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Vacationing with an Apple Watch wrist camera: Memory insurance

Taking a swim with the waterproof Wristcam means a chance at photo ops, at the expense of not appreciating being camera-free.

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The Wristcam's watch-band camera syncs with your phone. Memories, on-wrist.

Scott Stein/CNET

On my first vacation anywhere in a year and a half, I took a gadget companion with me. The Wristcam, a certified Apple Watch camera wristband, came along for the ride. With its proprietary charger, of course.

I'm familiar with capturing memories via cameras worn in weird places. I wore Google Glass on my train commute once. I wore a continuously capturing lifelogging camera on my jacket. I also tried one of Samsung's very first smartwatches, the Galaxy Gear, which had its own onboard camera as far back as 2013. 

The $300 Wristcam, which became available earlier this year, is a similar idea to the Gear 2, but a lot more advanced. There are dual cameras (a selfie camera that angles up and a forward-facing camera on the wristband's outer edge). It can snap either stills or HD video. It syncs to an app and imports the captures into Apple's Photo library. It hooks into Siri voice commands, too.

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The selfie cam points up, and isn't always easy to center on-wrist.

Scott Stein/CNET

The Wristcam is both as clever and as awkward a proposition as it sounds. The band slots right into the strap rails on the Apple Watch, but needs to be separately charged with its own magnetic snap-on charge dongle. It's also thick: The part of the strap housing the camera bulges out like a strange growth. (The camera module slides into the rubberized band, but can be removed in case you want to rinse things off a bit.)

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The camera strap is bullky. And yes, it has its own weird charger that won't charge the Apple Watch (fun).

Scott Stein/CNET

The camera watch strap comes in either of Apple's watchband sizes (38mm/40mm or 42mm/44mm, and once you pick you can't adapt it to the other size). Its cameras are 8 megapixels for the outward-facing, 2 megapixels for the selfie cam, and it records 1080p video. There's 8GB of internal storage, which holds photos and video until the watch syncs back with the iPhone and uploads to Wristcam's app. From there, the photos and videos can be imported to Apple's library. The Wristcam has its own Watch app for viewfinding, but it's best used in spurts, syncing back after a session.

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Aiming at things with the outward-facing camera means pointing your wrist like this... which can make the Apple Watch display turn off. Gets tricky.

Scott Stein/CNET

And yet, when I look back on photos and video clips I took with the Wristcam while on vacation for a week -- our first trip in forever -- I see those shots on the water and am really glad to have them.

Even if it's labeled water resistant, I don't take my phone in the ocean or in lakes. But I took the Wristcam. I snapped photos and shot some videos while my kids played, to capture some memories I might have otherwise missed. It's rated IP68, which isn't as waterproof as an Apple Watch, but it can last up to a meter of submersion for 30 minutes at a time with that rating. I didn't test how long mine would last, or what long-term use would do to it.

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Floating in the water, taking a picture: it was tough to aim my wrist, but I got the timing right.

Scott Stein/CNET

Wrist pics: How they look

Some of the shots taken by the Wristcam are a lot better than I was expecting. Others, like some really blurry selfies, are a lot worse. The two lenses sit in different parts of the band: one facing out, one facing up toward me. (Keep them clean and smudge-free, if you can!) Photos or videos can be taken either by opening a Wristcam watch app and using the Apple Watch screen as a viewfinder, or you can just press a raised shutter button on the strap itself. 

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Smudged lens... failed selfie.

Scott Stein/CNET

That physical button ends up being pretty necessary, because there are a lot of ways that taking photos in the water gets weird fast. The Apple Watch shuts off its display underwater, making the viewfinder useless for underwater shots. Also, setting up the right shot sometimes required me to angle my wrist in a way that I couldn't see the screen, or my wrist was tilted so far that the Apple Watch Series 6 automatically blurred out the app in its always-on display's battery-saving mode. 

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Tried for an underwater photo... tough to nail since I couldn't look at the viewfinder.

Scott Stein/CNET

I ended up just pressing the shutter button a lot, twisting my wrist around, and hoping for the best. When my wife and kids knew I had a wrist camera, they wanted to pose for a few pictures. Suddenly I was spending way too much time as a floating cameraman. I should have just relaxed and enjoyed the scenery.

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I like this one.

Scott Stein/CNET

I'm flipping through these awkwardly taken photos now, and... they look good. They have that candid, old-fashioned summer aura. They almost feel like they emerged from a shoebox from decades ago. The video clips, taken at 4K, are reasonably crisp, too -- if only my camera aim was steady. Shots get weird with a nonstabilized watch camera.

The Wristcam's battery is also limited: With frequent snapping during a day in a lake, the battery lasted only about an hour. It's also as expensive as an Apple Watch, which makes it a pretty pricey novelty item.

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Sometimes the shots can feel like they're experiential. Seen through my eyes.

Scott Stein/CNET

The Wristcam does have its own form of asynchronous video chat, crazily enough, which requires someone else to download the company's proprietary app to then send and receive video messages through it. No one will do that. The Wristcam does make me wonder what could be possible in some future FaceTime-enabled video watch... but really, if someone ever wanted to have a face-to-face talk with me on tech, Dick Tracy-style, I'd wait to get on a laptop, tablet or phone. 

There's no need for a wrist-worn camera. And I wouldn't want to wear the Wristcam normally, or even necessarily buy one. But I feel so glad to have taken the shots I did. For anyone considering capturing some water memories on their next vacation, without worrying about carrying or dropping a camera, this is an expensive but pretty interesting wearable option.