Sep 032016
 

Must be action cam season again. The recent Yi 4K camera—which is about as capable as a GoPro Hero4 Black for only half the price—really impressed me. While we’re all waiting to see how 800-pound gorilla GoPro will respond to that threat, Garmin has stepped into the game. Clearly, the company is swinging for the fences.

Garmin Virb Ultra 30

9/10

Wired

Innovative features like voice control and excellent case-on audio quality set it apart from a crowded field. Same resolution, framerates, and shooting mode as its competition. On-board sensors let you incorporate ride/stunt/adventure data into your videos. Works with most of the common mounts and accessories on the market.

Tired

Battery life is only meh. Image stabilization feature fails to impress.

The Virb Ultra 30 is the latest in Garmin’s Virb line of action sports accessories. There have been Virb-branded action cameras before, but the Ultra 30 represents a thorough rethink. It’s Garmin’s attempt at a kitchen-sink style, high-end action camera, and for the most part it really succeeds. Its resolution and speed reach up to 4K at 30 frames per second, or 1080p at 120fps, just like GoPro’s Hero4 Black. In fact it looks almost identical to a GoPro. Like the Yi 4K (another GoPro dead ringer) it also has a touchscreen on the back—something which the Hero4 Black lacks, but the mid-tier Silver edition has.

Remarkably, you can continue using the touchscreen even with its case on, which is waterproof to 133 feet. But that’s not the most notable thing about the case; Garmin specially designed a mic port for the waterproof case, and you may not believe it, but the sound is just as clear with the case on as it is with the case off. Crazy, I know, but watch the video comparison and you’ll see what I mean. It’s totally unprecedented in the arena of action cams, and its audio quality blows the doors off everything else.

Another terrific idea Garmin has implemented is voice control. You alert it by saying “OK Garmin…” and then “start recording,” “stop recording,” “take a photo,” or “remember that” (to add a tag to that part of the video). I tested it thoroughly while mountain biking some singletrack in the badlands of North Dakota, and I quickly grew to love the feature for one very important reason: It meant I didn’t have to take my hands off the handlebars. It’s always the dodgiest moments that you want to capture, which are the exact moments you really shouldn’t be letting go. Obviously, this applies to many different sports. It certainly doesn’t work perfectly, and your videos will always end with “OK Garmin, stop recording,” but true hands-free control is a major advantage.

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