There has been a number of trends developing of late and one of the newest is certainly 360-degree cameras. These are cameras which look to capture far more of what is going on than you will normally get to see when using a traditional non-360 camera. Two of the big players who are keen to make their mark in this new and emerging field is Samsung and LG. In terms of the latter, LG, their option is the simply-titled 'LG 360 CAM'. This is one of those ‘friends’ that LG released along with the LG G5 and will currently set you back about $199.99 to purchase from retailers and carriers.
Design & Hardware
The LG 360 CAM is one of the only LG G5 friends which does not need to be literally attached to the LG G5. In fact, this is a device which does not even have to be used with the G5 at all, as it can be connected to any smartphone via the app. Even more in fact, you do not actually need to use a smartphone to take pictures or shoot footage with the LG 360 CAM, although it does help.
In terms of the design, the 360 CAM adopts a rather straightforward design. Therefore, you can expect a rather small and stubby looking device. The 360 CAM comes shipped within it's own rubber casing which covers most of the 360 CAM, barring a small amount of space at the bottom. The casing also acts as a locking case for the unit, so to remove the 360 from the case, you do have to push down on the two small buttons (one on either side) to release the camera.
Once freed the 360 CAM continues the simplicity trend and is rather basic in terms of its overall appearance. Although, not necessarily basic in a bad way. There is just not a lot going on with the hardware. The camera is a slightly lighter grey than the outer casing and on either side you will find one of the two cameras situated at the very top of the device. On the front of the device (the side facing away from you), there are no additional buttons or design points, while the back of the device (the side facing you) houses a singular round button along with the LG branding just beneath.
Interestingly, it is the sides which prove to be the most detailed as the device makes use of a rubber frame which joins the front and back together. On one side of the frame you will find the typical FCC, model and other regulatory information, while on the other side you will find the power button along with two small LED lights. These help to identify whether you are currently using the device in 360-degree mode or in 180-degree mode. The mode currently in use is displayed by a red LED light.
Moving on and the bottom of the device is where you will find a 1/4-inch tripod mount port and a small covering where the microSD card slot is located along with a USB Type-C port for charging or data transfer.
Needless to say, this is a camera which you can mount on any traditional tripod which makes use of a 1/4-inch fitting.
Alternatively, if you are looking for more on-the-fly action, the actual casing can also be used as an additional handheld stand for better grip.
Overall, the design and hardware of the LG 360 CAM is a rather mixed bag. This is a very simple looking unit. The upside to the design is that it is very simple to use. There is nothing too complicated here and within a few minutes you will be well-versed in operating the device. The downside is that it is not the most attractive or interesting looking device. It is just simply a 360-degree camera. While not properly available yet, the Samsung Gear 360 is certainly a more novel and unique looking device. In reality, the LG 360 CAM does not greatly differ in terms of appearance to the HTC RE camera, barring the periscope bend you find on the RE camera.
App & Software
As this is an accessory, there is actually no real controlling of the device, from the device itself. Yes, you can work the device manually but there is no display or no viewfinder and as its stands on its own, it is just a basic click-and-go camera. If you are not using this with a smartphone then you can easily just push the button and a picture will be taken and stored to the microSD card. Although of course, without a viewfinder, there is no way to see the image you are taking either before or after taking an image. You would have to transfer the microSD card or its contents to somewhere else before being able to check the images. And there is where the app comes in. The real selling feature here is that you do not need an LG G5 or even an LG phone to use the app. It is available to download from the Google Play Store for free and will work with any phone running Android 5.0 (Lollipop) or higher.
Once the app is opened and providing the 360 CAM is powered on then the app will look to connect to the camera automatically. This is quite a slow first connection and it does take a decent amount of time to connect, which is a little disappointing if you are trying to capture something very quickly. However, once the app has connected, the initial user interface continues the simplicity trend with three clear options to choose from, Camera, Gallery and Settings.
Neither needs too much explanation as they are rather self-explanatory but heading through the camera option will be the main use of the app. Once clicked the camera is effectively active and it is here that you can then start using the 360 CAM normally. The interface is generally quite similar to what you might find with a smartphone camera interface, with the exception of being able to hit the screen and take a picture. In the center you have the viewfinder while the image capture and video record functions are positioned at the bottom. Along with a back button and a quick access button to the gallery. The top of the camera interface houses a number of shortcut functions as well as more detailed settings icon. In terms of the shortcut settings, these icons allow you to choose the mode, whether you are shooting in 360 or 180, as well as whether using the front or back cameras.
The more detailed settings icon allows you to to set various other aspects like the audio ratio (5.1 or 2 channel), location tagging, the megapixel count and so on.
