GoPro Cameras Face Simpler Competition

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GoPro or Go Budget Molly Wood tests the GoPro Hero4 and the Polaroid Cube action cameras. While the Hero4 sets the industry standard, she finds that you may not always need all that bang for your buck. Video by Molly Wood and Vanessa Perez on Publish Date October 22, 2014. Photo by Gopro.

GOPRO popularized the action-ready, ultraportable little cameras that make already exciting exploits look amazing.

But faced with new competition at lower prices, maybe GoPro has gone too pro for most consumers.

The company recently announced three new camera models: an entry-level camera simply called the Hero ($130), the Hero4 Silver ($400) and the Hero4 Black ($500). Despite the nod toward the entry-level with Hero, it’s clear that GoPro’s attention is on the higher-priced cameras and their deluge of high-end features.

The GoPro cameras capture video in HD and even 4K resolution. The Hero4 Black, in particular, is capable of truly cinematic video quality. But they all take high-resolution still images and offer multiple manual controls for color and exposure.

With the GoPros, you can also frame videos or photos at a wide angle, or choose medium or narrow instead.

In short, film producers, photographers and videographers are extremely excited about the new GoPro cameras. Everyone else, though, may feel a little overwhelmed.

The GoPro Hero 4 Silver.

Stiff competition is coming from more basic options, too. I spent time recently comparing the GoPro Hero4 Silver with a new video camera from Polaroid — yes, that Polaroid — called the Cube.

At first blush, this looks like an unfair competition. The Cube costs $100 and is a tiny, brightly colored box with one button on top for operation. It’s closer in spirit to the base-model Hero.

To justify the extra $300 you pay for the Hero4 Silver, you have to use a lot of advanced features. And the truth is, most people will probably stick to the basic options. In those cases, there is not a huge difference between it and the Cube.

Among the advanced features on the Hero4 Silver is a touch-sensitive LCD on the back of the device. That makes navigating the camera’s many settings much easier, because scrolling through them using the camera’s physical buttons is awful.

And for those who plan to edit their video later, the Hero4 cameras have a welcome feature called a HiLight Tag, which lets you mark certain spots in a recording where something particularly noteworthy happens. You can mark spots by tapping a new Settings button on the right side of the camera, or by using a remote control the company also just released.

GoPro also offers a free phone app for Android or Apple devices that you can use to control the Hero4 and mark highlights. It’s nice for controlling the camera’s settings, but I found it often disconnected from the camera and drained the battery quickly when it was connected.

It’s also not that practical to use your phone to control a camera if you’re engaged in action sports like surfing or kayaking. The feature is better if the GoPro is attached to a drone or a frolicking dog and your hands are free.

The remote accessory is better for tagging video, but that’s still not always possible if you’re the one paddling, riding or jumping. And the tags aren’t viewable in any editing software other than the free GoPro Studio application.

GoPro Goes Amateur The camera company is shifting from exclusively building hardware to focusing more on distributing the media that its cameras create. Video by Gabe Johnson on Publish Date January 31, 2014. Photo by GoPro.

While free editing software is the type of benefit that you get with GoPro, it’s also kind of complicated. Although the app does a decent job of walking you through basic steps, it’s not as easy as, for example, Apple’s iMovie app.

Operating the camera, though, is still relatively simple; a power button on the front turns it on and selects a mode, and a Record button on the top takes photos or starts recording.

And of course, the Hero4 is supertough. I have dropped, stepped on, overheated and otherwise abused GoPro cameras to no ill effect.

But with every new model that comes out, GoPro gets more complicated, not to mention expensive. And battery life on the new models is not great — about two hours, and that’s stretching it.

If you’re not a semiprofessional athlete, a GoPro ambassador athlete or someone with lots of time to edit videos for YouTube, a GoPro is simply more than you need.

If the goal is just to have a superportable, easy to operate, point-of-view camera, it’s worth taking a look at some simpler alternatives now on the market or coming soon.

HTC, for example, recently announced a new option called the Re, set to be released this year. It’s a $200 hand-held camera that’s so simple to operate it won’t even have a power button. It’ll just turn on when you pick it up, because of a touch-sensitive sensor on the back.

Its video won’t be as high-quality as that of a GoPro, but it should be better than most phones. And it will come with an app that lets you control it with an Android or iOS device.

The Polaroid Cube.

And then there’s the Polaroid Cube, released in September. The Cube is billed as an action and lifestyle camera, and its fun begins with its design.

The Cube comes in a striped red, blue or black and is waterproof up to about six feet. It’s rugged, although I probably wouldn’t treat it as harshly as a GoPro. You operate it by pressing a button on top to turn it on; press the button once to take a photograph and twice to start a video.

There’s no display, so you just have to hope for the best, but its ultrawide viewing angle usually makes things come out all right.

Video quality is obviously inferior to the GoPro, but it’s still high-definition, and I found its colors a little more vivid. It takes still pictures at just 6 megapixels, which isn’t great — although slightly better than the Hero, GoPro’s base model, which is 5 megapixels.

But the Cube is friendly. It has a magnet on the bottom so you can stick it to a metallic surface like a golf club, but I found the magnet most useful to stick the Cube to the refrigerator so it was ready at a moment’s notice.

Battery life seemed stronger than the GoPro, although without a screen or a companion app, there’s really no way to tell until it dies.

And while the Cube comes with some mounts and accessories, nothing can touch GoPro in the add-on department. The Cube’s waterproof housing, for example, didn’t fit snugly and I could hear the camera rattling around in later video.

You’re also on your own for editing any video you take with the camera, although I imported it to programs like iMovie without any problem.

Over all, I found myself reaching for the Cube more often than the GoPro Hero4 Silver. It’s cute, accessible and easy enough for a child to use. The GoPro seems more daunting with all its potential — as if my exploits aren’t worthy of its greatness, and I’m somehow not smart enough to figure out all its advanced features.

Ultimately, I guess I don’t want to be a pro. I’d rather just be having fun.

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