Thanks to the smartphone revolution, everyone has a camera on them at all times. The one problem with that, however, is that any time people want to capture something they have to put a slab of aluminum between them and what they're experiencing.
Wearable cameras, like Snap's Spectacles, have done a serviceable job trying to record interactions while also keeping you engaged with what you're experiencing, but there's room for improvement. Like, say, Front Row, a new brand from Ubiquiti Networks that makes a wearable camera called, well, Front Row.
Read this: How Snap Spectacles changed my vacation
Known for its Wi-Fi networks, Ubiquity decided to make a wearable camera when CEO Robert Parra was sitting court side (aka front row) at a basketball game. He wanted to livestream, but he also didn't want to experience the game holding up a phone. So he told his consumer products team to dream up a wearable camera called Front Row, and its $399 device was born.
A relaxed GoPro
At its core, Front Row wants to be a GoPro for a more relaxed walk around, say, a big city, enjoying the sights. The main way to wear it is with a lanyard clip, which allows you to loop in all kinds of necklaces and other threads you can wear around your neck. In this way, Front Row was inspired by necklaces and pendants – yes, including Flavor Flav's famous clock necklace. It also comes with a clip that both attaches to your clothes and is magnetic so it can stick up against metal objects.
The device is light and easily wearable, and has two cameras: a 5-megapixel selfie camera and a regular camera with 8 megapixels. They're both easy to use – you can either open up the photo and video apps via the 1.96-inch, 640 x 572 display, or you can press the media button. A single press takes a photo while holding the button starts a video. And of course, you can also start a livestream on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Oh, and the companion app also acts as a remote camera control if you decide to stick it somewhere with that magnetic clip and you can't get your hands on it.
Overall, the Front Row works pretty well. It captures images and video from a lower angle, around your chest, which gives it a distinctly different viewpoint from phone pictures. The viewpoint of something like Spectacles or a head-mounded GoPro is more what people are used to, so Front Row might take some getting used to.
Front Row allows you to take both photos and video, and all of its content is easily shareable via the companion app. Plus, it can livestream to three of the most popular social networks on the planet. Snap Spectacles, on the other hand, only allows you to take 10 second videos for Snapchat. Snap is also easier to use, with a single button press taking care of everything. The dual functions of the Front Row's media button make things slightly more complicated.
Where Front Row has an edge is that it's not a pair of sunglasses – meaning you can wear this at any time and place. You're not going to look weird wearing this in the dark, for instance, like you would with Spectacles. Having said that, while the device itself looks and feels slick, I'm not exactly sure this is something that would match with every outfit in your wardrobe. There are only two colours, black and rose gold, and while it's light it's still fairly big. Despite being a one-size-fits-all device, this device will obviously look different on people of different sizes.
You won't have to worry about freaking people out while recording, as there's a small red light on the device to indicate that you're filming or shooting photos. There's also a power button and a captive home button under the display. It's a snappy and quick device, and the user interface is simple. In a way, it's kind of like a simplified Android phone, just around your neck.
Front Row uses a customised version of Android powered by a quad core mobile processor and 2GB of RAM. The company tells us that it wanted it to be a powerful device so that it could evolve into a platform with additional functionality in the future. Nothing limits a platform's potential like low-powered innards.
So you can livestream and take both videos and photos, but that's all stuff you can do on a GoPro. And GoPro does it in better quality, as Front Row can only capture 1080p photos and video, with 2K photos if you want at the expense of size. However, what separates Front Row is a mode called Story Mode.
Telling your story
In Story Mode, the camera on the front will take a new photo every two to 10 seconds and compile the results into a time-lapse.. There's an accelerometer and gyroscope on the device that measures when is the best time to take a photo, attempting to mitigate the natural sway the camera might experience while you're walking around. If you're steady and the camera isn't moving much, it'll take photos much more quickly, at around every two seconds. If you're moving more quickly, it'll take its time, around every 10 seconds.
Photos and videos are saved on the device, which has 32GB of storage, and when you're on the same Wi-Fi network as your phone (you can also connect them via Bluetooth) all your photos and video will show up practically instantly on your iOS or Android smartphone. It seems the software creates a low-resolution preview image that it can move over quicker, since if you want a high resolution version you'll need to download more data.
I was shown a three minute time-lapse that condensed three hours of time on the streets of New York City. The images looked good, like something from a standard smartphone. It's pretty obvious someone was walking around with a wearable camera, since you can see the subtle variations in framing in the photos, but for the most part the images were in line and the camera did a good job of keeping the photos coming from the same position. By the way, the camera has a wide-eye 120-degree lens, which allows you to really soak in the scope of a city without too much image warping.
Word of advice: You may not want to go crazy with body movement when walking around with this on. While the camera does the best job it can, keeping images as in line as possible, too much movement can make things as disorientating as a Bourne Identity fight scene. You can see it a little bit in the volleyball scene of this promo video.
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When you're in Story Mode, don't expect to be cut off from the rest of the device – you can still take a photo or video of whatever you're doing via the media button. Story Mode will pause while you're doing this, and once you're done it'll resume. In a future software update, you'll be able to edit your story.
You'll also be able to slow down or speed up different sections of your story, so if you wanted to focus in on looking up at the Statue of Liberty, you can do so. You'll also be able to select out individual frames, either for deletion because they're too blurry or for saving if you really like them.
Front Row is not hurting in the technology department. It's an impressive device that's fast and easy to use. It's even got good battery life, with Story Mode netting 10 hours while live streaming and video recording will get you around an hour and 40 minutes. When in standby, you'll get three days. The big question for Front Row is whether it can get people to wear a $399 camera in either rose gold or black on their persons at all times. It won't take long to find out, as the device is available now.
Overall, Front Row seems like an interesting entry into the wearable camera market and a throwback to lifelogging cams like the Autographer and the Narrative Clip 2. It's not as simple to use as something like Spectacles, but that's because it offers a wider variety of abilities. It's not going to give you great footage like a GoPro, but that's because it's more focused on everyday activities. It's trying to carve out its own niche, but it's going to have to stick the landing.