The action camera market may look all sewn up, but the release of the TomTom Bandit shows that other hardware makers obviously think there's more room to play.
The TomTom Bandit is a bullet-style, vibrant-looking affair with decent video capabilities and some intriguing features.
If you're in the market for such an action cam, you might want to pause awhile on that GoPro Hero 4 purchase until you've read through our review: the Bandit may not blow away the competition, but there's enough here to make it worthy of serious consideration.
TomTom Bandit: Design
The Bandit is chunky and bright, like a miniature tube of toothpaste, but when weighing it up against other action cams it's worth noting that this shape includes both an IPX7 waterproof case and an integrated mount connector —in other words: everything you need in one package.
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The mount connector is designed to help you quickly clip and unclip it, with one hand if necessary, from whatever accessory it's fixed to; it's also designed to let you twist the camera around so you're always shooting in the correct orientation. We would've preferred the option to take the connector off, but it's also handy as a makeshift stand.
On top there's a clear and intuitive LCD panel for switching modes and functions, with a four-way d-pad that means you can figure out how to perform most tasks straight away without reference to the user manual.
This is a solid, well-made action camera: it measures 9.4cm x 3.7cm x 5.3cm and weighs in at 186g. If you want to up the waterproofing protection from 1 metre to 50 metres (IPX8), a waterproof lens-cap accessory is available for an extra £29.99.
It's up to you whether you prefer this bullet shape to the matchbox style adopted by GoPro and others: the only occasion we can think of when it might be a problem is if you want to stick your camera to a window or wall and look directly outwards (or inwards).
TomTom Bandit: Features
The inner tube of the Bandit pulls out: this is the Batt-Stick (TomTom's word, not ours) that houses the battery and memory card reader. There's a USB plug on the end, and being able to twist out the battery and plug it into a computer for charging and data transfer, no cables necessary, is a definite plus for the Bandit.
You can pick up additional Batt-Sticks and they last up to a whopping three hours — if you're going to be away from home for a while, that's another tick next to this Bandit camera.
Also of note are the sensors TomTom has managed to pack in here, measuring speed, rotation, acceleration, altitude and (with a chest strap accessory) heart rate. Not only can you overlay these statistics on your clips, they can also be used to work out where the best bits of your videos are.
Speaking of which, the integrated editing and automatic highlighting features are the real aces up the Bandit's sleeves: who really wants to get back home and spend hours compiling something to share to Facebook? By installing the rather polished app for Android or iOS you can quickly get the highlights of the action shared to the Web.
Physically shaking your phone is enough to get the content transferred over and we found the smartphone app did a very respectable job at turning half an hour's worth of footage into something interesting and easily digested.
TomTom Bandit: Video quality
The Bandit can't quite match the top-end GoPro in terms of maximum resolution — it offers 4K filming at 15fps compared with 4K at 30fps — which means to get footage that's smooth and watchable you'll need to go down to 2.7K or 1080p.
That's no disaster though, unless you're projecting your footage on a souped-up home cinema setup. For YouTube, Facebook and the vast majority of television sets out there, this will look just fine.
We tested the Bandit in a variety of situations and it passed with flying colours: footage was smooth, bright and detailed, and while it struggles in low light, that's to be expected — this isn't a DSLR you're buying. Quick changes in lighting were handled well, however.
The footage we captured was certainly as good as that filmed by a 2013 GoPro Hero 3+ Black we had to hand, using the same quality settings. The Bandit also features slow-motion modes (1080p at 60fps, 720p at 120fps or WVGA at 180fps) and a time-lapse feature — in both cases the camera's capable of getting very good results.
Overall, we were impressed with the video quality of the Bandit. Sure, footage was occasionally pixelated or blurred, but this is an action cam you can fit in the palm of your hand, after all — there are plenty of example videos on YouTube you can pore over, and the Bandit holds its own against most of its current rivals.
TomTom Bandit: Image quality
Let's not forget the Bandit also takes pictures, at a pinch. We took a bunch of photos in a variety of situations and while low light was again a problem, most of the time the Bandit exceeded our expectations (maybe our expectations were just set too low).
In general the quality is comparable to a mid-range smartphone, at least in good lighting conditions, so if you're not going to mount these photos on your wall then the device will serve you well.
The images you can take can be up to 16-megapixels in size and there's the option of a burst mode that snaps 10 pictures in a second — you might find that suits some stunts better than HD video. The facility is there if you need it, but no one's really buying an action camera for its photo-taking prowess.
Like videos, photos can be transferred over the smartphone app, which is worth another mention: this really is a well-developed app. You can use it as a viewfinder with virtually no lag as well, and it's a simple way of transferring files if you don't want to pull out the Batt-Stick or its memory card. The camera creates a little Wi-Fi network of its own which your phone can then latch on to, and though we experienced one or two connection mishaps, it was otherwise a pleasure to use.
Finally, there's the price: at £299.99 this is just about cheap enough to appeal to the casual crowd. Price-wise it puts it on a par with the GoPro Hero4 Silver, itself only capable of the 4K 15fps maximum reach of the Bandit. So which to opt for? If you've no preference on shape and design, the Bandit looks like a great buy.