Samsung Gear 360 (2017) review

When Samsung announced its new flagship for the spring cycle, an item that may have been overlooked was an updated version of the Gear 360. Capable of capturing both photos and video, the Gear 360 is designed to help users capture 360-degree content in a much easier manner than trying to use your smartphone and following the camera prompts. Samsung does this by equipping the Gear 360 with a dual-camera setup where the cameras are pointing in opposite directions from each other.

Now we’re diving into the world of immersive content in our Samsung Gear 360 (2017) review.

Production of 360-degree videos is still a relatively immature field and many people are still trying to figure out how to effectively make use of the format. The other issue is that really good still or video scenes available in the 360-degree format tend to be limited to professional photographers and videographers who can afford to throw some serious money at some serious hardware. Samsung is trying to move into the area with the Gear 360 which is a consumer grade product at a price point that is somewhat realistic for amateur consumers who want to dip into 360-degree production.

In this review, we check out the Gear 360 and whether it makes a viable option for users interested in producing 360-degree content.

Design

The 2017 version of the Gear 360, notwithstanding the same name, is actually the second iteration of the product from Samsung. However, this year’s version is quite a it different as Samsung worked to make the device sleeker and easier for people to use. The unit itself is a bit smaller and now includes a “handle” that contains the microSD card slot, the record button, a small LCD screen used to review settings, and the USB-C slot. The bottom of this section is flat, making it easy to set the device on a table or other flat surface. Samsung also included a standard 1/4-inch camera mount in the bottom so photographers can use their existing tripods and monopods with the Gear 360. Samsung also includes a small rubber ring that fits over the bottom of the device and can be used to hold the camera on surfaces not quite level or as a safety strap.

The top portion of the device is dominated by the dual cameras in the round housing. On one side you will find the power and mode buttons and various LED lights are embedded in the housing to help you determine the current status of the device, like whether it is powered on.

Overall the device is easy to hold and throw in a pocket or bag to carry to your next adventure. Given the unusual shape, especially with the dual camera lenses dominating the top portion, be ready to answer questions from anyone about just what it is you have in your hand.

Hardware

As mentioned, the Gear 360 houses a dual lens setup with each sensor being an 8.4MP unit with an f2.2 aperture yielding a maximum 15MP resolution. This is actually down a bit from last year’s model. When capturing still images the Gear 360 can capture a maximum 3MP image at 2304 x 1296 resolution for a single lens or 5472 x 2736 resolution for the full 360-degree dual lens.

While the megapixel count may have gone down this year, Samsung did push things up for videos as the Gear 360 is capable of capturing 4K video at 24 frames per second. I do not have the means to assess the results of 4K recording, but reports indicate the quality may not be the best, especially with the limited framerate. Fortunately, the Gear 360 can drop down to 1080p full HD resolution at 60 frames per second.

The Gear 360 holds a 1,160mAh battery that is rated for around 2 hours of video capture time. The Gear 360 does not include any internal storage, relying instead on use of a microSD card of up to 256GB in size. The Gear 360 includes Wi-Fi connection capabilities, Bluetooth v4.1, and USB 2.0 support via a USB-C connection. A gyro and accelerometer are included and the unit has an IP53 rating for water and dust resistance.

The Gear 360 measures 100.6 mm in height, 46.3 x 45.1 mm at its widest points around the top bulb portion, and weighs 130 grams (4.5 oz.).

Performance

Using the Gear 360 is a bit of a mix of learning old and new. The camera itself is a bit like using an older model GoPro or other action camera that does not have an LCD screen if you are trying to use the Gear 360 all by itself. The buttons have a nice solid feel to them making it easy to detect when you have pressed them and the lights and chirps made by the unit let you know it is on and ready. Samsung built in things like shutter sounds to help provide auditory feedback for users. That is probably a good thing since using the LCD screen may be a challenge. Being small, it means Samsung had to use tiny icons making seeing them a challenge. The other problem is because the information that can be displayed on the small LCD is so limited, Samsung had to resort to icons that pretty much require a user to memorize what they all stand for in order to decipher them.

