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Contour+ review: Contour+

Each recording mode also has three quality settings (high, low, and medium), automatic or user-set white balance; three metering modes (center, average, and spot), and adjustable contrast, exposure, and sharpness settings. Microphone sensitivity can be adjusted and GPS power and capture intervals can be set. GPS data is embedded in the MOV file that the Contour+ produces, so you won't need to keep track of a separate metadata file if you want to archive your videos.

Still photos are captured at 5MP (2,592x1,944 pixels) at intervals of 3, 5, 10, 30, or 60 seconds.

The Storyteller software is used to download captured video, trim it, and upload it to Contour's Web site.

Recording modes and settings are all adjusted using Contour's Storyteller software, which is a free download from Contour's Web site. Aside from tweaking settings and updating camera firmware, the Storyteller software can be used to download and edit captured video from the connected Contour+ unit. You can trim the beginning and end from a video, keeping just the good parts, by tapping the new Awesome button at the best part of your video to initiate the trimming mode. On the video's timeline, selection handles will appear around the point where the button was pressed. Simply drag the handles to the points where you'd like the clip to begin and end and Storyteller will automatically crop the video for you. When GPS capture is enabled, Storyteller can also parse and display that data on a Google Map with an elevation graph.

Once the video is edited, you can post it (or just the awesome part) to Contour's video-sharing community for online playback via Contour's player with GPS map and speed data intact. You can also export your edited movie as an MOV file for posting to other video-sharing sites like YouTube or Vimeo. GPS data can also be exported separately as a GPX, CSV, or TXT file for use with external GPS software.

Earlier we mentioned that the Contour+ lacks the aiming lasers that made the previous Contour models so easy to use without a viewfinder. However, the Contour+ has a new trick that's even more useful and accurate for framing shots. After pairing the Contour+ with an iPhone via Bluetooth, you can install and launch a Contour application that turns the iPhone's screen into a viewfinder. This connection is not full-resolution and the frame rate is more akin to a slideshow than a video feed, but it's good enough to use for a few seconds at a time to make sure that the Contour+ is pointed and oriented the way you want it before recording.

From the Contour app, you can also adjust the settings of the two user modes and select one or the other on the fly. At the time of this review, Connect View is only compatible with iOS devices (iPhone 4, iPod Touch), but the company says an Android app is being developed.

So, the Contour+ offers upgraded hardware, but at an MSRP of $499.99, is it worth the $120 premium that it carries over the ContourGPS ($349.99) with a Connect View card ($29.99)? Looking at specs alone, probably not. The only real advantages that the Contour+ offers are a wider-angle lens, 90 degrees more articulation on its rotating lens, and a microphone input and an HDMI output that we're guessing the average consumer will never use. Professionals interested in adding an inexpensive camera to their current setup, on the other hand, will likely find the HDMI output indispensable for connecting the Contour+ to, for example, some sort of wireless video capture box that sends the video to live editing hardware for broadcasts. Don't be surprised if you started seeing little silver Contour+ units attached to the helmets of contestants in next year's X Games or to the bumpers of a few cars at a broadcast racing event.

Looking past the specs to the video quality, we noticed an improvement in the exposure and noise levels of captured video compared with the ContourHD 1080p that we normally use to capture video for the Car Tech Live podcast. Audio quality is the same slightly muffled capture that we're used to from a Contour device's internal pinhole microphone, but that can be improved using an external microphone. At the very least, an adjustable microphone level will allow slightly better recording quality. However, the improvements in video quality aren't so stark that most users would be able to tell the difference between video from the Contour+ and the GPS or 1080p models with the latest firmware. The main advantage of the Contour+ is that its iPhone app enables you to adjust settings on the fly.

However, while the Contour+ may not have a decisive advantage over its predecessors for many users, it definitely has one over its competitors, our current Editors' Choice GoPro HD Hero and the recently reviewed POV.HD. The Contour+ is more compact than the bulky POV.HD, making it easier to use and to set up. With the addition of still-photo capture modes to Contour's firmware, the Contour+ matches the GoPro HD Hero's levels of functionality, and embedded GPS data takes it a step beyond. Contour's smartphone and desktop software makes the Contour+ easier to use than the GoPro with its archaic interface. The GoPro is about $200 less expensive than the Contour+ and it comes with more mounting options in its box--including a waterproof, shockproof case that can take a serious beating. However, when the time came for us to go record in-car footage, the Contour+ was the camera that we most often reached for during our month of testing. The video captured was simply better and it took much less effort to get the shot we needed. It would appear that we have a new favorite action camera and a new Editors' Choice.

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