GoPro Hero3+ Black Edition review: Top-of-the-line action cam improves on excellent predecessor

Sarah Tew/CNET

As with the Hero3, the camera's left side has Micro-HDMI and Mini-USB ports and a microSD card slot that supports capacities up to 64GB. On back is a panel covering its removable battery (the same used for the Hero3) and an input for use with GoPro's LCD Touch BacPac or Battery BacPac. There is no 3.5mm audio-in for an external mic, but a Mini-USB-to-3.5mm-audio-in cable is available.

As for actually shooting with the camera, like its predecessor, the 3+ is loaded down with resolution options and frame rate settings. Yes, it shoots in 4K, but at 15fps, it's not good for much. Dropping down to 2.7K, you get 30fps and 24fps settings. Even if you don't have anything to view that one, the extra resolution gives you editing flexibility. For the most part, though, you'll probably want to stick to 1080p or 720p resolutions for battery life reasons alone.

Screenshot by Joshua Goldman/CNET

The Hero3+ still has the Protune mode for professionals or hobbyists looking for more control over results. There are burst and continuous photo shooting options, too. And, there's the capability to shoot video and time lapse photos simultaneously. There is a lot here to play with (click on the chart above to see the full list on GoPro's site).

The camera's built-in Wi-Fi is used for two things: Connecting to mobile devices via the GoPro app for iOS, Android, and Windows Phone 8, and for use with the included Wi-Fi remote. The remote gives you the same menu interface, screen, and buttons as on the camera. It's fine for starting and stopping recordings or changing shooting modes, but can be frustrating for changing settings -- just as it is on the actual camera. For that, you're better off connecting to the app.

The GoPro app gives you a live preview of your shot and, with the camera's faster Wi-Fi performance, there is only a one or two second delay between camera movement and what's on screen. The app also lets you start and stop recordings, change all of the camera's settings, and play and download clips from the camera onto your device. However, not all resolutions are supported for playback and download.

Screenshot by Joshua Goldman/CNET

When you're done shooting and ready to edit, the free GoPro Studio 2.0 software for Windows and Mac is actually pretty powerful and easy to use. The latest version has drag-and-drop templates along with several other new features to make your videos look more professional.

There are a lot of features in both, so if you want to know more about what they can do, here are videos explaining the app and Studio software.

Video quality
The Hero3+ Black Edition produces some of the best quality video I've seen from an action cam. With few exceptions, bit rates on action cameras tend to be around 15Mbps or lower. The Black Edition passes double that amount of data, giving you nice detail -- even when you're moving fast.

Also, where other cameras tend to be loaded with compression artifacts that become readily visible at larger screen sizes, that's not the case here. Color and white balance are very good, too, and it's quick to adjust to exposure changes.

That's straight from the camera, though. Depending on your settings when converting and uploading to YouTube or Vimeo or elsewhere, you might end up with compression artifacts and reduced detail. Aliasing artifacts seemed to get worse as well, though that's something that others in this category suffer from, too. It's stuff that's less noticeable when viewed at small sizes, but doesn't look good when viewed closely on a large screen.

Lastly, while I've read complaints about focus problems, this isn't something I experienced. We'll continue testing the Hero3+ as we test other action cams throughout the year and this review will be updated with additional video and photos.

Performance
Battery life is a concern for all action cams; they're small cameras with small batteries that capture high-res video at fast frame rates. GoPro claims better battery life with the Hero3+ and going by its engineering estimates, you can get up to 2 hours of battery life shooting at 1080p 30fps with Wi-Fi off. Using higher resolutions or faster frame rates, as well as using the Wi-Fi with the included remote or GoPro mobile app, will bite into that time. Also, Wi-Fi doesn't shut off when you turn the camera's power off. If you don't turn Wi-FI off separately it will continue to drain your battery.

Basically, if you're going out for extended shooting, you'll want to get extra batteries. At least it has a replaceable battery, unlike other action cams that have built-in batteries. (By the way, the longest battery life I've seen is from the Drift Ghost-S with up to 3.5 hours recording at 1080p30, and its battery is replaceable, too.)

Though I never experienced it during testing, it is possible for the camera to get hot enough during use that it will pop up a warning to let you know that it needs to cool down. According to the manual, the camera will not allow itself to overheat and damage the camera.

Conclusion
Like the Hero3, the GoPro Hero3+ Black Edition's strongest attributes are its excellent video quality and impressive list of shooting options. If that's what matters most to you, this is the action cam to get. However, if you're just looking for something to play with and post videos online or watch on mobile devices, it's overkill and there are plenty of other options out there.

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