At this point, the action-camera market is pretty crowded. So what do you do if you want to get noticed? Well, other than coming in at a really low price , you go after user pain points. Perhaps the biggest one for most people is what to do with all the video you capture if you don't want to sit down at a computer and start editing.
TomTom, the company best known for its GPS navigation systems, came up with a solution in the Bandit, a camera that can handle both capturing your adventures and editing the best moments together into a movie you can share straight from a phone or tablet. The Bandit addresses a few other shortcomings you might find in competing cameras and has very good video quality, too, but the easy on-camera editing is the star attraction.
Priced at $400/£300/AU$580 for the camera, two adhesive mounts and an adapter to use the Bandit's quick-release mount with GoPro accessories, it's definitely an investment. A Premium bundle packs in a wrist remote control, handle bar mount, a dive lens cover good down to 50 meters (about 164 feet), a 360-degree tilt mount and a power cable for $500/£380/$700. The dive lens alone is $40/£30/AU$50, so if you need that immediately, you might dig around your couch cushions for the extra cash and get the bundle.
The Bandit is splashproof with the included lens cover, though, so a little rain or snow shouldn't hurt it. It feels like it can take a beating, which is good because there is no housing option for more protection. There are plenty of other accessories including several mounts that take advantage of the camera's quick-release clip.
The clip system actually addresses two problems. First, it makes it easy to attach the camera to a mount by simply squeezing in a couple tabs, and removing the camera is just as easy (though the latter could be seen as a negative since there's no way to lock the tabs, keeping the camera from accidentally coming off a mount). Second, the whole clip system rotates around the camera to the left and right, so getting the camera into a horizontal position isn't an issue however it's mounted.
The system adds some height to the camera, but because of how the clip mechanism works, the mounts are fairly flat so it's really not an issue. The exception would be when using the included GoPro adapter, which does significantly add to the height.
If you're counting, so far the Bandit's design doesn't need an additional bulky housing to make it waterproof -- just a different lens cap -- and its unique mounting bracket makes it easy to attach and remove the camera from its mounts, keeps the camera's profile low and you can rotate it until it's horizontal.
Next, there's the Batt-Stick. With a twist of the back of the camera you pull out the battery and the microSD slot. This is the Batt-Stick and at the front is a standard USB 3.0 connector, so to charge up the battery you don't need a cable, you just plug it into any standard USB port. The same goes for transferring photos and videos to a computer and since it's USB 3.0, transfers are fast. And since the battery isn't built in, you can just swap in for another Batt-Stick ($60/£45/AU$80) to keep recording when you run low on power.
On the back of the Batt-Stick is a connector that can also be used with an optional cable to charge the camera. The same connector can also be used to attach a cable for an external mic; a built-in stereo mic is at the front of the camera.
Above this connector is a button that turns the camera on, starts it recording video or takes a picture and lets you tag something that happened as a highlight. The remaining controls are on top: a directional pad for navigating the menu system as well as a button to stop recording and turn the power off.
The small monochrome display on top is just for changing settings. That means there's no way to preview what you're shooting without turning on the camera's Wi-Fi and using the Bandit's app for iOS or Android to use a mobile device as a viewfinder. The app can also be used to change settings and as a remote control.
Before I go deeper into the mobile app, there is one more integral part to the camera's features. Inside the camera, along with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, are GPS and motion sensors. When recording video these are used to tag your clips for max speed, g-force, rotation and heart rate (when wearing an external Bluetooth heart-rate strap). It also tags steep acceleration and deceleration as well as vertical descent. Unfortunately, the GPS and sensor data isn't stored in any way, so for example you can't use the GPS to track a motorcycle ride.
When you connect the Bandit wirelessly to a mobile device, you can view all of these tags in your clips. If you want to add a highlight tag, you can do that just by tapping a star symbol overlaid on the video when you're playing back. For example, I was stopped at a light under the Empire State Building, so I looked up to capture it. Because I was standing still, the sensors didn't add a tag and I forgot to manually add one with the star button on the back of the camera. But when playing back in the app, I just tapped the star icon at the right point and it added the highlight tag.
From there, you can select Create a Story from the app's menu to build a movie. You can manually select the highlights you want to use for your video, or simply give your phone or tablet a shake. If you go for the latter, a bunch of thumbnails for your highlights bounce around the screen and eventually line up on a timeline.
Regardless of which method you choose, you need to have highlights created to use the Create a Story feature. Basically, if you have a clip with no highlights, you'll have to go in and add them manually to build your movie. Again, that's done simply by tapping the star icon at the appropriate moment and you can adjust the highlight length with onscreen sliders.
Once your highlights are on the timeline, you can move the clips around if you don't like the order they landed in or you can cut them out altogether. You can add music from what's available on your device, which is good since I couldn't find a way to cut the audio to avoid listening to wind noise. On iOS devices, you can also add an overlay to your video with some of the sensor data.
When you've got your movie the way you want it, you tap Share on the screen and the camera will start to process the clips and transfer them to your phone as a finished movie.
The video that's transferred to your phone or tablet is 1,280x720-pixel resolution at a bitrate of about 7.5Mbps. It looks really good on small mobile displays, but examined closely at larger screen sizes you'll see a big difference between the full-resolution clips the camera captures and the camera-created movies.
The full-resolution video (recorded at a 25Mbps bitrate) is sharper with more detail than the converted movies and stands up better to viewing on bigger displays. Like a lot of action cams, it doesn't do well with very bright light leading to things like blown-out skies. Low-light video is noticeably softer and has more visible artifacts, but again, that's par for the course with cameras in this category. There's also some purple fringing in high-contrast areas and some Jell-O effect in really shaky scenes.
Video can be captured at resolutions up to 4K at a fairly useless 15 frames per second. It does have a 2.7K at 30fps option, though, in addition to 1080p at 60fps and 30fps along with 720p at 120fps and 60fps. It'll do 4K time-lapse movies, and slow motion at 1080p and 720P, too.
The point here is that if you're after the best quality final product from the Bandit, you'll still need to transfer your clips to a computer and edit them yourself. The advantage for this camera is the quick edit for fast online sharing and playback on mobile devices, and it's a winner there.
The TomTom Bandit is an excellent alternative to GoPro and others in the category thanks to its quick mobile editing, versatile mounting system, removable battery and its numerous shooting options. The video quality is very good, too, but if that is your main concern, the GoPro Hero4 Silver and Sony Action Cam X1000V at around the $400 mark are better choices and there are other cameras that are on par with it for less money.