 

Given the limitations of the screen on the Gear 360, most users will likely want to take advantage of the Samsung Gear 360 app on their smartphone. As much of a challenge as it is to use the Gear 360 by itself, using the app makes things a breeze. This starts as soon as you have the app up and running and the Gear 360 turned on as the app will automatically detect the Gear 360 is nearby and link to it.

Upon firing up the app, users are presented with four choices – camera, gallery, live broadcast and settings. Launching the camera takes you to a live preview screen that can be used to frame a shot. The preview is nice in that it can be scrolled around. However, it is presented as a round fisheye view which is a bit annoying, although that can be changed to stretched view that may be more familiar. Other views like s split view showing each camera individually or a panorama view are also available. Users can select modes including video, photo, time lapse, video looping or landscape HDR depending on what they hope to achieve. Once ready, all you have to do is hit the shutter button.

The gallery, as you might guess, shows you what has been saved. It is split up between images saved to the Gear 360 and images that have been copied over to the smartphone. That is one thing that needs to be kept in mind – without some manual intervention, the images stay on the microSD card in the camera. This is important as an image cannot be shared until it has been moved off the camera and onto the phone.

Live broadcast skips all the saving and subsequent sharing and instead gives users a quick path to providing a live stream. Three options are available – YouTube, Facebook and the Samsung VR platform. Settings gives you access to a few optional settings that you can configure as well as information about battery levels and available storage space.

Once you grab a few pictures or videos, the next thing you will want to do is share them with the world or at least a close friend or two. The Gear 360 app is able to connect to the major social networks or users can pick from apps like Messages to send a picture or video to a particular person.

As far as the video and pictures, quality seemed to be pretty good overall. As might be expected, even with the hardware designed to capture 360 degree content, there is still quite a bit of software manipulation going on to get everything stitched together properly and that introduces different artifacts that pull down the quality a bit. However, I did find the parts that were unmolested by stitching to be clear, sharp and good color quality. I was pleasantly surprised by the camera’s ability to handle scenes with wide variations in lighting, like a sunny window in an otherwise normally lit room.

Closing

Do you need a 360-degree camera and would the Samsung Gear 360 fit the bill for you? My personal impression is that 360-degree content is still not something the masses are clamoring for and even though I now have a dedicated camera, I’m not real sure what I would use it for. That said, in the past I have done a few photosphere scenes and the Gear 360 is a huge improvement over trying to follow the prompts with a smartphone camera. Plus, a picture takes a mere couple seconds to capture.

I do not have a frame of reference to compare the Gear 360 with other cameras that capture 360-degree content, but I found it to be easy to use and it met expectations as far as quality. Based on that, I would recommend the Gear 360 if you think you want to give 360-degree content a try or just want to step up your photosphere game.

When Samsung first launched the new 2017 version of the Gear 360, it was priced at $229 with some really good deals available for early adopters of the Galaxy S8 or Galaxy S8+. As this review is being finished up, Samsung has dropped the price to $189 making it an even more affordable solution.

Buy it now: Samsung, Best Buy, Amazon


About the Author: Jeff Causey

Raised in North Carolina, Jeff Causey is a licensed CPA in North Carolina. Jeff's past Android devices include an HTC EVO, a Samsung Note II, and an LG G3, and a Motorola Moto X Pure Edition along with a Samsung Galaxy Tablet 10.1. He currently uses a Samsung Galaxy S8 and (very rarely) a Nexus 7 (2013). He is also using a Verizon-branded Motorola Moto Z Play Droid supplied by his job. Jeff used to have a pair of Google Glass and a Moto 360 Sport in his stable of gadgets. Unfortunately, his wife and kids have all drunk the Apple Kool-Aid and have i-devices. Life at home often includes demonstrations of the superiority of his Android based devices. In his free time, Jeff is active in his church, a local MINI Cooper car club, and his daughter's soccer club. Jeff is married, has three kids, and a golden retriever.