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Samsung Gear 360 review: A great camera companion to complete the Gear VR picture

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Samsung's Gear 360 is one of the best consumer 360-degree cameras you can get at the moment, and yet for most people it's probably not going to be "the one to get."

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7.8

Samsung Gear 360

The Good

The well-priced Samsung Gear 360 produces some of the best spherical video you can get from a consumer-grade 360-degree camera at the moment. Easy to use on its own or with its full-featured mobile app. Can be used as a single-lens wide-angle video camera. Clips can be transferred, trimmed and shared with your Galaxy phone or edited on a computer. Body is splash- and dust-resistant and battery and storage are removable.

The Bad

The camera's app currently works on only select Samsung phones. The lenses can be easily scratched and replacements aren't available. Included editing software is Windows-only and editing without it is difficult at best. Transferring clips longer than a couple of minutes takes a long time.

The Bottom Line

The Samsung Gear 360 is great for simple 360-degree video and photos. You'll just need the right Galaxy phone and a Windows computer to get the most from it, right out of the box.

Mainly that's because the camera -- available for $350 in the US and £350 and AU$500 in the UK and Australia -- is currently only officially supported for use with Samsung Galaxy S6/S7, S6/S7 Edge, S6 Edge+ and Note 5 phones for use with the Samsung Gear 360 Manager app. That cuts a lot of other Android and all iOS users out.

On top of that, the bundled editing software called Gear 360 Action Director made by Cyberlink is Windows-only. This wouldn't be so bad if there were more consumer-level editing options for 360 content available, but there aren't. The bigger issue, though, is that you need either one of those Galaxy phones or the Cyberlink software to easily convert what the camera records from its two separate cameras into an equirectangular view (think flattened sphere) that can be edited and uploaded to YouTube and Facebook.

Basically, if you're considering the Gear 360 because you want a simple way to capture, edit and share 360-degree video and photos, you better have at least one of the aforementioned Galaxy devices and maybe a reasonably powerful Windows PC, too. You can still use the camera on its own without connecting to its mobile app and do the stitching and editing with other software (here's how to do it using Kolor Autopano Video software, for example), but it is much more difficult and time-consuming.

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A point-and-shoot with two cameras.

Josh Miller/CNET

The camera itself is pretty straightforward to use. With the three buttons on the camera and its small screen you're able change basic settings and shooting modes, of which there are four: Video, Photo, Time-lapse Video and Looping Video. Switch to the mode you want, press the record button on top and the camera does the rest, simultaneously capturing the view from the front and rear cameras and combining them into one MP4 video or JPEG photo. (You can also shoot with just one of the cameras giving you a regular wide-angle video at resolutions up to 2,560x1,440 at 30 frames per second.)

Want more control? Wirelessly connect the camera to a Galaxy device, open the Gear 360 app and you get a preview of your shot as well as sharpness, white balance, HDR, exposure, ISO limit and wind cut settings. You can also turn on a 2-, 5- or 10-second timer.

When you're done, you can view and transfer content straight to your Galaxy phone and as that happens it will stitch together the views from the two cameras into photos and videos that will give you the full 360-degree spherical experience. Keep in mind, though, the longer the clip, the longer the transfer takes, so it's best to keep your videos short.

The clips can be trimmed, but that's it for on-phone editing. It's at this point you can share it to Facebook or YouTube and also pop your phone into the current -- and excellent -- Gear VR headset to explore what you captured.

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Photos and video from the Gear 360 direct from the camera are two separate views from each lens combined into one file.

Joshua Goldman/CNET

You can also opt to use the Action Director software to edit. All the stitching is done as you transfer the video and photos from your microSD card onto your computer via the software. Again, the longer your videos are, the longer it will take to stitch them together.

Action Director will let you trim and combine clips, add transitions, music and titles, and even apply visual effects and filters. White balance and color can also be tweaked as well as playback speed if you want to add high-speed or slow-motion sections.

The clip above was edited with the Gear 360 Action Director software. (Please select 2160s (4K) from the video settings for the best quality.) The second waterfall section (54-second mark) was reduced to half speed so you can see the slow-motion effect, and the reduction in quality because of it. There is some increased softness around the stitches and those seams aren't exactly perfect, and there's chromatic aberration (aka purple fringing) around high-contrast subjects. Still, the video quality is some of the best I've seen from a consumer 360-degree camera. But, sadly, the bar is pretty low at the moment.

As for the camera design, Samsung sort of pitches this as an action cam, partly for its dust- and water-resistant body and partly because of a single-lens mode for GoPro-style movies. The thing is, it has two giant fish-eye lenses that are unprotected and, at least in the US, there are no housings to add protection. The lens covering is replaceable -- just unscrew the silver ring around the lens to access it -- but replacements aren't available.

Outside of the lens issue, the ball shape makes it a bit awkward to hold without the included mini-tripod/handgrip. However, it is nice that the battery is removable and it records to microSD cards, something competitors like the Ricoh Theta S and the 360fly 4K don't offer.

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Josh Miller/CNET

In the end, for simple 360-degree video and photos, the Gear 360 is great. You'll just need the right Galaxy phone and a Windows computer to get the most from it, right out of the box.

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7.8

Samsung Gear 360

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 7Performance 8Image quality 8