This is a relatively inexpensive entry into the "Action Camera" market - that takes fairly good video, and is worthwhile once you get used to it, but it is not entirely intuitive. After playing around with this for nearly a month, I think I'm pretty familiar with it, and will describe what I like and don't like about it in some detail below. I hope that all this detail is helpful. I do have experience with some of the higher-end action camcorders out there, so I'm basing my description in part on knowing what's possible. Still, this is significantly less expensive than most similar items out there, and still does a pretty good job.
The video -
As I'll explain below there are a few, fixable, bugs in the software, and it's not entirely intuitive in its button design. Once you get through the hurdle of figuring it out (or, if you don't care about changing settings and ignore the software entirely), you can record fairly good photos and video with it. As far as that goes, the story is pretty good. The video is actually surprisingly good quality. It's not as sharp and has more contrast, and, obviously, a lot less flexibility than what I get on my Canon HD camcorder - but that cost more than four times what this cost. It's better than what you could get with, say, many standard camcorders in the same price range or for even some camcorders I've tried at double the price. The sound recording is not bad, too, and the advantage over most standard low-end camcorders is the more rugged build and the more flexible mounting options that come with this. It's really aimed for those who want to shoot surfing and underwater and skiing and skating and BMX and motorcycle or mountain biking (more my style) footage, but don't want to shell out the cash for a GoPro or a Drift camcorder. In terms of form and function, it's a lot like the Contour Action cameras, which I haven't tried so I can't compare the quality of the footage directly, but I have seen some of it online and for most purposes I expect this would serve the same needs. Like I said, it's waterproof up to 10 meters right out of the box - I haven't tried it at 10 meters, but I have taken it to the beach and done some shooting from a few feet under the water and it works just fine.
First off, you need a microSD card in order to record much on here. When you turn on the Polaroid, it recognizes the card and installs some software on it, which is necessary in order to adjust the settings on the camera.
When you plug it in to a computer via the included USB cable, the microSD card appears as an external HD or Flash memory device, and if you open it up you'll see a folder labelled "DCIM" where the camera writes any photographic or video files you record with the camera. You'll also see the PC software that you can use to change settings. If you are on a Mac, you need to go to Polaroidaction dot com in order to get the Mac software.
Here's where it gets tricky ... I'm on a Mac, and I followed instructions exactly in order to reformat and set up my card for recording. I downloaded the Mac software and installed it on my card, but when I opened the software it would say that the camera wasn't connected - when it was. After contacting support, who told me I should try again what I'd already tried several times, I finally had the bright idea to open up the camera on my television via the included HDMI cord. The television software gives you the option to format the card, and when I had done that I was finally able to open up the camera using the Mac software. One funny thing I noticed once I'd done so: there's actually no way to format the card through the Mac or PC software (I tried that out on a computer at work). As far as I can tell, the only way to format the card specifically for the Polaroid camera is through a television.
I read all of the other reviews here to see if anyone had mentioned this problem and can't see any that did - but as of this posting I can't see that anyone else even mentions using the software. Anyhow, once you get the software running, it's fairly simple and what it allows you to do is set various settings. You can specify whether you want to shoot video in PAL or NTSC, you can set the date and time, and you can set the shooting resolution. There's a switch on the back of the camera that allows you to shoot in "FHD" or "HD" and you need to software to designate whether you want FHD to mean 1080P or 960P, and whether you want HD to mean 720P60fps or 720p30fps. You can also determine what resolution photos you want it to take (16MP, 5MP, 3MP, or VGA) and whether you want the photo mode to be "single shot" "burst" (10 shots in a second) or "time lapse" (which can be set through the software to shoot at 5, 10, 30 or 60 second intervals).
Using the camera, and design-issues-
The camera is designed to be very simple to use, and streamlined in its function. There's a lens in front, a removable cap in the back, that when sealed protects everything so that you can even shoot underwater. There a slider button and another button on top. There's also an indicator light that is either green or red, and a vibrating buzz that also indicates a change of status.
The two buttons each serve different functions, and the indicator light has different meanings. That's streamlining at work. The problem is that they're not entirely intuitive and so you have to read the instructions and get to know them before you can feel fully confident that you are shooting properly.
