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Drift HD Ghost action camera review: Everything-but-the-kitchen-sink action cam

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The Good The Drift HD Ghost packs in all the features competitors charge extra for, like a built-in LCD and Wi-Fi; it's waterproof without requiring a housing; a wireless remote is included; it has a mic jack for an external mic; its battery life is very good, and the battery is removable.

The Bad The camera menu system, while easy to understand, can be a pain to navigate; video is very good, but is not without issues; and, as with many cameras, you'll have to supply your own microSDHC card for storage.

The Bottom Line With Wi-Fi, an LCD, and a waterproof body, as well as some nice accessories, the Drift HD Ghost uses its features to beat back the action cam competition.

7.6 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 8
  • Performance 7
  • Image quality 7

There's no shortage of options when it comes to action cams, but Drift Innovations' Drift HD Ghost manages to differentiate itself with design and features.

Rather than the wide, blocky design of camcorders like the GoPro line, the Drift HD Ghost has a slimmer and longer bullet-shaped body. Though the shape isn't quite as good for chest mounting, it is better for POV mounting on the side of goggles, masks, and helmets. The shape also gives it room for a built-in Gorilla Glass-protected 2-inch LCD for framing and playback and a battery big enough to supply up to 3 hours of recording time. Plus, it's removable so you can put a new one in if you need to keep shooting.

There's built-in Wi-Fi for connecting to iOS devices (and eventually Android, too), which can be used to frame shots, change settings, start and stop recordings, shoot photos, and play back video. You can also transfer movies to your smartphone for viewing, editing, and uploading.

That's really just the start of what this thing offers, which is good because it's not cheap at $399. And you really are paying for features here since its video is just above average for a higher-end action cam.

In the box
Even the most basic action camera comes with a couple of mounts to get you started; Drift goes beyond that, so you don't immediately feel like you need to go out and spend more money.

Included in the package along with goggle and flat- and curved-surface mounts is a wearable RF remote for starting and stopping recordings and changing shooting modes. Colored LEDs give you visual feedback so you know what you're doing, and the remote can be used to control multiple cameras (should you have the need and finances).

Sarah Tew/CNET

Two things you won't find are a protective housing and a memory card. The HD Ghost takes microSDHC cards of up to 32GB, but one isn't included. This isn't uncommon with action cams (or other cameras for that matter), but it means you'll have to get one before you can start shooting.

The lack of a housing is because the camera is pretty tough on its own. The battery, card, and ports are all under a removable hatch on the back with a waterproof seal, helping make the whole device waterproof down to 9 feet. The lens is replaceable in case it gets damaged, and with the screen protected with Gorilla Glass, the camera can take a good deal of abuse. The polycarbonite housings used with GoPro and other cameras, especially the waterproof ones, will be able to stand up to more, but minor drops shouldn't be an issue for the HD Ghost.

Design and features
For ease of use, having an LCD built in makes a big difference, not only when setting up your shots, but for changing settings, and quickly playing back clips or photos to see if you got the shot you wanted. On the opposite side of the body, there's a standard quarter-inch threaded mount, giving you more mounting options than just the quick-connect mount that comes with the camera.

The camera measures 1.3 inches wide by 2 inches high by 4.1 inches deep and weighs 5.9 ounces. Strapped to the side of a helmet or pair of goggles, you won't exactly forget it's there, but it's not overly big, either. The lens covers a field of view of 170 degrees, giving you a wide, distorted view. You have to be careful just how far back you mount the camera or you may cut off one side of your video with whatever it's attached to. (You can change the angle of view, but it appears to do this digitally, which degraded video quality some.)

Sarah Tew/CNET

If your picture isn't quite straight enough when mounted or you had to turn the camera to a horizontal position, the lens rotates up to 300 degrees, so you can level things out. Depending on how it's mounted, it can be difficult to test what your picture will look like using the LCD, which is where the Wi-Fi comes in handy.

The Wi-Fi is only meant for connecting directly to a smartphone. At the time of this review just an iOS app was publicly available; an Android version was in beta, and there are no plans for a Windows Phone version.

The app gives you a live preview of what the camera sees, as well as full control over settings and the power to start and stop recordings or take pictures. While settings can also be changed with the large buttons on top of the camera, if you're making a lot of changes, the menu system is tedious to navigate; using the app is a much better experience. Still, it's nice to have both options.

Sarah Tew/CNET

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