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Featured Review: TomTom Bandit Action Camera

October 8, 2015 - Written By Nick Sutrich

When you think of TomTom, what’s the first thing that comes to mind?  That older GPS navigation unit from your early-2000’s car is probably the answer most people would give, and there’s a good reason for that.  TomTom made a name for itself in a days before smartphones were all packed with GPS and Google Maps, and as such likely remains a positive image in the minds of many out there.  TomTom has since expanded to other equipment that makes sense for an outdoor lifestyle, and today we’re looking at one of their newest products, the TomTom Bandit Action Camera.  It’s no secret that GoPro revolutionized the handheld camera market and lots of companies are following in their footsteps, so does TomTom’s product have what it takes to stand out?  Let’s take a look.

Specs and Accessories

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TomTom has covered most of the required bases here when it comes to action camera specs.  HD video recording at 1080p 60FPS is essentially the maximum best resolution, although there are 720p 120FPS, 2.7k 30FPS and 4K 15FPS modes available here too.  The wide-angle lens and 16-megapixel sensor deliver good image quality for both video and pictures, and the battery is rated at 3 hours of recording.  Multiple built-in sensors include speed, g-force, altitude, rotation and there’s also a separately sold heartbeat sensor.  A GoPro mount is included to retrofit onto any existing GoPro accessories you might have, and of course the app on your iOS or Android powered device does all sorts of cool things.

Besides giving you compatibility with a wide range of GoPro accessories, TomTom also sells its own lineup as well.  This includes basic surface mounts, tripod, wrist mount, pole mount, handle bar mount, board mount and 360-degree pitch mount.  To better protect the camera the lens is interchangeable and there’s even a floating case so the camera doesn’t sink to the bottom every time.  Last but not least there’s also a remote shutter button that wraps around your wrist for convenient recording, as well as the aforementioned heart rate sensor to add additional excitement to videos.

Hardware & Design

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The first thing you’ll notice is that the TomTom Bandit doesn’t look anything like the rest of the action cameras on the market.  It more closely resembles a proper camcorder rather than the square brick that most GoPro competitors use, and that’s a very good thing for TomTom.  There’s nothing worse than looking exactly like your biggest competitor’s product, and of course everyone else’s since hardly anyone tries to be innovative in this space.  As a result the operation of the camera has changed quite a bit but the functionality remains similar and familiar.  It’s this combination of unique and familiar that really helps TomTom stand out, and the interesting and eye catching design absolutely will turn heads.  The white, red and black color scheme of the camera paired with its unique shape and design are a definite winner here, as it feels comfortable in the hand and functions quite easily.

On the top you’ll find a black stop button, a directional pad and a very small black and white display nestled between the two.  On the back is a single red and black start button, and the separation of these buttons helps accidental video stops from happening.  On the bottom you’ll find the mounting bracket that accessories can clip into.  This bracket swivels 180 degrees and allows the camera to easily fit on nearly any surface or object all while having a straight and stable video.  The real genius in the design comes in the form of the removable parts, both held in by a button that requires just the right pressure and angle to depress.  The lens on the front is swappable and provides water protection along with the rest of the case, and the entire heart of the unit comes out of the back.

This removable stock is affectionately called the Batt-Stick, as it’s literally a battery on a stick inside the device.  This brilliant design features the battery inside the cylindrical shape with a USB 3.0 port at the end for fast data transfer.  A microSD card slot sits right in the middle of it all and gives users a hassle-free way of manually transferring pictures and video quickly via USB port.  The whole thing seals tightly via the rubber gaskets on the ends of the removable parts and gives a rather satisfying click when doing so.  Even the plastic construction is solid and weighty and leaves a positive feeling when holding it rather than feeling like a cheap plastic device.  All in all the construction is solid and design brilliant; there’s just not much more you could ask for here outside of maybe not using plastic if that sort of thing bothers you.

Performance & Operation

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The back-lit screen up top is used only for menu navigation and functional switching, so there’s no live viewfinder to be found here.  TomTom has included that in the app which you can read about down below.  Turning the device on or off requires a press and hold of either the red button for turning on or the black stop button for turning off.  Navigating this menu was super simple and is done completely via the 4-direction d-pad below the screen.  The menu is a vertical one with pages to the left and right for additional options.  Modes include photo, video, slow motion, time lapse and cinematic.  Each of these modes has their own options including resolution, framerate, wide or normal angle video shooting and more.

The top-most menu shows the WiFi password for connecting to the camera via the app.  Moving down the list you scroll over to select the mode desired.  Within this page scrolling to the right again brings up the current speed traveling, how much space is left on the SD card and what your current heart rate is if you’ve got the optional sensor connected.  Within each mode scrolling down brings up the available options, for instance in photo mode you can select normal or burst mode, scene type, toggle auto rotation and some more general settings that aren’t specific to the photo mode like connection status and enabling airplane mode.  The menu organization makes a lot of sense and makes it really easy to find what you want.