Basically, once it's charged (via the USB cord) and set up with a microSD card, you're ready to shoot. You can turn it on by sliding the slide button from STOP to REC - and the light will turn on and flash while it's setting up and then turn red. That means it's recording. If you want to turn it on without recording, you have to slide the button to REC and then back to STOP quickly. Then the green light goes on indicating it's on, but not recording. Then, to record, you need to slide the slider forward to REC and leave it there until you're done and then slide it back to stop recording. When it's in STOP position and not recording, you can shoot a photo by pressing and releasing the power button. If you press and hold the power button for a couple seconds, the camera turns off. Each change of state, from on to off, from off to on, from stop to record, and from record to stop, and as an indicator that a photo has been recorded, brings a short vibration and a flash of the light. Lights flashing from red to green indicates some kind of error - like I kept getting before I figured out that I had to format the card via the television - even though I was able to record video to the card before I had actually formatted it.
One other problem I had with the camera was when I hooked it up to the computer once and turned it on it seemed to freeze. I couldn't turn it off or on, I couldn't record, I couldn't do anything. The green light was on, indicating the unit was on, but it was totally unresponsive. I even tried resetting with a pin in the reset button and it didn't do anything. I've had the same kind of thing happen to me with my Drift HD170 camcorder once, and with that one I just unplugged it and removed the battery and put it back in and it was fine. With this one, there's no way to remove the battery, so I literally just had to leave it overnight until the battery drained. The next morning the light was off and the battery dead. I charged it up fully before turning it on again and it was just fine. That's why I prefer removable batteries - another reason is that as soon as this battery stops accepting charge after several years this item will be no longer useful. I don't worry about that too much, though, because by that time I expect there will be something much better at the same price, which is the way of these things nowadays.
What comes in the box -
1. You get the camera, which already has a non-removable battery built in. The camera has a screw off lid in the back that covers the input ports for a micro-SD card (not included), a mini HDMI input (included is a standard HDMI to mini HDMI adapter), and a mini-USB cord (included is a standard mini-USB to USB cord). There's also a little cord that secures to the bottom of the camera for a handstrap, and a mini-caribiner clip that would fit onto a keychain or belt loop.
2. You get a clip plate that screws into the bottom of the camera, in a 1/4" threaded mount that can also fit onto any standard tripod or other standard mount.
3. The clip plate clips into one of two mounts, each of which has a little ball head that, in turn, fits into one or the other of two separate bases. The ball head allows it to be angled as you like or need it, so that you can orient this thing according to the needs of a particular shoot.
4. One of the bases is intended to secure to the handlebar of a bike or any other bar of comparable size. I mounted it to the emergency brake in my car, for example. The other base secures to a strap, and the kit comes with two separate straps, one that's about 3' long and one about 6' long. With the straps, you could secure the base to just about anything: a motorcycle helmet, a car's bumper or bike rack, or a surfboard or skateboard.
5. It also comes with a pack of two-sided 3M sticker mounts that can be used to secure one of the mounts anywhere you like.
In summary- This works just fine out of the box, as far as I can tell. If you want to adjust the settings and take advantage of different photo or video modes, you need to figure out how to make the software work. I think the trick of formatting the card through a television is likely to be the best place to start - and it's just a defect in the manual that they don't mention that. The buttons are a bit trickier than they really should be for such a seemingly simple and streamlined device, but if you read the manual it's easy enough to figure out how they work. The video is pretty good and the sound is usable for most purposes. For what it is, I think, the price is fair. For better video you'd need to pay more than twice as much, and go with a Drift Ghost or a GoPro. In a nutshell: this is a useful, low-end action camera, with a few bugs that can be worked around.
Note: I was provided this unit by the manufacturer for the purpose of testing and review.
on March 10, 2014
The short and sweet of it is that I think this camera is good quality and well worth the money but you need to be somewhat technically savvy and have some patience to work through the manual and various program/app interfaces.
I have only had the xs100i for a few days and recorded about 1.5 hours of video with the camera mounted on the handlebars of my motorcycle. I'll update my review going forward.
