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YI 4K Action Camera review: More camera for your money

A follow-up to its surprisingly good sub-$100, full-HD action cam, the YI 4K might just be the best budget camera you can buy.

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Joshua Goldman
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Joshua Goldman

Senior Editor / Reviews

Joshua Goldman is a senior editor for CNET Reviews, covering laptops and the occasional action cam or drone and related accessories. He has been writing about and reviewing consumer technology and software since 2000.

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3 min read

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GoPro might be the undisputed leader in the action cam market, but its cameras are not without weaknesses. The greatest of those at the moment is age: GoPro's top Hero4 Black camera was released nearly two years ago.

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8.2

YI 4K Action Camera

The Good

The YI 4K Action Camera is a remarkable camera for the money, offering great features and performance in an easy-to-use package. It has long battery life for its size. A touchscreen gives you full control of the camera or you can use the high-speed Wi-Fi to connect to your phone and control via an app. App handles shooting, editing and sharing. YI continues to add features through firmware updates.

The Bad

You'll need to buy accessories such as a waterproof housing. Though YI used Gorilla Glass, the touchscreen is not shatterproof. The microSD card slot is a little hard to access. Parts of the English app are still in Chinese.

The Bottom Line

An action cam with a lot of features, excellent video quality and a more affordable price, the YI 4K is undeniably a good deal.

The YI 4K Action Cam kicks the cane right out from under that elderly camera by using the newest versions of the tech found in the Hero4, including an Ambarella A9SE75 chipset, a Sony IMX377 image sensor and a high-speed Broadcom BCM43340 dual-band Wi-Fi module.

These specs translate into a camera that has the same shooting options as the Hero4 Black, such as recording high-bit-rate 4K-resolution video at 30 frames per second (fps), 1080p at 120fps and 720p at 240fps, but it runs cooler and has better battery life. The performance is so much better that YI even put a touchscreen on the back -- something only available for the Hero4 Black as an attachment or on the step-down Silver model.

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High performance on the cheap, YI's 4K-resolution camera packs a lot of features into its tiny body.

Sarah Tew/CNET

On top of that, the YI 4K is $250 (roughly AU$330 or £230), around half the price of Hero4 Black, which is still selling on GoPro's site for its original $500 (though Amazon has it for about $70 less). Having high-end components doesn't guarantee great performance, but in the case of the YI 4K the result is an excellent little camera and a lower-cost substitute for a GoPro Hero4.

YI has continued to issue firmware updates for the camera, too, improving performance and adding shooting options. This includes a flat color setting for easier color adjustments when editing and an "Ultra" resolution setting that, like GoPro's SuperView setting, takes a 4:3 aspect ratio video and digitally stretches it to 16:9 to get more of a scene top to bottom in your shot. The complete list of capabilities is extensive to say the least and is available on YI's site.

Unfortunately, what it doesn't correct for is the amount of chromatic aberration (purple fringing) around high-contrast subjects, such as the buildings against the sky in the above video. In general, you probably won't see it when squeezed down for viewing on a smartphone or tablet. But blown up on a computer screen it's easy to see. Also, like most small-sensor cameras, highlights can easily be blown out, costing you details in bright scenes.

Once you're done shooting, you can connect to your smartphone using the camera's high-speed Wi-Fi and YI's mobile app to view your clips or photos, transfer and edit them. The built-in video editor lets you quickly cut a clip down, add a color filter or some text and export it out for sharing. Some of the app is still in Chinese, but you can pretty much guess what things do.

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For $30 extra you can get the camera with a Bluetooth remote and a quality selfie stick.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The camera also has Bluetooth for use with a small two-button remote shutter release that also lets you switch between capturing photos or video. You can buy the remote, camera and a really nice selfie stick for about $280. In fact, all the accessories -- whether you're talking about a microSD card for storage or waterproof housing or some other mount -- will cost you extra. For $250, you just get the camera, one battery and a Micro-USB cable for charging.

YI used a standard tripod mount on the bottom, so there's no shortage of mounts available for this camera. The mount is off-center, though, which might make putting it on a helmet a little awkward. The $40 waterproof housing -- get this one -- has a centered GoPro-compatible mount on it giving you easy access to using those, too.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Overall, I like the design of the camera, even if it is somewhat generic, and the touchscreen is very responsive, so you won't have any problems swiping and tapping your way through the interface. There are recording lights on top and in front, but in daylight they can be tough to see and if you're staring at the screen, you'll probably find yourself triple-checking to see if you're rolling. Also, YI says the screen is made with Gorilla Glass, but, speaking from experience, this does not make it indestructible. More difficult to scratch? Sure, but drop it and it could shatter.

The YI 4K is undeniably a good deal for an action cam. If your videos are destined for YouTube or Facebook and you want a camera that's as powerful as a GoPro Hero4 Black, but with a touchscreen and for nearly half the price, there's little reason not to consider it.

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8.2

YI 4K Action Camera

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 9Performance 8Image quality 8