Moving on and the gallery is simply a shortcut to your taken pictures. This is also the place where you can transfer images from the 360 CAM to your actual smartphone and without having to connect the two devices locally. So for instance, clicking on any picture provides you with the option to download the image remotely. If you want to quickly share a picture that you have just taken, then this is where this feature proves invaluable as you can quickly open the image, download the image and send through your various social media channels. Unfortunately, this is the only way to share images using the 360 CAM as it does not allow sharing of images without them first being downloaded.
Last but not least, the settings is where you will be able to view and manage the actual 360 CAM. Similar to how your smartphone is managed, the settings provides you with detailed information on the remaining battery life, the level of available microSD storage, when the device sleeps, whether sounds are played (mainly relevant to connecting and disconnecting sounds) and so on. This is also the place where you can set up a password so that other people cannot remotely connect to your 360 CAM from their devices. There is also a update feature buried within the settings too, which allows you to upgrade the firmware for the 360 CAM.
Overall, the software is definitely one of the best features of the 360 CAM. It is just so simple to use. The interface is clean, easy to navigate and there is nothing too complicated going on. Response time is good (barring the initial time it takes to connect) and overall, the interface just works. If you are someone who just wants to play with a 360-degree camera and record easily and quickly enough, then the automatic mode works well. While for those who want a slightly more fine-tuned experience, there are enough settings there to keep you happy. Not a ton, but certainly enough to tweak a bit.
Images & Performance
As you might expect with this being a ‘camera product’, it is all about the images and generally speaking, this is a nice-performing device. One of the obvious benefits is that it is able to take 360-degree photos or record 360-degree videos. However, this is also a camera which is able to be used in a more traditional manner by simply taking 180-degree images with either the front or back cameras.
Whichever camera is used, you will be making use of a 13-megapixel wide-angle lens. Which means there is no obvious benefit to using one side of the camera over the other. Irrespective, and whether using the front or the back camera, the image quality is good and pretty much in line with what you would expect from a smartphone camera boasting a similar camera lens. The gallery below is a selection of unedited 180 and 360-degree images taken with the LG 360 CAM to highlight the type of images the camera takes in general.
In terms of the 360-degree content, there is where the LG 360 CAM comes into its own. 360 degree images are as easy to take as taking a 180-degree image and the results are pretty good to say the least. Although, viewing them in 360-degrees is another matter entirely.
Likewise, taking a 360-degree video is also just as easy as it would be taking a normal video on a smartphone. Simply switch to the video setting and hit record and you will get a 2K video (2,560 x 1,280). However, the post-production of the video is a lot more complicated. For instance, when a 360-video is recorded there is effectively no way to edit the video through the actual app. It is just the raw data video that you are left with. Not to mention, there is no obvious way to share the video from the CAM itself. All videos have to be first downloaded to your local device before they can be shared. This is also the case for images, which can make for a time consuming sharing experience. Of course, you can take out the microSD card or connect the 360 CAM directly to your PC and transfer and edit the content from there.
However, when it comes to sharing 360-degree videos, it does seem to be the case that the end product is much better if shared to YouTube directly from the smartphone and app. If downloading to a PC, there is the added issue of the video file not being immediately recognizable as a 360-degree video. Which means if you do want to post the 360 video to YouTube (as a 360-degree video), after transferring the video to your PC, you then have to run additional software which adds in the metadata needed to tell YouTube that it is in fact a 360-degree video. After which, you will end up with your uploaded 360-degree video. Below is a quick example of the type of quality and finished product you can expect from a 360-degree video recording.
So overall the performance is a slightly mixed bag. On the face of it, this is a very easy to use device and certainly proves to be a nice and simple way to take and make 360-degree images and videos. However, once you have those videos (and images) getting them to the places you are most commonly going to want to get them to is a little more complicated. Nothing too crazy but the sharing of files does make the whole experience of using the LG 360 CAM a more complicated one then it feels it should be.
It is difficult to actually sum up the 360 CAM in any meaningful way. Whether or not you should buy one will largely be determined by various factors. Firstly, do you need a 360-degree camera? If the answer is yes, then the next question will be whether you have $200 to drop on a 360 CAM. If the answer is yes again, then it is easy to recommend this as a purchase. The device itself while plain, is a nice looking and performing device. It does what it sets out to do, captures nice images and videos and is very easy to use. So there are no major hurdles or issues to note. However, that is largely because this is simply an accessory. All of the technology magic is happening inside and without any real onboard controls, operating systems or otherwise, this literally becomes a plug and play 360-degree camera. For what it is, it is very good and if you do want to test out the world of 360-degree images and videos, then the 360 CAM is probably one of the most affordable options to do so with. While the Samsung alternative is just now coming to market and is likely to be more feature-rich, it is also a more expensive purchase.