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Samsung Gear 360: Almost the best 360-degree camera

Like most similar cameras, you need an app on a smartphone to function as a virtual remote shutter and viewfinder for the Samsung Gear 360 camera.
Like most similar cameras, you need an app on a smartphone to function as a virtual remote shutter and viewfinder for the Samsung Gear 360 camera.PHOTO: SAMSUNG

The Samsung Gear 360 is the latest camera to join a small but rising category - cameras that can shoot 360-degree images.

It has two 15-megapixel cameras, each with a 180-degree f/2.0 lens. The two combine to give you 360-degree videos of up to 3,840 x 1,920 pixels, and 360-degree still images of up to 25.9 megapixels.

With its tripod legs, spherical and white design, the Gear 360 looks like the sentry turret (but much rounder) from the game Portal.

There is a record button with a small display below it on the camera's top.

The display shows the current shooting mode, the number of still shots or recordable video time remaining, as well as battery level.

On one side of the camera, there are two buttons - a mode button and a power button. On another side, there is a flap that hides the removable battery, a micro-USB charging port, and a microSD slot.

  • TECH SPECS

    PRICE: $498

    IMAGE SENSOR: 2 x 15 megapixel

    LENS: 2 x 180-degree f/2.0

    CONNECTIVITY: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth

    WEIGHT: 152g (including battery)

    RATING

    FEATURES: 4/5

    DESIGN: 4/5

    PERFORMANCE: 4/5

    BATTERY LIFE: 4/5

    VALUE FOR MONEY: 4/5

    OVERALL: 4/5

There is no internal storage, so you will need a microSD card to record all your 360-degree shots.

Unlike the relatively flat design of 360-degree cameras like the Ricoh Theta S ($628) and LG 360 Cam ($398), the Gear 360 is not really pocketable with its ping-pong ball size. But it is light and small enough to toss into any bag.

It has a standard tripod mount, so you can use other standard tripods like the GorillaPod.

Like most 360-degree cameras, you need an app on a smartphone to function as a virtual remote shutter and viewfinder.But the Gear 360 app can be used only with the latest Samsung Galaxy smartphones - namely, S6, S6 edge, S6 edge+, Note 5, S7 and S7 edge.

You can still shoot without an app, but blindly. Just press the mode button to toggle the Video, Photo, Time-lapse Video and Looping Video (records in 5min, 30min or 60min intervals) modes, and press the record button.

The package includes a serial code for Samsung's Gear 360 Action Director (Windows only). So you can download the pictures to your computer and edit them.

For this review, most of the shots were done using the Samsung Gear 360 app with the S7 Edge.

The results I got were impressive. Indeed, the 360-degree images and videos shot by Gear 360 were the sharpest I have seen so far on a 360-degree camera.

However, the stitching lines were at times visible.

Like other 360-degree cameras I reviewed, subjects that are very close to the lenses, such as tripod or hand, get misaligned and looks like they are being "chopped off".

The app allows you to upload the 360-degree picture or video you have taken directly to Facebook.

I love this feature. Imagine you are on vacation in picturesque Santorini - what better way to let your Facebook friends soak up some of the idyllic mood than with a 360-degree picture of the place?

•Verdict: At just below $500, the Samsung Gear 360 represents great value for money with its sharp 360-degree pictures and videos. But it is a shame it can only work with certain Samsung smartphones.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 29, 2016, with the headline 'Samsung Gear 360: Almost the best 360-degree camera'. Print Edition | Subscribe