The VSN Mobil V.360 is one of the first compact 360-degree cameras made for consumers that you can actually buy. Currently, most of its potential competitors are only available for preorder, but anyone with $450 can get a V.360 direct from VSN Mobil's site. Buyers in the UK and Australia can get one for about £300 or AU$575, respectively.
As its name implies, the V.360 is able to capture a whole scene with one shot. There's no need to pan your camera or mount multiple cameras, you just hit the shutter release or press record and you're done. What results is an immersive photo or video that, with the help of a desktop player or mobile app, can be explored at all angles as you're viewing it.
Being first isn't always a good thing, however, and at times the V.360 definitely feels like a work in progress. The video and photo quality isn't outstanding by any means and after using it for a bit, you might start to think of it as a one-trick pony.
It is a pretty cool trick though, and in the right hands it could be a powerful creative tool for standard movie clips and if virtual reality headsets like the Oculus Rift and Samsung Gear VR take off, you'll be all set to create your own VR content.
Design and features
The boxy design of GoPro's cameras might make them slightly awkward to mount on top of a helmet, but the V.360 is on another level. The camera sits 4 inches tall (102mm) and 2.2 inches wide (56mm) and it weighs in at about 8 ounces (230g).
Add in some extra height from a mount and, well, it's easy to feel clumsy with it up there. Even if you're comfortable getting stares and questions while wearing cameras, the V.360 doesn't look like your typical camera, expect to get frequent questions regardless of where it's mounted.
Speaking of mounts, the camera itself has a standard 1/4-20 tripod mount on the bottom, so finding things to attach to isn't a problem. Plus, VSN Mobil throws in a small two-prong adapter for use with GoPro mounts. Also in the box are a small Bluetooth remote control, a microfiber storage bag, a rechargeable battery, a USB 3.0 cable and wall charger, a silicone sleeve to cover the lower section of them camera and an adhesive dash mount.
The V.360 is shock-, vibration- and dustproof as well as watertight for up to 30 minutes down to 3.3 feet (1 meter). However, while it might survive a drop, crash or other mishap, the large plastic wraparound lens is unprotected. Even with relatively careful handling during my review I ended up with hairline scratches that were visible in brightly lit movie clips.
Unscrewing the bottom cover (more difficult than it sounds because of the cover design and its waterproof seal) gets you access to the battery, microSD card slot and Micro-USB 3.0 and Micro-HDMI ports. The camera is charged via the USB port, so unless you buy the V.360 docking station, you'll be charging it on its side, which no doubt added a couple scratches to the camera lens.
Controls and features
The Bluetooth remote (also waterproof) can be used to power the camera on and off, snap panoramic photos or start and stop videos. If you want to do more than that, you'll have to install the iOS or Android app on a smartphone or tablet.
The camera has both Bluetooth 4.0 and dual-band 802.11n Wi-Fi. If you just want to control the camera -- change settings, start and stop recordings, etc. -- you can connect via Bluetooth. The Bluetooth is always on even when the camera is off. This allows you to connect to the camera to turn it on, and then you can connect to its Wi-Fi radio, which you'll need for a live preview or to view your recordings.
I tested with both an iPad Mini and a Galaxy S5 and using the 2.4GHz Wi-Fi connection was a bit flaky at times, dropping out and then requiring a reconnection. Switching over to the 5GHz band was more stable, but the video still lags a few seconds behind the camera. Basically it's enough to set up your shot, but don't expect a smooth real-time stream from the camera while recording.
For controlling the camera, the app works fine. It's not the most straightforward layout, but it's easy enough to pick up and use. The live preview and recordings can be seen in a rotating shot-glass view or a flat view that you can swipe through. You can also turn your device horizontally to fill the screen with your video. And, as you rotate your device the video will rotate with it, acting as a window for what the camera sees.
There are some inconsistencies between the iOS and Android versions, but for the most part they work the same and the company says it will continue to add features. For example, at the moment there is no way to wirelessly download entire video files straight to your mobile device, so you either have to copy them off the card directly or stream them from the camera. This capability is coming soon to the iOS app and then to Android.
Having the files locally makes a big difference in playback performance, and means you don't have to carry the camera around with you just to show friends and family your panoramic photos and videos or take advantage of the built-in Google Cardboard VR support.