The best thing about the 360fly 4K is its mobile app.
That sounds like a dig, but it's only because the app is really good compared to what other consumer 360-degree camera makers are offering at the moment. It makes the 360fly 4K that much more usable, as does its design, which makes it better suited for "action cam" use than as a point-and-shoot 360 camera.
The company's original HD-resolution 360fly camera, which is still available for $300, uses a proprietary mount, requires a little plug for its mic opening to make it water resistant, has a hard to find power/record button, a tiny status light that is difficult to see in bright light and a smooth, somewhat slippery exterior. These are all things that make for a not-so-great user experience. Plus, as has been the case with all the first-gen consumer 360 cameras, the video quality is just OK.
The $500 360fly 4K (£600, AU$850) is worth paying extra for if you have more than a casual interest in creating immersive photos and videos for sharing online. It ditches the original's mount for a standard 1/4-20 tripod mount, it's now water resistant down to about 10 meters (34 feet) without the mic plug and the exterior is rubberized for a better grip with wet or cold hands. Also, the activity light and power/record button are combined, which makes it easier to see with the camera off or on.
Back to the app, though. Turning the camera on also turns on the camera's Wi-Fi and Bluetooth (the latter is to help reconnect to the Wi-Fi quicker). Join the camera's network with your smartphone, open the 360fly app and you'll have a live preview from the camera as well as control over it and its settings.
Along with 360-degree video, you can set the camera to shoot time-lapse video, 16:9 widescreen first-person POV movies and capture 360 photos. The top resolution is 2,880x2,880 pixels; you can choose between 24 frames per second for a live onscreen view while recording, or get slightly smoother results at 30fps without the live view. Since there is just one lens, the 360 video is not spherical, but instead has a 360x240-degree field of view. You lose the 120 degrees below the lens, but you don't have to worry about stitching.
If you really want spherical video, you can always buy a second camera and shoot them back to back and then stitch the two videos together with software. (Kodak wisely offers a dual pack for its SP360 4K camera for this purpose at a reduced price and includes a mount to hold the cameras, a remote to simultaneously trigger recordings and very basic stitch software.)
Once you shoot a clip, you'll probably want to edit it before sharing, even if it's just to trim the beginning and end. The app makes this blissfully simple to do, letting you quickly select just the sections you want to include, then add music and/or an image filter, or you can adjust the playback speed for part of your clip.
The app also has options to grab stills from the video and a Watch Me mode that lets you use the 360-degree video to play virtual camera operator. It basically turns you into a director by deciding what you want the viewer to see just by pinching, zooming and swiping and then exports it as a flat, 16:9 widescreen video you can share anywhere.
Worth noting, too, is the camera has built-in GPS, an altimeter and an accelerometer. The plan is to eventually make this data available to overlay on your videos.
To give others the full 360-degree playback experience, you can share to 360fly's site, YouTube or Facebook straight from the app. Uploading to 360fly offers the best image quality because the other two end up compressing the files that adds artifacts to the original video. The video above is one I edited in less than five minutes with the mobile app once I downloaded the video to my phone. The YouTube clip below is essentially the same video, though I edited with the 360fly Director desktop software. Both are exported at a resolution of 3,840x1,920 pixels.
The desktop editor isn't quite as easy to use and doesn't have all the features of the mobile app, but it's still good for creating quick movies. It does allow you to merge clips from from different recordings, which is something the app can't do.
Video from consumer 360 cams to date hasn't been great. The 360fly 4K is good for the category and certainly better than its HD predecessor. The fact is most people get lost in exploring the video to care too much about the quality unless it's genuinely bad, which it isn't here.
The biggest issue I have is the purple fringing around subjects in high-contrast areas. In the clip above it's most visible around my head and shoulders and in the windows of the buildings and around the buildings themselves. On a smartphone screen it's not as easy to see unless you zoom in, but blown up on a computer display it's visible and, at least for me, distracting. Even more than the image softness around the bottom of the picture. The blown-out highlights are rough to watch, too, but it's to be expected with the vast contrast difference between the buildings and the sky.
Audio captured more than a couple feet from the camera sounds low and muffled, which is likely because of the waterproof design. There are no ports of any kind on the device, so there is no adding an external mic. If loud, clear audio is a must-have, consider this a deal breaker.
The camera can also be used to live stream 360-degree video via streaming service Livit. Just install Livit's app and connect your smartphone to the camera. In the Livit app there's a little fly icon that you just need to tap and it should start streaming, assuming you've got a decent mobile broadband connection. You'll have to keep your phone close to the camera to keep a strong connection and it's not great for battery life, but it works.
Speaking of battery life, the built-in battery lasts for about 1.5 hours of straight recording to the camera's internal 64GB of storage that holds up to three hours of 4K-resolution video. To charge and transfer images there's a PowerCradle, a small round dock that magnetically attaches to the camera's bottom. It uses a Micro-USB cable for connecting to a computer or charger. It's nice, but it also means you can't charge or transfer without it.
The 360fly 4K is just all-around a better camera than the original, and its excellent mobile app is a definite plus compared to competing cameras. You'll just have to be forgiving of its image quality.