certain adjustments.

The limited smartphone compatibility may be a turnoff for some people, including those who prefer iOS. Other similar products have platform-agnostic smartphone apps, which may give them a leg up on the Gear 360.

Appealing to creators

Nowadays, anyone can create within this new media format, and services are clamoring for creators. Just as YouTube has its video stars, companies are seeing what can be done with 360-degree content, especially since it’s tied in with virtual reality.

Samsung Gear 360 lifestyle shot

Samsung is working overtime to remain competitive against Google, Facebook’s Oculus, and many others. Combined with the success of Samsung’s smartphone business, the Gear 360 acts as a gateway to help realize that potential and advance company’s mission. Beyond simply having mobile and desktop apps, Samsung recently launched an official program aimed at filmmakers, encouraging them to leverage its technology to produce VR movies. It has also rebranded Samsung Milk VR into a one-stop portal and marketplace for all VR films and shows.

The company is waiting intently to see not only how the Gear 360 is adopted, but what people do with it.

Verdict

Comparing specifications for some of the 360-degree cameras out on the market.

Above: Comparing specifications for some of the 360-degree cameras on the market.

Image Credit: Ken Yeung/VentureBeat

So here’s the real question: Should you get the Gear 360? At $350, it’s not the most expensive camera of the bunch, and it offers decent-quality photos and videos. If you don’t care that you can’t easily pocket the camera and are fine with the Samsung ecosystem, then yes, you should buy this device.

I was disappointed that a “wow” moment never materialized, even though it’s still a first-generation device. But since we’re talking about Samsung, there are plenty of resources that can be thrown at improving the Gear 360 in the future.

You can purchase the Gear 360 starting August 19 through select online retailers, although Samsung hasn’t disclosed specific details at this time. Previously, limited quantities were sold during VidCon and Lollapalooza.

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About Ms. A. C. Kennedy

Ms. A. C. Kennedy
My name is Ms A C Kennedy and I am a Health practitioner and Consultant by day and a serial blogger by night. I luv family, life and learning new things. I especially luv learning how to improve my business. I also luv helping and sharing my information with others. Don't forget to ask me anything!

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Climbkhana: Ken Block explains Pikes Peak assault in latest Gymkhana video

By Carter Jung

Climbkhana is clever. And no, not because it's a portmanteau. Rather it's how Ken Block and his merry band of Hoonigan Media Machine misfits took something the internet clearly loves, hooning, and paired it with a picturesque mountain tied to one of the oldest motorsport events in America, the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb.

More than that, tire-shredding drifts and thick clouds of smoke from the Hoonicorn V2 — a 1,400-horsepower 1965 Ford Mustang converted to all-wheel drive, harkens back to the glory days of Pikes Peak. A time when car and driver would test their mettle racing up a precarious ribbon of dirt to 14,115 feet of elevation.

The new Climbkhana video is the latest chapter in the Gymkhana series. Watch the video on Monday, Sept. 25, when it debuts on YouTube.

Ahead of the debut, we talked with head Hoonigan Ken Block and Brian Scotto, co-director of Climbkhana and longtime Gymkhana collaborator.


AUTOBLOG: With this video, you've strayed from the Gymkhana naming convention, opting for Climbkhana. There's also the recent Terrakhana video. Is there meaning behind the shift?

BLOCK: Climbkhana and Terrakhana were both names that we all — Brian, myself and our team — came up with for these projects. The goal was to make it clear that while they're related in the sense that it's myself driving and incorporating Gymkhana-style moves, they're new ideas.

AB: Ken, your first exposure to Pikes Peak was watching the hill climb on TV as a youth. When did you decide to film your own four-wheeled exploits on the mountain?

BLOCK: We had been talking about doing Climbkhana at Pikes Peak when someone from the hill climb organization reached out to us. The timing aligned perfectly, and we were all on the same page about doing something cool to showcase the mountain in a way that wasn't the standard hill climb footage. We wanted to be respectful to the event, pay a bit of respect to Climb Dance, and create something that was still very much in line with what people expect from my videos.

AB: Did you ever compete in the annual Pikes Peak International Hill Climb?

BLOCK: I raced at Pikes back in 2005 in a Group N rally car! Although by the time I got to the top, it was a very underwhelming experience due to the lack of power thanks to the elevation.

