With beefed-up video and photo features and the ability to wirelessly control it with your smartphone, this Cube is roundly better than its predecessor.
Polaroid got a lot of attention last year for its Cube camera, a $100 (£90, AU$170) tiny square weatherproof camera that is little more than a lens with a power/record button on top and a magnet on the bottom for popping it onto a metal surface for hands-free shooting.
It's a great design for a casual-use video camera, but since it measures just 1.4 inches (35mm) square there's no room for a screen and that means you can't see what you're shooting. Similar cameras get around this by letting you connect wirelessly to an iOS or Android device so you can turn your smartphone or tablet into a viewfinder. But without Wi-Fi, the Cube can't do this.
The Cube+, on the other hand, has built-in Wi-Fi and also corrects a couple other shortcomings of the original and has more recording capabilities like time-lapse and slow-motion video. Polaroid did this all without any significant changes to its petite cubic design and for just a little more money: $150, £130 or AU$300.
Between the addition of Wi-Fi and the improved shooting features, you'll definitely want to spend the extra $50 for the Cube+ over the regular Cube. However, if video quality is a priority, you'll likely want to spend $50 more and go with a GoPro Hero4 Session. The $200 (£160, AU$300) Session is nearly as small, but it's fully waterproof down to 33 feet (10 meters) and has noticeably better video quality than the Cube+, among other advantages such as abundant mounting options.
The Cube+ isn't much more than what you see. The wide-angle lens has a 124-degree angle of view, so you get a lot of the scene you're shooting with some barrel distortion that's pretty standard for the category. The body is shock-proof and weatherproof, so a little rain or snow won't hurt it but you wouldn't want to submerge it.
With the edge of a coin you can pry open a cover on back that's covering the microSDHC card slot (up to 128GB cards are supported; an 8GB card is included) and Micro-USB port for charging and transferring video and photos. The original Cube had a switch for selecting one of its two recording resolution: 720p at 30 frames per second or 1080p at 30fps. That switch is gone so you have to connect to a mobile device and use the app to switch resolutions. The upside is you get more options to choose from.
Polaroid lists the camera's top resolution as 1,440p at 30 frames per second and it is. To be clear, though, it does not record at 2,560x1,440 pixels -- a somewhat common widescreen resolution -- but 1,920x1,440 pixels, which is a 4:3 aspect ratio. For widescreen 16:9 recording, you have 1080p and 720p at 30fps or 60fps. The camera also has a slow-motion option of 720p at 120fps.
Other recording options include clip-length limits of 5 or 15 minutes or unlimited; turning on a time stamp or loop recording (good if you want to use it as a dash cam); or time-lapse videos with shots taken 1 or 3 second intervals. For photos, you can capture them one at a time or in 10fps bursts for up to 100 shots. You can also set a 3 for 10-second timer if you want to set up and get in the shot.
Again, all of these settings are accessed via the mobile app. The only physical controls on the camera are two buttons -- one big, one small -- on top. Press the big one for a few seconds to turn it on and off. When on, press it once and it'll snap a picture. Give the button two quick presses to start recording and once more to stop. That's it, you've now mastered using the Cube.
The small button turns on the camera's Wi-Fi. Switch it on and the camera creates a network so you can directly connect to it through your mobile device's Wi-Fi settings. Then just open up the Cube+ app and use it to change shooting modes, start and stop recordings or snap photos, or use your device as a viewfinder. When you're done, you can send videos and photos straight over to your phone or tablet to edit and share.
On the bottom of the camera is a magnet for mounting. It's a cool idea since it means you can instantly pop it onto metal surfaces. The problem I ran into more often than not was that the metal on my bike or skateboard didn't provide enough magnetic attraction to hold the camera. The parts that did frequently weren't horizontal, and the video doesn't rotate in any way.
The Cube+ did, however, stick to the hood of my car and it withstood driving at up to 40 mph (64 kmh). Again, it's a cool idea, but it would have been more useful if the magnet were simply a cover for a tripod mount instead of being the one and only way to mount the Cube out of the box. Polaroid does include a lanyard and silicone bumper case, though, so you can keep it handy for those quick "lifestyle action camera" shots.
There are several mounts designed specifically for the cube including a waterproof housing, but it means you'll be laying out more money for something as basic as a helmet mount. On top of that, the mounts don't take advantage of the magnet, but instead just clip around the cube, fairly loosely I might add.
The video quality is definitely improved from the Cube. Subjects appear sharper with more fine detail and there are fewer compression artifacts. It's still not great, though, and anything with motion still has very visible artifacts. And that's when you're shooting outdoors in good lighting. Bring it inside or shoot at night and it will look soft and mushy and you'll have noticeable image noise in your video, too.
The thing is, considering it's size and price, the performance isn't bad. It's meant for capturing hands-free video and photos that you normally can't or wouldn't want to use a smartphone for, while still being able to get your shots quickly online for sharing or just viewing on your phone. Play your clips back on your phone or tablet and it's much more difficult to see the imperfections.
That said, the GoPro Hero4 Session at $200 is only slightly bigger, delivers noticeably better results even when viewed at small sizes and is completely waterproof without a housing. If you can afford it, I would definitely go with the Session.
Battery life is somewhat short at about an hour when recording at 1080p with Wi-Fi and, as you might imagine, the battery is not removable so you can't just pop in a fresh one. I can be powered by its Micro-USB port while recording, though, so if you need to you could connect to a portable battery pack or computer or power outlet. The camera is geared toward creating quick clips, though.
The Polaroid Cube+ keeps all the good stuff from the original Cube -- namely its design, simple operation and reasonable price -- but the added wireless definitely makes it a better camera worthy of the extra cost.