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GoPro Hero4 Session review: This cube is ready for action

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The Good The GoPro Hero4 Session addresses the main design sticking points with previous GoPro cameras: It's smaller, lighter and waterproof without a housing; the new shape allows for more flexible mounting; it's fast to start/stop recording; and its new mic design delivers better wind-noise reduction.

The Bad The built-in battery means no swapping out for a fresh pack to keep shooting. It needs to be wirelessly connected to Android/iOS device or GoPro remote (not included) to change settings.

The Bottom Line GoPro sheds its housing for the Hero4 Session, an excellent POV camera that's ready to capture what the day brings -- in or out of the water -- at the press of a button.

Visit manufacturer site for details.

8.0 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 9
  • Performance 8
  • Image quality 7

Review Sections

Editors' note: Since its launch in July, GoPro has lowered the price of the Hero4 Session from $400 to $200. Parts of this review have been adjusted to reflect this new pricing and the overall rating has been increased from 7.6 to 8.0 as it is now a much better value.

Three years ago GoPro started work on a new project to answer one question: If a rival were creating a "GoPro killer," what would it be?

The result is the all-new Hero4 Session -- the smallest, lightest and most rugged GoPro video camera to date.

The Session fleshes out GoPro's current product portfolio to six models as the company attempts to further dominate the market for POV (point-of-view) cameras -- also known as "action cams" -- which are increasingly used to capture video from the likes of surfers, skydivers, snowboarders, cyclists and even drones in the most extreme situations.

The Session has a new cube-shaped form factor that distinguishes it from its earlier, more rectangular GoPro siblings such as the Hero4 Silver and Black . It's also 40 percent lighter than those models -- 2.6 ounces (74g) compared with 5.2 ounces (147g) -- and that square shape, included mounting frames and quick-release buckles let you rotate the camera so it's right-side up and lower profile, something that's not easily done with other GoPro cameras.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Another Session difference is that it's waterproof down to 10 meters (33 feet) -- without the need for an enclosure. By contrast, the Hero4 Silver and Black are almost twice as bulky when snapped into the wraparound housings that are required to keep them dry.

The more compact, rugged design really is the biggest reason to consider the Session, which currently costs $200 (£160, AU$300) following two, $100 price cuts from its original $400. At $400 it was competing with the company's Hero4 Silver, which offers better video quality, more shooting options, a removable/replaceable battery, Micro-HDMI output and a built-in touchscreen. (That late 2014 model snagged a CNET Editors' choice, and remains our most recommendable action cam overall.)

Now down at $200, the Session is competing with the GoPro Hero+, which has fewer shooting options than the Session. In fact, it's hard to see why you would bother considering the Hero+ unless you really want the design of the other Hero cameras and need something waterproof to 131 feet(40 meters). Also, Sony's Action Cam Mini HDR-AZ1 is very small as well and although it's just splashproof without a housing, it delivers overall better video quality and features than the Session.

So, yes, the Session's smaller dimensions force some compromises. But it also addresses some of the biggest criticisms leveled at the company's other Hero models. Like the name implies, the Session is GoPro's grab-and-go model -- the one that you'll take to shoot that skate session or ski session or hanging-out-with-your-family session, without having to worry as much about where and how you're going to shoot with it.

Design and features

Again, the Session directly addresses some of the design advantages of GoPro's competition. Cameras such as the Replay XD Prime X, iON Air Pro 3, Contour Roam3 and Drift Ghost-S don't need a housing to protect them from water. Also, the Prime X is a cylinder and can be rotated within its mounts until its lens is upright and level, while the Roam3 and Ghost-S have rotating lenses to accomplish the same thing.

The Session joins this club. You might think having to use a housing isn't the end of the world and it's not, but there have been several times when I've needed my GoPro to be waterproof and only had the open, skeleton back. Or I've wanted better audio, but only had the completely sealed waterproof back. The Session's waterproof build solves this.

Also, the housings for other Hero models only have one mounting point and that's on the bottom. The included frames that are included for mounting the Session take advantage of the camera's cube design. This means that no matter how you attach the frame's mount -- to the top, bottom, left or right -- you just position the camera in the frame so it's right-side up. Or if you have to mount it upside down, the camera will automatically flip the video 180 degrees when you start recording.

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There are two frames included with the camera. One has the standard GoPro two-prong mount on the bottom, while the other puts that mount to the back. Combined with the new included low-profile quick-release buckle, this allows you to put the Session in tighter spaces, such as under a skateboard or simply keep it tighter to the side or top of your helmet. Also included is a buckle with a ball joint so you can level out the camera or tilt it up or down.

Ideally, the frames or the Session itself would have a standard tripod mount, too, but you're not going to sell more GoPro mounts by doing that, right? Luckily, it's something that's easily remedied with an inexpensive GoPro 1/4-20 tripod mount and either frame.

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