AB: Brian, a segue, how did you get involved with the Gymkhana films?

SCOTTO:
I've been on this ride since day one. The first Gymkhana film actually grew from an article that ran in 0-60 Magazine — which I was the editor of — about the sport of gymkhana, featuring Ken. I consulted on the first and second Gymkhana films, but by the time we released the third, I was full-time working for Ken. I stepped into the role of creative director and then eventually graduated to director, but I sort of still do both jobs.

Now, Ken is my business partner at Hoonigan, and for some reason trusts me to carry on his creation.

AB: It's incredibly challenging to close down Pikes Peak — the highway is a public toll road. It's why, for the hill climb, practice is held in segments at dawn over the week leading into race day. How were you able to convince the authorities to give you access to the mountain?

SCOTTO: Luckily, the team at Pikes Peak International Hill Climb had come to us, and were instrumental in navigating this project through the parks department. But we still had to work around the mountain's schedule. We shot super early during the mornings and did controlled traffic stops to get other shots pulled off after 7:30 a.m. when the mountain opened to the public. It was no easy task. But everyone from the mountain was amazing to work with, they really seemed to appreciate what the world of motorsports did for Pikes Peak.

AB: Past Gymkhana films were in production for a scant five days. Climbkhana took more than 13 months. What were some of the challenges you faced?

BLOCK: It definitely took us longer than I would have liked to finish! The first time we went, we had some fairly serious engine problems and were unable to get everything we wanted. We went back two months later and were still having engine issues and ran into severe weather issues. Rain, snow, lightning and sunshine all within an hour at times. Some truly wild stuff! Finally, we sorted out the motor and went back this past August and had two solid days of good weather to finish everything up.

AB: How much did having Jeff Zwart co-direct help with production?

SCOTTO: Jeff Zwart is a legend. As a kid, photos he shot decorated the walls of my room, so I was honored to not only work alongside him and share directing duties, but to have him so excited to be a part of the project and join the Hoonigan Media Machine crew. Without Zwart's extensive knowledge of the road, it would have taken us three times as long to plot it all out.

Not only has he raced there a zillion times, he has also shot a bunch of car commercials there, so he knew it from both sides. Zwart also brought a different look to the film — we have never used camera cars before. Not using them has always been a big part of our formula, but Zwart and I were able to find a way to make them work while staying true to our signature style.

AB: When it comes to driving, is it pre-planned and storyboarded from previous scouting trips or more seat-of-the-pants?

BLOCK: There's always a scouting trip prior, and then we'll do a recon pass before we start to film. For normal Gymkhana stuff, I can normally walk through the scene, but with Climbkhana, since it was the road and extended distances, I used my Focus RS to run through the sections before hopping into the Hoonicorn to film.



AB: You mentioned the film before, how many times did you and the crew watch Jean Louis Mourey's Climb Dance before going into production?

BLOCK: Maybe twice? But, I have seen it many times and I know a lot of the scenes by heart. It's very inspirational. And, it has a lot of the basic makings of how we make our videos since most of the footage was shot during the various practices of the two drivers before the race, Ari Vatanen and Robby Unser.

SCOTTO: I'm sure I've seen that film a hundred times in my life. Before we started doing the Gymkhana series, it was really the only film of its kind that was more than the typical motorsports coverage. Mourey elevated the way racing could be depicted. There's a lot of commonality in Climb Dance and our work. Many people think that it was shot during the race, but the film was actually shot just like Climbkhana, in the wee hours of the day, during practice and private testing. Oh, and I probably watched the iconic Ari Vatanen sun block shot 30 times on the day we filmed that homage moment to get everything just right.

AB: With the hill climb having recently celebrated its 101st anniversary and Pikes Peak being one of the most scenic motorsports settings in the world, there has been a lot of content to come out of the mountain. What was your take going into it?

BLOCK: I saw the road and mountain for what it was: one of the most amazing races in the world on one of the most amazing mountain roads. So, our vision was to help showcase what an amazing and challenging road it is, but to show it in a new way.

Since the road has been completely paved, everyone who races up Pikes Peak is now locked into tarmac racing lines. No one gets sideways anymore like the old gravel days, which is when I started watching the race. With Climbkhana, I wanted to show a more fun, sideways and playful way of getting to the summit.