Video quality - very good
So far I only shot 720p, 60fps. It was a sunny day and I did not see the `halo' as described by other reviewers. When heading straight towards the sun you do get some lens flare but if anything that's a cool effect and not distracting at all. The V-twin engine definitely makes my whole bike vibrate, including the handlebars, but the camera filters those vibrations out nicely. There is only so much the camera can handle so on local bumpy roads the video does get jittery. On the highway and smoother roads though the image is solid, clear and a feast for the eyes. And the picture looks even better on my 60" hdtv than on my PC/monitor.
Audio quality - surprisingly good
From an underwater camera you'd expect a sound as if the microphone is stuck in a Tupperware container filled with cotton balls and to be honest the audio is a little muffled so don't take it to your kid's piano/violin recital unless the kid sucks. It's not dolby surround - let's listen to the twittering birds by the mountain stream - type off sound but for what the camera is meant for the microphone and sound are great. This is an ACTION cam and even on the highway doing 70+ there is hardly any wind distortion which is simply amazing. It picks up the low rumble of the bike nicely and (with the engine off) it records voices accurately too.
Setup and Settings - fairly easy once you know how
The manual is pretty limited and doesn't provide clear step-by-step instructions to get the camera up and running. All the components for doing so are available though, but they're just not in a logical order. I charged the camera first and then inserted the (32GB class 10) memory card. Going by the reviews I read, I then connected the camera to the TV and formatted the memory card. The TV interface is pretty spartan but at least the manual does give you a decent step-by-step to format the memory card and it also gives you a feeling for when to single or double click or long press the power button as that is the only button used to navigate. As there is only 1 button to navigate, you can imagine that the choices in the TV menu a very limited. After formatting the memory card and messing around with the preview mode a bit (shows live picture from the camera on the TV), I hooked the camera up to the PC (again as properly described in the manual). The little settings program on the memory card is limited but it does everything it should do and I had no problems setting video and photo preferences and date/time. Settings were saved properly and the camera was good to go.
Wi-Fi and Android Apps - not very polished but they work
For Android there are 2 apps that work with your camera: "File" and "Remote".
- The first is so you can copy files from the camera to you android device. It creates a separate folder on your device's internal storage (called "Polaroid") which is where you can find your transferred files. Because of this separate folder, the files do not automatically show up in my Gallery app on the phone and I had to access the files though my File Manager app. The video files (.MOV) don't automatically play on Android but MoboPlayer (3rd party app) has no problem with playing these files. The File app's interface is again spartan and I struggled a bit to get the wifi connections up and running. For me it worked best to first disconnect the phone from my home wifi and then let the File app connect to the camera's wifi first and then to the home wifi (again the manual is sufficient in its instructions of these steps). It might take some trial and error but when the links were established it worked fine. I don't see myself copying 3GB-size files to my phone but for the smaller clips and the photos this app works fine.
- The Remote app will show you the live stream of the camera's picture with a second or so delay. Definitely good enough to check if the camera is lined up right. Other than that, the app lets you change the camera's settings and it worked fine. This app is definitely handy if you're away from a PC and want to change some settings on the fly. With the standard setting you can switch between 720p, 60fps and 1080p, 30fps and take stills. I didn't change the video settings but for the photos I selected 5MP (I think the image sensor is only 5MP anyway) and time-lapse with 5 second intervals. With these photo settings I figured I can still use the camera for a single shot (just turn the camera off after 1 time-lapse shot) or take out redundant time-lapse shots later on, on the PC if I want to make a 1 minute interval series for instance. The only thing you'd need the app for then is to switch to burst photo mode if you want. The whole idea of these cameras is to `set and forget' and not to change settings every other shot so this app is a nice extra if you're away from a PC for a longer period of time (like on vacation) but I wouldn't expect to use it more than once or twice a day.
Video/Audio files - strange file and format choices
The fact that the camera creates .MOV files is nice for anybody on the Apple Mac/iPhone platforms but not so handy for PC / Android users. As reported by many other reviewers, the files play without sound if you don't have the right programs and or codecs. For the PC, suitable programs would be Quicktime or VLC Media Player and for Android it's Moboplayer. From Amazon UK I found the following fix to install the missing codecs on the PC and it works: "So the fix I found for playing in WMP is to install the extra codecs from here: [...]". A great added benefit is that with the codec pack installed, you can also edit the MOV videos in Windows Movie maker. With Movie Maker you can then save the video as MP4 or WMV files but alas, the sound will still not play on other devices/PCs.
