The market for sports or action cameras has exploded ever since GoPro reinvented the portable camcorder a few years ago. Offering high quality cameras for some fairly high prices, GoPro has made a name for itself with its Hero lineup of cameras and has improved upon the base model with subsequent releases. Given the fact that the cheapest GoPro that can be purchased brand new is $300 it was only a matter of time before the competition out there came up with a product that's in the same realm of functionality and quality for significantly less. We've already had the chance to review the Xiaomi Yi Action Camera not too long ago, and while that product offered an incredible price the quality of the video definitely showed that it was cheaper than a GoPro. Blackview is here with a slightly more expensive product than the Yi, retailing at around $130 instead of $80, but promising some significant added value in the form of accessories and a higher quality product. Let's see how it stacks up!
In the Box
Upon first arrival I was immediately impressed with the packaging on the Blackview Hero 1, as it's not only cool looking but feels really high quality. Up top in a clear plastic cube sits the camera, housed inside of a waterproof case, and below sit about a dozen different accessories included in the price of the camera. This not only adds some unbelievable value to this $130 package, it also makes the camera usable for dozens of different situations without having to buy anything extra at all. Many times manufacturer's make a lot of extra money off the accessories for products, especially one like this, but Blackview has built that into the price of the device instead, banking on users to appreciate the included value. Check out the image below for the complete list of what's inside the box.
Anyone who's familiar with a GoPro or any number of the clones out there will feel immediately at home here. The front of the rectangular body holds the large, protruding camera lens situated above an IR blaster and next to the power button. Up top is a single LED and OK/Shutter button, while the right side holds a combination microphone/speaker spot as well as two function buttons with up and down arrows. On the left side sit all the ports including a microHDMI, microUSB and microSD card slot. Underneath sits the removable battery housed inside of a compartment, while the but 2-inch screen takes up almost the entire back section of the camera.
The whole camera is made of plastic but feels sturdy and weighs enough to give this the feel of a high quality build. The whole package is textured for maximum grip which is smart given that this is to be used in situations where grip is important. The screen is certainly lower quality than you would be used to on a phone or other smart device, but it's meant more for navigation and to have a preview of the action rather than an idea of the actual quality of the picture. While plenty bad could be said about the screen's image quality it's not really necessary since it's not supposed to provide a high quality look at what you're going to be filming. Its inclusion adds value over other cameras like the less-expensive GoPro and the Xiaomi Yi which don't feature any sort of screen at all and require you to use an app to see what's going on before previewing the final video or picture.
Let's take a look at the spec sheet provided to see what's actually inside the camera itself.
- 2-inch 960 x 240 LCD Display
- Ambarella A7LS75 processor
- 1GB internal storage for OS
- microSD card support up to 64GB
- 1,050mAh battery
- 16MP Sony IMX206 sensor, no flash
- 170-degree wide-angle metallic lens, f/2.4
- 41.1mm tall x 59.2mm wide x 29.2mm thick
There are over a dozen accessories included in the box but no instructions at all. I was most confused at first but with a little help from YouTube and some creative ingenuity (read: dumb luck) I was able to figure out how to use most of them. The bike mount was of paramount importance to me and at first made no sense as how to mount it, however after realizing that there are a number of extensions included in the accessories kit I found one that would turn the camera the requisite 90-degrees that it was needing. The included case is indeed waterproof and includes some pretty serious rubber seals all around the case, as well as a removable and replaceable door. The included spare door means even if these seals get a little worn you'll be able to replace it in no time, and the rubber-lined spring buttons require quite a bit of pressing to use them; something that'll most certainly come in handy when using the case in action-type situations as it's intended for.
The small manual included with the Blackview Hero 1 wasn't incredibly descriptive and left a little to be desired, so I'll help out any user that might be struggling with exactly how to interface with the camera. The power button is a no brainer thankfully, hold it down to turn the camera on and off, giving you both a visual cue on the screen as well as separate startup and shutdown sounds. From here the camera automatically boots up into video mode, with 1080p 60fps video set as the default quality. To start a video recording you simply press the shutter button, and again both a visual and audio cue will tell you the camera is recording. Simply press the large OK/shutter button again on top when you want to stop recording.
To switch modes you'll want to hold down the up arrow located on the right side of the device. This changes between video, picture and browse modes, allowing users to take pictures with the 16MP resolution sensor as well as browse all the pictures and video taken with the camera. Since there's no internal storage here other than whatever the OS sits on you're required to use a microSD card to record any pictures or video, and a message will flash on the screen letting you know if you are trying to capture something without storage too. There was more than one occasion where I forgot to put the microSD card in which definitely led to some frustration, as having even a little bit of internal storage as a backup would have really helped ease some tension there.
