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Ultimate Ears Hyperboom Review: The Perfect 21st-Century Boombox

Growing up, some of my fondest listening experiences came from a silver Phillips boombox. I have vivid memories of popping in Moby’s Play—and what I honestly recall to be six D-sized batteries—and wandering around with the bald-headed maestro in tow.These days, it’s easy to take …

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Embr Wave Review: The End of Thermostat Wars

I’d forgotten it was cold inside until I picked up an aluminum laptop and it felt like ice. Then I noticed my fingertips and toes were freezing. It was weird, knowing I was cold yet not feeling cold. But that’s how the Wave worked best—when I wasn’t paying attention to it.

I’ve been wearing the Embr Wave for a while now, a watch-like wearable that sends waves of heat into the fleshy underside of my wrist during the dead of a New York winter, and releases pulses of icy coolness when an unusual winter heatwave has me sweating. It was a strange feeling at first, but I got used to it pretty quickly.

We can drive ourselves crazy over a few degrees. (At least I do.) I’m a thermostat control freak. I constantly tweak it during the day; up a degree now, then down a degree later. It’s not a good time when I can’t control the temperature. The discomfort ruins concentration, mood, and productivity. Wearing the Wave has surprisingly helped in those situations—all thanks to a few mind tricks.

Bio Trickery

I’ve previously written about how Dr. Hui Zhang, a research scientist at UC Berkeley, found that, on average, test subjects wearing the Embr Wave reported feeling 5.8 degrees Fahrenheit warmer after three minutes on the warm setting and 4.6 degrees Fahrenheit cooler on the cool setting.

The independent study claimed that women often report feeling cold in the office because, typically, the office thermostat is set for men’s comfort. Women—who tend to be smaller and have a higher surface-area-to-body-volume ratio—lose heat more quickly. On average, women prefer temperatures five degrees warmer than men, according to a 2015 report by the Dutch Maastricht University Medical Center.

The Wave doesn’t actually change your body temperature. You wouldn’t want that anyway, since an adult’s body is programmed to run at a particular baseline of 97 to 99 degrees Fahrenheit. Instead, it only changes your perception of how warm or cool you are. The idea is that, in situations where you can’t control the thermostat or you left your sweater at home, the Wave will trick your brain into feeling warmer or cooler.

On the wearable, there’s a light bar you can touch to turn it on, adjust the temperature, and turn it off, but most of the Wave’s finer points of control are found in Embr’s app. There are four preset modes: Quick, Essential, Extended, and Fall Asleep. The former sends quick waves of cooling or heating over five minutes; Essential spaces out the waves a little more over 10 minutes; and Extended lasts for 30 minutes. Fall Asleep releases longer, gentler waves of heating or cooling over 35 minutes and mutes the LED lights on the Wave.

Embr Labs releases new modes through over-the-air software updates. While I was testing it out, they released Fall Asleep mode and the option to make custom modes, choosing the intensity and frequency of the heating and cooling waves as well as the runtime, from five to 60 minutes. Bumping up the runtime to 60 minutes was a great move as I’d been continuously running Extended mode back to back—no longer did I need to stop every half-hour and restart it.

To a Certain Degree

Photograph: Rob Chron/Embr 

For heat, you choose a number on a scale of 1 to 16, with 16 being the hottest. I preferred the hotter end. Go big or go home, right? The Wave limits you by default to 13. If you want to jack it up past 13, you have to go into the app’s settings and give it permission to maybe burn you.

“You are enabling the highest level of heat, with a potential risk of painful heat sensation. If you are okay with that, please select ‘Confirm’ to enable this setting.” Boom. Confirmed. Now I was at 16.

This is mildly unpleasant, was my first thought as I tried to not let it distract me from work. After 20 minutes, it became plain unpleasant and I couldn’t get anything done. I had spent most of those 20 minutes uneasily anticipating the next wave of heat. I learned my lesson: Don’t put it on 16. Bringing it down to 15 was OK, but keeping it between 12 and 14 was perfect. I started to forget that my apartment’s heat was off or that my work’s office was not that warm.

Cooling was simpler. Jacking it up to 11—the highest cooling setting—ambushed me with a nostalgic moment that reminded me of being a little kid, chasing after the ice cream truck with friends on sweltering days, and holding Popsicles against the skin for a little relief before tearing open the wrappers to eat them. Even on 11, there’s no unpleasantness, but I left it somewhere between 8 and 10 most of the time.

Embr says the Wave can run for two or three days with 15 to 50 of these heating or cooling cycles, but I didn’t use it like that. Instead of using it for a half-hour every once in a while, I’d use it for hours at a time. I didn’t want small moments of relief, I wanted ongoing comfort. Fully charged in the morning, I’d get about a work day’s worth of use. Your mileage might vary though since it all depends on the mode and temperature—I mostly used Extended and the more extreme heating and cooling settings.

Thankfully, it only takes about an hour and a half to recharge, so I was never away from feeling relief for too long. It’s a bummer to see it using MicroUSB for charging, as USB-C would have been more convenient.

Indoors Only

If the Wave has an Achilles’ heel, it’s that it gets in the way of typing on a laptop. The module sits at the underside of the wrist, so I have to modify the way I type to keep it from banging on my desk. As soon as I got into a working rhythm enough to stop paying attention, I’d feel the tap of the case against the table or laptop to remind me it was hanging out there on my wrist. When my workload was heavy and my patience light, I took off the Wave so I could work uninterrupted. Embr says you can spin the Wave 180 degrees so it sits on top of your wrist, but it feels less effective. (This isn’t much of an issue if you have a separate, full-size keyboard, especially one with a wrist rest.)

