Samsung's Gear VR is one of the more popular virtual-reality headsets, so it only stands to reason that the company would make a camera to film videos that you can watch on its headset. The Samsung Gear 360 is a great tool for creating immersive content: Not only is it easy to use, but it captures full 360-degree spherical photos and videos. It's just too bad you need an Android phone to get the most out of it.
Editor's note: We purchased a Korean version of the Gear 360 for our testing. We will update this review with the U.S. version, but anticipate few, if any, differences.
Pretty much all 360 cameras have some funky design, and the Gear 360 is no exception. The small white ball has two lenses on opposite sides, and looks a bit like something from the game Portal.
On one side of the Gear 360 is a gasket-sealed door that opens to reveal the removable battery, the microSD card slot and a micro USB port for recharging the camera. The bottom of the camera has a standard tripod screw mount; in fact, it even comes with a mini tripod.
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The Samsung Gear 360 was dead simple to use, with or without a smartphone. On the top of the camera is a large Record button, with a small LCD screen that shows what recording mode the camera is in, how much charge is left in the battery, and how much recording time is left. On the opposite side from the door, you'll find a power button and a Bluetooth/Menu button used to navigate the display.
At 5.4 ounces and about 2.6 inches in diameter, the Gear 360 is slightly larger, but lighter, than the 360fly 4K (6 ounces, 2.4 inches). Unlike the Giroptic 360cam and the 360fly, which are waterproof to 33 feet, the Gear 360 is merely splashproof and dustproof.
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While not as crisp as that of the 4K Kodak PixPro SP360 and 360fly cameras, photo and video quality from the Gear 360 was very good. At 3840 x 1920 pixels, the Gear 360 has a higher resolution than that of the Giroptic (2048 x 1024), as well as the LG 360 cam (2560 x 1280).
I really liked that each lens has its own red LED that lights up when in use. It's a small detail, but a smart one that lets you know at a glance if you're using one, or both, cameras.
When I biked up and down the Hudson River in the evening, the Gear 360 captured colors well. It nailed the golden rays of the sun reflecting against the skyscrapers of Lower Manhattan without blowing out the rest of the image.
The Gear 360 did a good job stitching the video from its two sensors; there were only a few instances where I noticed the separation between the two.
You can connect the Gear 360 to Wi-Fi on only a few Samsung smartphones (Galaxy S7 Edge, Galaxy S7, Galaxy Note 5, Galaxy S6 Edge+, Galaxy S6 Edge and Galaxy S6). Samsung doesn't plan on making an iOS version of its app — which is a bummer for pretty much everyone else.
App and Sharing
Through the on-camera controls, you can adjust settings such as video resolution, but the Android-only Gear 360 app gives you even greater control, such as changing the white balance, HDR mode and so forth. Here, you can also adjust ISO sensitivity, remove wind noise, even autocorrect wobbly videos.
As with the Kodak PixPro 360 camera, downloading a 5-minute video (about 850 MB) from the Gear 360 to a Samsung S7 took an excruciatingly long time — nearly a half hour. Another video, this one 4 minutes in length (650 MB), took about 20 minutes to copy. Fortunately, photos all transferred over in just a few seconds.
After downloading the content to the S7, the app made it easy to share it via YouTube, Facebook and other apps. When you share a video, you get options to trim the clip, and even add a background soundtrack. Pretty cool.
With a 1350 mAh battery, the Gear 360 should last about an hour on a charge. I like that you can swap out the battery, so you can continue using the camera while recharging the battery. By comparison, the 360fly 4K has a nonremovable battery.
If the Gear 360 worked with more smartphones, it would be my favorite 360 camera, hands-down. While it doesn't take 4K video like the 360fly, the Gear 360 does capture a full 360 degrees in every direction — and does a pretty good job of it at that. The Giroptic 360 camera, which also can record a full spherical video, doesn't have as high a resolution as Samsung's camera, and had trouble stitching video, but it's water-resistant to 30 feet and works with both iOS and Android. For Samsung smartphone owners, though, the Gear 360 represents the best combination of features and functionality.