Insta360 Air 360 Camera Review

Author: Geoffrey Morrison / Source: Forbes Following Qualcomm, Intel Announces 5G Modem For Phones And Self-Driving Cars A flat "Little P

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A flat version of an Insta360 Air image. For the 360 version, check it out on Flickr.
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A flat “Little Planet” version of an Insta360 Air image. For the 360 version, check it out on Flickr.

Geoffrey Morrison

A flat “Little Planet” version of an Insta360 Air image. For the 360 version, check it out on Flickr.

The Insta360 Air is about the size of a golf ball. It attaches to your phone, and with a few taps, takes 360 photospheres and videos. With a few more taps, you can easily upload these photos and videos to Facebook, YouTube, and more.

The 360 camera market is small, but growing, and already filled with a lot of poor-performing products. The Ricoh Theta S is the benchmark so far, for its ease-of-use and respectable (though not incredible) picture quality (I like it, as does The Wirecutter).

However, the Theta S is $300. The Insta360 Air is only $130. So the question is, how well does it work for such (comparatively) little money.

The Hardware

The tiny Insta360 AIr
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The tiny Insta360 AIr

To keep costs down, the Air has no battery, screen, much memory, or even buttons. It’s just a small ball with cameras on either side, wide angle F2.4 lenses, and a USB connector (Micro or C). It’s Google Android only, though there is a separate model called the Nano for iPhones. The specs are a little different, so this review doesn’t necessarily cover that model.

The tiny Air is barely larger than an eyeball: 37.6mm/1.5in. I guess this is fitting given its intended use. In one of several clever aspects of its design, the Air comes with a silicone sleeve that fits tightly around the camera when not in use. It should protect the lenses from scratches, and perhaps save the camera entirely from small falls.

The Insta360 Air resting on its silicone case (it fits inside when not posing for photos)
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The Insta360 Air resting on its silicone case (it fits inside when not posing for photos)

Two image sensors capture images at 3008×1504 (“3K” or about 4.5 megapixels). Video resolution depends a bit on your phone. Most can do up to 2560×1280. The most recent (i.e. most powerful) phones can record 3K video at 30 frames per second. For comparison, this is much lower photo resolution than the Theta S, but higher video resolution (which has 5376 x 2688 for photos, 1920×1080 for video).

Compatibility is, broadly speaking, “current Android phones.” The newer and more powerful the better. My Samsung S6 edge worked fine, but an S7 or S8 would have worked a bit better (more on that later). Anything before Android 5.1 is out. If you’re not sure, it’s best to check.

Side and front views of the Insta360 Air as connected to a phone.
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Side and front views of the Insta360 Air as connected to a phone.

The USB connector is of standard length, which seems fine until you try to connect the Air to a phone with a case on it. So you’ll need to take your phone out of its case to use the Air (I guess this depends on the case, but I think most would prevent the Air from connecting). Also, depending on where the USB input is on your phone, you may have to hold your phone upside-down while you’re using the Air. Other than reversing the buttons on the bottom (now top) of the phone, this isn’t a big deal.

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Following Qualcomm, Intel Announces 5G Modem For Phones And Self-Driving Cars

The Software

In testing 360 cameras I’ve found the software to be the biggest Achilles’ heel. Early on the Theta S software was clunky and crashed (it’s a lot better now). Nikon’s software for the KeyMission 360 made it effectively useless (though they finally updated it, and that’s in my queue to test).

So it’s perhaps the biggest win for the Air that its software is excellent. Plug the camera in, the software loads automatically (presuming your phone is unlocked), and immediately you’re staring right back at your smiling mug.

Here you can select photo, video, or live streaming, along with a couple of picture settings like exposure, and “Fringing Fix” which reduces some odd color along edges of some…

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