As the highest-end model in GoPro's camera lineup, the Hero3+ Black Edition gets all the attention. At $299, however, the Hero3+ Silver Edition is the one more people will consider buying.
After all, it is just one step down from the top; the cameras appear identical (a silver "3" on front is the only difference), and it's priced $100 less with at least part of that difference coming from the $80 Wi-Fi remote that comes with the Black Edition but not the Silver.
Plus, GoPro has positioned the Black Edition as professional grade, while the Silver is targeted at prosumers. For the most part, this means the Silver Edition doesn't have things like the Black's Protune mode for high-bit-rate video, advanced color settings, and 24 frames per second recording for professional video production. Stuff that I'm guessing many consumers don't need or won't use.
However, at least part of the reason the Silver Edition can't do these things is because it has a different sensor and processor than does the Black Edition. So if you were expecting identical video quality between the two cameras, but fewer features and no Wi-Fi remote, that's not the case.
Video quality does take a hit because of the change. Color and exposure are still very good, and the camera adjusts smoothly when lighting conditions change -- at small screen sizes, clips look really good. (When watching the video above, keep in mind that video straight from the camera looks a bit better before it's been compressed and uploaded.)
But, there is definitely some detail loss compared to the Black Edition, and highlights seem to blow out more easily. Artifacts are more noticeable, too, especially when video is viewed at larger sizes. Low-light video is loaded with color noise and artifacts and is considerably softer than video shot in good lighting.
This is GoPro's midrange camera, so it's not surprising that the video is not as good as the Black Edition. It's also not surprising that video quality and shooting options aren't the only differences.
As mentioned earlier, GoPro doesn't include its Wi-Fi remote with the Silver Edition. It does have Wi-Fi, however, which can be used with the Wi-Fi remote if you buy it later, or for connecting to mobile devices via the GoPro app for iOS, Android, and Windows Phone 8. The remote gives you the same menu interface, screen, and buttons that you'll find on the camera. It's fine for starting and stopping recordings or changing shooting modes but can be frustrating for changing settings. For that, you're better off connecting to the app.
The GoPro app gives you a live preview of your shot and 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.
Wi-Fi does put a hurt on battery life, however. These are small cameras with small batteries that capture high-res video at fast frame rates. GoPro claims better battery life with the Hero3+ Silver Edition, and going by its engineering estimates, you can get up to 3 hours of battery life shooting at 1080p 30fps with Wi-Fi off. Using faster frame rates or activating the Wi-Fi 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 whose batteries are built-in. (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.)
The battery (the same one used for the Hero3) is accessed through the back panel, which is also where you'll find an input for use with GoPro's LCD Touch BacPac or Battery BacPac. The camera's left side has Micro-HDMI and Mini-USB ports and a microSDXC card slot that supports capacities up to 64GB. There is no 3.5mm audio-in for an external mic, but a Mini-USB-to-3.5mm-audio-in cable is available.
None of that differs from the Hero3 Silver, and the unit is still a little box that is comparitively delicate without its housing, unlike competitors from iON, Garmin, and Drift. The Hero3+ feels very well constructed and might survive a minor tumble, but it's GoPro's housing that keeps the camera dry and safe.
The waterproof housing that comes with the camera is good to depths of 131 feet (40 meters); the Hero3's dive housing was good to 197 feet (60 meters). If you don't need the camera to be dust- or waterproof and would like a bit more audio to reach the built-in mono mic, you can swap out the standard backdoor for the skeleton backdoor.
The housing is smaller and lighter than past versions and has a new lens surround, so if you've invested in any sort of lens filters or replacements for the Hero3 housing, they likely won't work with the Hero3+ housing. Also, the latching mechanism has been changed and now no longer has a locking switch on top. The housing is difficult to open, though, which is for the best in this case.
Not much else comes with the Silver Edition. Two adhesive mounts are included, one flat and one curved. The mounts work with GoPro's quick-release buckles that attach to the bottom of the camera's housing. You'll find a horizontal buckle as well as a vertical one, and also a three-way pivot arm so you can mount the camera on the top, front, or side of a helmet. A small locking plug (also included) can be used to help prevent the buckles from accidentally releasing from the mount via force or vibration.
There is no charger included for the camera, just a Mini-USB cable for charging via computer or USB wall adapter if you have one. GoPro offers a two-battery external charger, but again, you'll need a USB wall adapter or a computer to supply the power. Otherwise, since you're charging in-camera, you'll need to plan ahead if you want to carry additional batteries. You'll also need a microSD card up to 64GB for storage.
The camera can sit up on its own, but without an integrated tripod mount there's no way to easily attach the camera to anything without using a housing. Being the leader in action cams, there's no shortage of mounting options available from GoPro and third-party accessory makers. This is certainly an advantage to choosing a GoPro, but not a big one since other action cams either have tripod mounts or available adapters to use with GoPro mounts.
As for actually shooting with the camera, while you don't get the expansive list of recording options that you get with the Black Edition, you do get two that will be important to most users: 1080p at 60 frames per second and 720p at 120 frames per second. And, if you prefer tall HD, you get 960p at 60fps, too.
If you've never used a GoPro camera, navigating the menu system can be frustrating using its two buttons and tiny LCD. It's what I like least about GoPro's cameras in general. If you don't change settings much, it's not a big deal, and I'd rather have the option to change settings than not at all.
When you're done shooting and ready to edit, the free GoPro Studio 2.0 software for Windows and Mac is worth installing if you don't already have a favorite editing program. The latest version has drag-and-drop templates along with several other new features.
If you like GoPro's camera design and just want solid HD video as well as easier access to a large selection of accessories and mounts, the GoPro Hero3+ Silver Edition is the way to go. It's $100 less than the Black Edition that, while certainly better, may be overkill for your needs.