Regardless of where you fall on value of 360-degree cameras on the whole, Samsung made one of the best consumer models last year, the Gear 360. That said, its competition was by no means great and the electronics giant had a fair amount of room for improvement -- almost all of which it tackles with the 2017 version, starting with the design.
Gone is the giant eyeball-looking body and in its place is a much smaller camera. The dual fish-eye lenses are still here, but they're considerably smaller and each has a 8.4-megapixel sensor behind them (the same sensors used in the Galaxy S8 ($428 at Best Buy)). Now the thing can actually comfortably fit in a pants pocket.
Using it is better, too, since Samsung tucked the battery into a handle built as part of the camera body. You lose the ability to swap batteries, but the built-in one will last up to two hours shooting in 2K resolution and charges via its USB-C port. Content is recorded to a microSD card.
Your finger naturally falls on top of the record button on front, just above a small status screen. There's also a standard tripod mount in the base or it can stand on its own. Samsung will include a little stabilizer ring to help keep it upright, too. And it's still dust and water resistant.
While the Gear 360 ($199 at Amazon) can be set up and controlled with just the three buttons on its body, pairing it with a phone lets you see what you're shooting as well as transfer and edit clips and photos for sharing. This was perhaps the original's biggest shortcoming: It was only officially supported for use with Samsung Galaxy / , / , and phones.
For the new model, Samsung will broaden support, adding the S8 and S8 Plus, the 2017 A5 and A7 and, more importantly, support for the iPhone 7 ($550 at Boost Mobile), , , and . All other Android devices appear to be unsupported, though. Samsung will also offer MacOS desktop software for viewing and editing alongside enhanced Windows software.
Samsung bumped up the top recording resolution to 4,096x2,048 pixels at 24fps as opposed to the original's not-quite-4K 3,840x1,920 pixels. You'll also be able to use the camera to live stream in full HD (1,920x1,080 pixels) to Facebook, YouTube and Samsung VR.
One thing Samsung couldn't answer was whether it would make replacement lens covers available to consumers. Although the lens covers on the original were fairly easy to remove if they got scratched, Samsung never made replacements available and scratches aren't covered under warranty. And with two large lenses the chances of getting a scratch are pretty good.
Pricing and availability aren't firm yet, but Samsung says it expects the camera to start shipping in the late April/May time frame and will cost less than the original, which sold for $350, £350 and AU$500 when it launched last year.