360-degree photography leapt into the mainstream in 2016, propelled by the arrival of practical virtual reality devices ranging from Google’s Cardboard through to the likes of the Oculus Rift or the HTC Vive. YouTube and Facebook (amongst others) have options for the uploading of 360-degree video and even the BBC has been experimenting with immersive video.
It is into this new market that the Andoer V1 360 has arrived.
In The Box
First impressions are good – as well as the camera itself, Andoer provide a generous set of accessories to allow mounting of the device to pretty much anything, from bike handlebars, car dashboard to an extreme-sports fan’s helmet. A waterproof enclosure is also provided, which is theoretically good to a depth of 30 metres; although achieving that with the battery life of the camera and how the image sensor would handle the light at that depth is another story. But more on that later. Sadly, there is no SD card included – you will need to provide your own TF SD Class 10 card or plug the camera directly into a PC via the included USB cable.
With a single lens, it is clear that the Andoer V1 360 is not going to be able to capture the kind of VR imagery a user might hope for. The lens itself permits the capture of a 360 degree panorama with a 220 degree field of view, which does go some way to giving that feeling of ‘being there’ when viewing the output in a suitable viewer (Andoer provide apps for Android, IOS and Windows desktop for that purpose). However, the resolution is poor – 16M is the maximum, giving a 4096 x 4096 resolution for still images and to be frank, you would be better off using the panorama feature of a modern smartphone since those megapixels are quickly consumed by that field of view. In my testing my iPhone 6 produced consistently better panoramic still images.
Video is really where this device should shine, but again the quality is poor. 2448p is possible at 30fps, dropping to 1440p for 60fps – these figures sound good, but when one considers that this is a 360-degree video, the image soon becomes a little blocky as the resolution gets strained.
Overall, the imaging performance is on a par with a relatively low-end smartphone – fine for some fun shots, but not as good as the high megapixel counts might make you think and certainly not suitable for any low light environments.
This is not a camera for the faint hearted. With the price (less than £70 at time of writing) and target audience, I can imagine there were a few glum faces around the Christmas tree as new owners tried to get the device to work. The problems begin as soon as the box is opened. In recent years, we have become accustomed to consumer products needing little in the way of documentation – open the box, download the app and away you go. This is not the case with the Andoer V1 360. Starting with the user manual, which is one of the worst examples of translations I have come across for some time, this device is simply not usable without considerable effort. And the results are not worth that effort.
After conquering the user manual and getting to grips with the tiny 128 x 64 screen (replete with near-meaningless truncated text messages delivering infuriatingly obscure hints as to what the camera might or might not be doing), the next challenge is to actually find a TF SD card that will work. The camera is very sensitive to media and I would recommend using one of Andoer’s own cards (the 3rd one I tried worked) – rather than a 3rd party card (it would not read any of the cards I tried). This sensitivity is not acceptable – any branded Class 10 TF SD card should function.
Once armed with a SD card and a full charge, the fun continues to fail to materialise. The camera has a rudimentary interface allowing for some settings configuration as well as starting and stopped recording or taking a still image. With perseverance and not a small amount of luck, I was able to capture my surroundings and view them using the Windows desktop app (connected via USB). IOS and Android apps are available and connect to the camera using WiFi, which was a little hit and miss in my testing (using the IOS app).
The user interface of both the IOS and Windows Desktop apps is infuriatingly unintuitive, but does allow relatively straightforward playback of captured video. The 360 panorama above is what I would consider to be the most useful mode, allowing the view to rotate through 360 degrees while the video is playing and works well with the likes of YouTube and Facebook.
Other modes quickly show the limitations of the 220 degree field of view, and are also currently a little difficult to upload to services such as YouTube without setting some tags on the MP4 file to force the file to be recognised correctly. As the screen-shot above shows, the low resolution really does become apparent quite quickly.
At a low price, this camera is positioned as an introduction into the world of panoramic video capture. With a generous array of accessories included, I can see this being useful as a bike camera (although the short battery life means for short bike rides – expect an hour or so of recording.) However, the terrible instructions and difficult to use apps and interface make it more intimidating than it should be, and the output quality doesn’t match up to the effort needed to get it working.