Quality of the photos and video were pretty good although not any better or worse than other action cameras we’ve reviewed.  The biggest advantage here is that, although the framerate is only 15FPS, you can actually record at 4K resolution.  This enables some significantly enhanced detail and video that looks phenomenal on any display no matter how big.  2.7K mode is sort of a trade-off between 1080p and 4K, as it offers better resolution than 1080p but still retains a framerate of 30FPS to catch the action better.  Actual quality of the video is quite good, with a clear, clean picture that often delivers worthwhile video in many situations.  Low light performance wasn’t bad but the image continues to get softer as the light gets lower, the result of a smaller sensor and a denoise algorithm trying to clean up the image.  Lack of optical image stabilization could prove a problem depending on what you’re doing, but the build of the device coupled with a well-designed housing means that the image won’t wobble around as much as some phones might.

The 16-megapixel photos are full of plenty of detail but aren’t quite as good looking as those you might find on the latest high-end Android-powered phone.  That’s not to say they aren’t bad by any means, as the sensor has some good dynamic range, accurate colors and good auto light balance, but they just aren’t screaming with detail.  There’s a fair bit of noise in low light and there’s no advanced modes like HDR.  If nothing the pictures look more like a still frame capture from a video, so it might just be better to use the camera that way instead of trying to line up a shot without being able to see it in the first place.  Check out the Flickr album for video samples.

App

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The biggest downside to the design of the Bandit is that there’s no screen to show video, but thankfully that’s helped a bit by the incredible app that TomTom has designed for the Bandit.  Most of the time companion apps for these sorts of devices feels like an afterthought, something that isn’t really integral to the experience but rather a crutch to lean on to overcome a smaller device’s somewhat awkward UI.  TomTom’s approach is completely different though and it’s obvious from the get-go.  One of the big marketed features of the Bandit camera is how you can edit your photos and video straight from the app without having to transfer files to any other device than the camera itself.  This in and of itself shows the lengths TomTom went to make this a good experience, and a good experience it definitely is.

The overall UI looks more like an iOS app than an Android one, but that’s OK because at least navigation is clear.  All modes and settings are found in the top-left menu button and everything is laid out well enough so that you won’t be hunting to find things, sort of like the camera itself too.  The main screen has a live viewfinder and quite honestly that might just be the most important part of the everyday use of the app.  This isn’t just because the physical camera itself doesn’t have a viewfinder but because the one in the app is perfect.  Being real-time and the same framerate of the camera’s video is impressive especially considering most apps in this product category feature a slow or delayed viewfinder.  The real meat of the app isn’t even just the easy mode and settings switching or the live viewfinder though, it’s the story creation tool.

Creating a collage of videos to form a story is one of the easiest things you could ever think of doing.  Creating and sharing is an absolute joy and it’s made easiest by the pseudo-gimmicky shake feature.  Simply open up the app, go to story mode and shake the phone to create a quick 30-second highlight reel of the latest clips that are on the camera.  Adding additional clips is as simple as clicking the plus button at the end of the timeline and adding videos from the library of clips found on the camera.  You can tag any moment that’s worthy of sharing while recording by simply pressing the red button on the back (the on button).  This will create a moment in the timeline of the video that’s starred so you can easily find it later.

The gallery interface is made up of three tabs: videos, photos and highlights.  The first two tabs are self-explanatory, but the third tab is where things get really interesting.  The app automatically scans your video and makes 6-second highlight clips based on things like motion, GPS location changes and other factors and displays them in a grid of thumbnails.  These clips help with finding the right moment, even if they are short, and keep the action going by making cuts easier.  One you’re satisfied with the timeline of photos and videos added to your story video you can add music by selecting any songs stored on the device or by using one of the handful of built-in tunes.  It’s this functionality that makes the TomTom Bandit more than just a GoPro clone, it makes it an actual competitor that specializes in something unique to the action camera genre.

Conclusion

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The TomTom Bandit Action Camera is one seriously brilliant device.  From its design to the waterproof modular construction, the built-in rechargeable battery and USB 3.0 connector, this is one seriously well-designed product.  Pair that with the fact that the app does more than other action camera apps out there and you’ve got a real winner on your hands.  Easy sharing straight from your mobile device to your favorite social network or cloud storage is phenomenal, and making your own videos and clips couldn’t be easier.  The entry price isn’t really any less than the GoPro, but that’s OK because the TomTom Bandit isn’t trying to be some cheaper alternative for those not wanting to pluck down $400 or so on an action camera, it’s trying to replace the GoPro in every way.  Those who already have GoPro accessories will find that the included adapter will fit nearly everything you’re already using, and TomTom makes a slew of additional accessories specifically built for the unique design and construction of the Bandit.

Overall this one is a real winner and gets a high recommendation from us.  Those who are interested in just the camera can pick it up at Amazon for just under the $400 mark, or if you’re looking to get a little more value and pack in a bunch of accessories the Premium Pack comes in at just under $500 and will give you everything you need to start making some crazy videos.