I use AviDeMux on the PC to convert the MOVs (or edited video MP4/WMV) to MP4 and MKV files with the right audio codec. Without making this an Avidemux turorial; the trick is that the video codec can stay untouched (.h264) but that the audio codec needs to be changed from IMA ADPCM (Ima4) to the much more generally used AAC for the MP4 container (file extension) or to AC3 for the MKV container. I play the MP4s on my tablet/phone and the MKVs on my TV through my media player (Micca EP600).
Accessories - good quality and lots of them but replacements?
The accessories that come with the camera work fine and I think it's a nice selection of straps, brackets and sticky pads etc. I have only used the handlebar bracket and that works as it should, no problems. In the reviews I have seen, some people complain about replacement accessories not being available for sale in case something breaks and I think that's a fair point because this is an action cam after all and accidents happen and stuff breaks. I saw that the accessories for the ION AIR PRO cameras look identical to the ones for the xs100i (in fact the ION AIR Pro 2 camera looks A LOT like the xs100i) and I posted a question on Amazon whether anybody has tried them out on the xs100i. So far nobody has actually tried them but ION has a nice selection of accessory packs on their website (ioncamera dot com) and on Amazon too so if any of mine break then I'll try them out first thing (and post back here of course).
Build quality - solid
The camera looks/feels sturdy to me and the replacement lens cover dome is only $10 so that's not a big investment to keep the image nice and clear. I read people are worried and complain about the plastic threads on the camera wearing out. I don't see myself screwing and unscrewing the locking piece on and off the camera all that often (or ever) so once it's on and tight I'd suggest you leave it alone. For people that have the need to use the threads often (I guess switching to tripods etc.) and in case they do wear out, you might want to try a metal thread insert before you throw away the camera, like you can find on Amazon: E-Z Lok Threaded Insert Brass, Knife Thread, 1/4"-20 Internal Threads, 0.500" Length, Made in US (Pack of 25)
The 25 pack is $7.50 so I'd say that's worth a shot but at the local hardware store they might sell them for a quarter a piece... I haven't had the need for it but I would definitely try it before scrapping a 179 dollar camera.
It's a great camera for the price. The manual and different user interfaces (TV, PC, Apps) aren't the slickest or the most intuitive but they do what they're supposed to do. Operating the camera itself is as easy as it gets and picture and sound quality are very good. It's the other interfaces that will probably confuse people who are used to and need iPhone-like, dummy-proof programs/apps but if you are slightly (technically) savvy and have some patience, you'll get these to do what you want. This is the reason why this camera sells for $179 and not for $549, which is what you would pay for an `Apple iCam' with half the specs (if it existed).
The video files should have been created in a more universal `container', ie. in a file format like .MP4 instead of .MOV and the same goes for the audio format (Ima4) that's the cause for the files playing without audio in most video players. I hope this is something that will be addressed in future firmware updates but I doubt it. In the meantime file conversions will solve the issue although it is an extra hassle.
on March 1, 2013
I bought a Here3 Black Edition for over $400, but let me tell you it was a piece of junk. No, seriously. The video was choppy and finally the camera stopped working. Anyway, being very disappointed with the GoPro( I returned it, of course; and customer service sucks) I started looking around at other action cams, and I was very surprised to discover there are so many other manufacturers out there offering similar products.
I checkout out JVC, Contour, Drift, you name it. I finally settled for this Polaroid. It seemed like a great little camera, with decent performance for the buck. The image quality is pretty good, and the videos are fluid (720HD @ 60fps). The software however, which you have to download from their website is not very polished. Speaking of software, if you rename your microSD card anything else other than "NO NAME" the software won't recognized it and you won't be able to start the application(at least not on OS X); so make sure that the card you use with the camera is named "NO NAME". Also, if you look at the credits section for the OS X app you'll see some funny things there :)
Now, things I don't like about the camera: the battery is not replaceable and the number of choices when it comes to accessories is quite limited. But at least the camera comes with a handlebar and helmet mounts.
Overall, I thinks it's a 5 start product.