AB: In previous Gymkhana films, you had a sandbox to play in, from an old airfield to what seemed like the entirety of Los Angeles. With Climbkhana, you were limited to the paved sections of the mountain. How did that affect the film?

BLOCK: It made it a bit more dangerous at certain points since my runoff was a sheer drop at times! It also restricted what we could do since there are only so many open areas, or unique spots like the ranger station and the parking lot next to it to play with. We can only show so many hairpins in a video like this, so we had to get creative with the various spots and storylines we could create on the mountain.

AB: What was the most challenging stunt in Climbkhana?

BLOCK: There's one turn in the upper part of the W's where I wanted to drop a wheel and spray some rocks out over the drop while still smoking the front tires on the pavement. Not easy! And the consequences were bad if I went wide, it's the same spot the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution went off a few years ago. I nailed it on my second run, but the commitment level was really high and the margin for error was pretty small, so I'd say that was by far the most challenging part.



AB: What shot are you the most proud of?

SCOTTO: That's a tough one. The shot of KB almost dying, with two wheels deep in the dirt, inches from disaster as his front wheels clawed at the tarmac to escape the long way down might be one of the greatest moments I have ever been apart of. I was standing behind our main camera for that shot, and didn't breathe the entire time.

AB: While the plumey tire smoke almost doubles as roost, what would you each trade to go back and shoot Climbkhana when Pikes Peak was still all gravel?

BLOCK: Most of my early race career was built on gravel rally experience, and my early memories of Pikes was of it all gravel. So, it would be a dream to actually drive it that way. Especially with a high-horsepower AWD rally car. So, as far as a trade? That's a tough question. Not my left nut, that's for sure. But it does have that sort of value, though [laughter]!

SCOTTO: Early on, something we discussed was that by making a Gymkhana film, it was the only way anyone would be able to drive the mountain in the same fashion as the glory days of Michelle Mouton, Ari Vatanen, Bobby Unser, Walter Rohl, Rod Millen and so on. So I'm not so sure I'd trade anything. That said, the rally fan in me wishes the mountain was still gravel for racing's sake. The faster records are cool, but nothing will beat the sideways, roosted slides with no guardrails and heaps of consequence.

AB: Ken, as someone who currently competes in the FIA World Rallycross Championship, how much does your skills hooning in videos complement what you do in a race?

BLOCK: All of the stuff you see in my videos is a direct translation from the things I would do on a rally stage or during a rallycross race. But, sideways is slow so are we are constantly fighting to keep the car straight when racing in the World Rallycross Championship. The Gymkhana videos are always fun for me to get that sideways stuff out of my system.

When Gymkhana first dropped back in 2008, it was during the early YouTube days. Do you remember what your initial expectations were?

BLOCK: I had none, really. I originally filmed it for fun and had it hosted on my personal webpage. It took off and was costing me around $10k a month to host it there! Once that happened, I knew I had something pretty special, and it's grown a lot from there.



AB: Besides excessive hosting fees, how much has the success of the Gymkhana franchise affected both of your careers?

BLOCK: I think the success of the franchise has certainly helped in terms of extra visibility as a driver and for my team and partners. It allows me to be a bit more multi-faceted than most guys on the circuit and it assisted in getting more sponsorship, which is a huge help when building out race budgets to compete around the world.

SCOTTO: Gymkhana changed the direction of my career. I went from being a magazine editor to a director. Not sure if that would have happened without this series. But then again, the entire world of media was shifting at the time, and we were all trying to figure out what the next thing was. Who knew it was making videos about sliding cars!

AB: As creators, where do you both find inspiration for your projects?

BLOCK: I find my inspiration all around me. At the end of the day, my team and I love to create cool content that we like and want to see. Through the process of brainstorming and general banter, we get inspired to come up with our ideas for the next video.

SCOTTO: Like Ken, everything around me inspires in one way or another. But if I was forced to pick one, I'd say it comes from my 7-year-old imagination. I think about the stuff that I wanted to see cars do when I played with Hot Wheels, then question what is actually possible.

AB: Say Ford came to you guys with the opportunity to film without any budget limitations, what would you each want to do next?

BLOCK: No budget restrictions? I guess the moon?

SCOTTO: I'd start with a much-needed nap. Maybe a vacation. Then we'd build our own world to hoon.

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