Want to capture 360-degree images on the go? The Insta360 Air is a small, ball-like device that attaches to nearly any Android smartphone with a micro-USB or USB Type-C port, and it lets you take immersive panoramic photos and videos. At $129, it’s one of the cheapest 360-degree cameras out there. While it has some quirks, it’s a fun accessory for people who want to take virtual-reality-ready pictures and movies without paying top dollar.
About the size and shape of a pingpong ball (it’s 1.5 inches in diameter and weighs just under 1 ounce), the Insta360 Air has lenses on opposite ends and a micro-USB plug on the bottom.
The Insta360 Air plugs into the micro-USB port on an Android smartphone (a version of the camera with a USB Type-C connector is also available), and that makes for the most awkward part about this camera: To use it, you have to hold your phone upside down. Insta360’s app also loads upside down, so if you were to attach the camera to a USB extension cable, you’d still have to hold your phone the wrong way.
It’s an annoying issue, but until ports are put on the tops of phones — or 360-degree-camera makers find some other workaround — it will be an inconvenience you’ll have to tolerate.
Unlike three other 360-degree cameras —Insta360’s iPhone-only camera, the Insta360 Nano and the LG 360 camera— the Air lacks an internal battery, so you can use it only when it’s attached to your phone.
The Insta360 Air comes with a small silicone cup that protects the lenses, as well as a flexible metal USB cable, so you can connect the camera to your notebook.
Photo and Video Quality
The Insta360 Air takes still photos at a resolution of 3008 x 1504 (3K) and videos at 2560 x 1280 (2K). Images looked a bit crisper than those taken with LG’s 360 camera, though I still noticed a good number of artifacts in the final image.
Outdoors in direct sunlight, the camera did a pretty good job of getting the exposure right on objects both in the sun and in shadow. However, when the sun was pointing directly at one of the lenses, the seam between the image it captured and the image the second lens took was very obvious. I was able to fix this somewhat by situating the camera so that both lenses were able to “see” the sun.
Colors were very vivid: The red on my hat, the yellow taxicab and the deep-blue sky all popped. By comparison, a photo taken by the LG camera in the same location (albeit at a different time of year) had much more muted colors.
The biggest challenge for the camera was capturing footage in low light: When I took photos along a shaded street, the background sky was completely blown out, as were as the upper floors of the buildings around me.
Videos were just as vivid. While they lacked the sharpness of videos taken by more expensive (and higher-resolution) 360-degree cams such as the $499 360fly 4K, the Insta360 Air is about a quarter of the size and price.
Insta360 will introduce support for 3008 x 1504 (3K) video on select phones in future app updates.
When you launch the Insta360 app (upside down), the home screen shows a gallery of other 360-degree photos taken by registered users. Along the bottom are tabs for Album and Settings, the latter of which lets you link to your Facebook account, adjust the quality of photos and videos you share, add watermarks, and set location data. It’s all pretty straightforward.
Insta360 is currently testing a feature that will let you stream 360-degree videos live to Twitter’s Periscope. Although the option appears in the app, you have to be selected by the company to use it. (We were unable to test it.) However, the feature should roll out to everyone in the near future.
If you’re looking for an inexpensive way to take 360-degree photos and videos, the Insta360 Air is a great smartphone accessory for that purpose. It’s small and easy to use, and it makes it easy to share your creations. I wish the Insta360 Air were as versatile as LG’s slightly more expensive 360 camera (or even the Insta360 Nano), whose photos are not as sharp, but LG’s device can be used independently of your phone. For the price, though, the Insta360 Air has a lot to offer.
Product photo credit: Jeremy Lips/Tom's Guide