Turning the mic on and off can be quickly done with a tap of the down arrow while in video mode, and in picture mode this button doesn't do anything by itself. Pressing the up arrow in any mode will bring up the options menu, giving you per-function options for video, picture or browse modes. Navigation in the menu is handled by pressing the down arrow to move through the list, pressing the up arrow to move through tabs, and clicking the OK button up top to actually interact with the highlighted menu item. It's a little confusing at first but is designed well enough so that it's not impossible to use or anything. Again the inclusion of a screen here is invaluable as even doing this much is impossible with the sports/action cameras out there without a screen and keeps you from being forced to pair it with your phone to complete these tasks.
Blackview doesn't actually make an app specifically for their camera, rather they rely on the LinkInEyes app that's designed for the Ambarella chipset found inside of the Hero 1. This is probably because the app is incredibly functional even though it's a "generic" Ambarella app, and likely any other app on the Play Store (or iOS Appstore if you prefer) would work just fine with the camera as long as it supports an AMBA A7L processor. Since it's not an official app for the camera I won't go over specific features on how to use it, but know that it works perfectly with the camera and gives easy access to all the options on the Hero 1 as well as gives a quick and easy preview of the camera's view, a way to switch between modes and even record or take pictures right from your phone. What I will cover is how to pair the camera with your phone so you can access this app, or any other one you might prefer since it's not the most straightforward thing in the world.
First you'll need to power on your Blackview Hero 1 and insert a microSD card. Once you're at the camera preview screen hold down the OK button up top until you see a little WiFi icon on the top left of the screen. By default WiFi has three modes: enabled, on and off. Initially the WiFi mode only turns on or off, represented by a gray WiFi icon, and eventually will turn green once the radio has been enabled and is broadcasting. After this you'll find a new WiFi hotspot on the WiFi section of your phone named "amba_boss" which can be connected to using the password 1234567890. After your phone has successfully connected with the camera go ahead and open your app of choice, everything should be hunky-dory. WiFi isn't enabled by default when powering on the device because of battery drain so you'll need to press and hold the OK button to turn it on each time.
Quality of the camera is obviously incredibly important to the final decision of whether not the Blackview Hero 1 is even worth it, and quite honestly I have nothing negative to say about the experience at all. The lens is significantly higher quality than the one found on the Xiaomi Yi and has a nicer field of view too. There's no distortion at the edges and the overall picture is wide, clear and clean. Focus levels could be improved as using the camera as a still-photo taking machine will only work for wide shots such as landscape views or group photos. Anything closer to the camera than half a meter or so is completely out of focus and there's really nothing that can be done about that. Focus is at a fixed "infinity" length to support a wide range of activities and work great for anything from surfing to biking, blogging or making home movies.
Overall picture quality was nothing short of phenomenal for video, showing great dynamic range, accurate color and white balance and an overall very pleasing picture. Supported frame rate changes depending on selected resolution; 30FPS and 60FPS shooting modes are available for 1080p and 720p, while only 30FPS is available for the 2K (2304 x 1296) shooting mode. There's no image stabilization so when taking the camera on the bike mount, for instance, video was quite jittery and could be very difficult to make out depending on what's going on. Your mileage will certainly vary here but check out our hands-on video review below for all the sample video and see what you think.
By default the camera turns off after 3 minutes of being idle. This is in an effort to save battery since the included battery is 1,050mAh, about 1/3 of the size of one found in a modern smartphone. This equates to about 2 hours of continuous shooting without stopping, something that's not likely to be done over a single period of time for most people. The battery is fully removable and extras can be purchased. It's also worth noting that I used an Incipio power bank to power the camera when the battery died so that I could get more footage, but this method won't work if you're planning on using the camera in the included waterproof case.
Also to be noted is that the battery included with my unit was defective and only lasted 2 full charging cycles. This made it difficult to verify that 2 hours of continuous shooting was indeed the case and it also makes it impossible to use in the waterproof case until I get another battery for my unit. Defects like this happen, especially in batteries, and I'll certainly be ordering extras in case this were to happen again.
For $130 this is hands down the best dedicated action camera you can buy. With a great build, easy navigation of software and phenomenal quality of its actual camera, the Blackview Hero 1 is a winner in every regard. There's no official app so while 3rd party apps will provide some extra functionality your mileage will vary depending on the app and how well it interfaces with the Hero 1. Plenty of video shooting shooting modes from 720p to 2k as well as 30 and 60FPS support mean fast action and plenty of details will be caught at the same time. While I had a defective battery that could shed some questionable light on the QC process from Blackview, I'm certain this is a fluke and not a normal circumstance as any defective product would be. The experience I had with this device made me care very little about this unfortunate event, and I can't wait to get another battery so that I can use it to its full extent in the future.