2017 Samsung Gear 360 hands-on: New form factor makes it easier to capture the whole world

Last year's original Samsung Gear 360 was one of the best affordable 360 cameras, but it was limited to a couple Samsung phones and the large ball was awkward to carry around for capturing life's moments. This year's model is much easier to handle and records higher resolution video.

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The 2016 Samsung Gear 360 was a fun 360 camera, and the removable battery meant you could carry a spare and capture content for hours. That original model is available today for a great price, as Samsung gets set to release the 2017 Samsung Gear 360.

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I attended the Samsung Galaxy S8 launch event in New York City on March 29, and while seated in the audience watching the event, Samsung handed out the new 2017 Samsung Gear 360 for all attendees to take with them to test out.

Over the past couple of months, I have taken this new Gear 360 fly fishing and hiking, with plans to take it tonight to the Seattle Reign FC NWSL soccer match and with me on an upcoming trip to China. As I wrote when I evaluated the first Gear 360, one reason these cameras are great is to help you share experience with others who can't be a part of those experiences. Friends and family who can't make the hike up the mountain can now experience more than what a simple photo shows them.

The most obvious difference between last year's model and the 2017 version is the form factor. Last year the Gear 360 was a big ball that came with a cool little tripod that you could use to stand by itself or hold onto in order to capture images and video. This year's model has the ball up top with a cylindrical tapered body below, so it is easy to hold up and also much easier to press in on the record button (it's built much like the other consumer-focused 360 cameras available today). The display is also easy to see down below the record button.

If you look at the specs side-by-side, it appears that this new model takes a step back with lower image resolution and a smaller non-removable battery. However, there is less distance between the two camera sensors, so stitching of images and video is better and the results are better than last year's model. More megapixels isn't the standard to measure quality by, as we have learned over the years with smartphone cameras.

Gear 360 (2016) Gear 360 (2017)
Aperture f/2.0 f/2.2
Resolution 30 MP (Dual 15MP) 15 MP (Dual 8.4MP)
Video res (dual) 3840x2160 (24fps) 4096x2048 (24fps)
Video res (single lens) 2560x1440 (24fps) 1920x1080 (60fps)
Weight 152g 130g
Battery Removable 1350mAh Integrated 1160mAh

While still images have lower resolution, you can take higher resolution and higher frame rate video with the 2017 Samsung Gear 360. With the new Samsung Gear VR and other VR headsets, capturing and sharing video can almost put people in the action with you and the Gear 360.

You can broadcast live video via Facebook, YouTube, and Samsung VR through your compatible phones. Speaking of compatible phones, you will still need a Samsung smartphone to use the Gear 360 if you are an Android smartphone user. It is compatible with the new Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus, S7, S7 Edge, Note 5, S6 Edge, S6, A5, and A7.

One new feature in the 2017 Samsung Gear 360 is the ability to connect to an iPhone. The current Samsung Gear 360 app has a 2/5 star rating on the App Store and is not yet ready for release to the masses. The Gear 360 is not yet available to purchase, so I am hoping that Samsung gets the app working for iPhone users soon. I installed the app on my iPhone 7 Plus and was able to make the connection via Wi-Fi Direct. However, after that, the app kept crashing or locking up. From what I understand, support for live streaming is not supported yet on iOS either. Like using the Gear S3 Frontier with the iPhone, please don't do it.

There are power/back and menu/Bluetooth buttons on the right side of the Gear 360 with an indicator light between them. There are a couple of other indicator lights on top of the Gear 360, just above each lens. On the front you will find the large record button that is perfectly placed for your thumb if you are holding the device in your hand. Below this is the small status display that you can navigate by using the three buttons, if you don't want to navigate menus and options from your phone.

There is a USB Type-C port and microSD card slot on the left side. A tripod mount port is centered on the bottom with a small lanyard opening on the lower right. You get a lanyard with a rubber ring at one end in the Gear 360 package. This rubber ring fits onto the bottom of the Gear 360 so it can stand upright for recording images and video. You also receive a soft gray cloth bag to carry the Gear 360 and protect the lenses from scratches.

The Samsung smartphone software lets you control the camera from your phone, view your content in a gallery, choose to live broadcast yourself, and manage settings on the camera. Content-creation modes include video, photo, time lapse video, looping video, and landscape HDR. Be careful with looping video, as it will overwrite video to keep recording your latest content -- and I doubt I will ever need to use this mode.

You can choose to use one lens or both lenses when capturing videos and images. You can select different lighting situations and adjust settings such as ISO and sharpness.

After you capture content, you can then view content in 360 view, round view, stretched view, dual view, and panoramic. Round view is fun to use for creative results as it deletes the horizon and wraps the image in a circle. You can slide your finger up and down the image to change the perspective -- and I'm having lots of fun editing content in this mode. Some have referred to this mode as little planet or small planet mode and I have one example in my image gallery.

Dual view shows each lens view on top of each other while the other views show you your content in more linear orientation.

There are several editing tools available in the smartphone app, so you can transform the content, change tones, add filters, apply a patch over your hand or tripod, and add decorations (stickers, images, labels, covers, or drawings). There is not yet any Samsung desktop software like there was for the 2016 Gear 360, so hopefully we will see something when the camera begins selling. For now, I do some basic editing on my phone and share it directly from my phone to other services.

The 2016 Gear 360 reminded me some kind of ominous robotic eye, while the 2017 Gear 360 looks more like a character out of a Pixar movie. It's friendlier to handle and the convenience of the design is more appealing than the big round ball of lenses.

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