It also doesn’t quite work outdoors. You’re likely getting hit by cold winds, which counteracts the warming sensation on the wrist. On a hot day outside, sure, you get the cooling sensations, but it’s also likely the sun is beating down and undoing some of that relief, too.

Indoors, it did the trick. Go ahead, fool my brain into thinking I’m comfortable. As long as I’m not losing fingers to frostbite or sweating out the last drops of life-saving water, comfort is all I care about. The Wave is ideal for places where someone else controls the thermostat, like the office. If you’re willing to find a way to make typing work with it—or just don’t need to use a laptop at work—and you have $300 to spend, then you’ll be a thermostat fiend no more.


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Samsung Galaxy Buds Plus Review: Close to Perfection

Get an IPA or two in me, and I’m liable to start rambling about how Apple retained the stupid, eartip-less design on the second generation of its industry-dominating AirPods, forcing anyone who wants earbuds that are actually comfortable to shell out an extra $90 for the better-designed AirPods Pro (or Beats Powerbeats Pro).

Yet I’m elated that Samsung stuck with identical looks for the second generation of its Galaxy Buds—now called the Galaxy Buds Plus—because they had such a good design to begin with. The tiny, comfortable in-ears all but disappear during longer listening sessions, with cozy silicone ear fins that keep the featherlight headphones in place no matter what.

Instead of visual changes, the Galaxy Buds Plus come with a major internal overhaul. They now have an industry-leading 11 hours of battery life (more than double the juice offered by AirPods and AirPods Pro), better microphones, and special new audio tuning from Samsung-owned AKG. The old Galaxy Buds are still better than the standard AirPods, but these new Galaxy Buds Plus kick the absolute crap out of them. The best part? Both pairs cost less.

Little Bugs

I love how cheap and comfortable the original Galaxy Buds are, but it’s not as though they are without issues. The 7-hour battery of the original model is awesome when out and about, but I found myself recharging the case—a wireless charging pillbox that only boasted 10 hours of extra battery life—much more than I wanted to.

They also don’t sound particularly awesome. I’d put on some OutKast and enjoy the bass response (and even a relatively pleasurable soundstage), but the music always felt a bit muffled above that. The audio quality is nowhere near what you get from competing devices from Jabra, Sony, Master and Dynamic, and others. Heck, even AirPods sound just as good.

Perhaps worst of all (in the grand scheme of things) is poor call quality. I often call a discerning listener (Hi mom! Yes, I’m testing headphones again) to test this, and she said listening to me through the original Galaxy Buds is like hearing my beautiful, angelic voice (her words) through a thick moving blanket.

Big Fixes

But I came through loud and clear on calls with the Galaxy Buds Plus. Each earbud has three microphones (two external, one that faces your ear) to suss out what you’re saying from the background noise.

Audio quality has also massively improved. The Galaxy Buds Plus come with a new dual-driver setup that spreads musical pleasure out a bit more evenly, with dedicated bass and treble drivers that rumble down low and sparkle up high at the same time. The new drivers and AKG tuning bring the bright edges of Andre 3000’s voice forward in the mix but retain the low end of the sound. There’s still a bit of mud to slog through in the midrange—super guitar-heavy songs from metal bands, for example, can be a bit muddled—but this is a much more pleasurable listening experience over the first generation, and nearly as good as the sound you’d hear on headphones that cost $50 to $100 more.

Alongside the big batteries in each earbud, Samsung has also increased the size of the battery in the wireless charging case … a tiny bit. You’ll get 11 hours from the pill-shaped treasure chest, but the fact that you get 11 from the earbuds themselves means a total of 6 more hours between trips to a wall charger or charging mat. Nice.

One thing I wish Samsung added? Support for AptX or AptX HD codecs, which make Bluetooth audio sound closer to CD quality when possible. It’s not something you’re probably missing with wirefree earbuds playing Spotify, but I still like to see the little AptX icon pop up on my phone to know it’s doing the best it can.

Everyday Buds

What I like most about the Galaxy Buds Plus is how usable they are in my everyday life.

Taking a flight across the country? They’ll easily get you there without a trip to the charging case—and the case even rapidly charges if you’ve forgotten. Strapping on your sneakers for a long weekend run? They’re IPX4 rated, so they can handle rain and sweat, and are easily some of the most stable earbuds I’ve ever tested on runs. Want to quickly pause music to order something at the coffee shop? Go for it—they’ve got an ambient sound mode that lets you hear your surroundings, and you can program it to the touch controls on each earbud.

Sure, they may not be the best sounding or have the most bells and whistles—most notably, they lack the noise-canceling offered by Apple and Sony’s flagship models—but they do everything I want them to do very well. They also do it for nearly $100 less, costing an Apple-biting $150 ($19 less than you’ll pay for standard AirPods 2 with a wireless charging case).

It’s rare that companies mess with a good thing and make it definitively, wholeheartedly, better. The Galaxy Buds Plus are easily some of the best wirefree earbuds you can buy right now, and unlike the AirPods 2, they’re actually worth the upgrade.


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Coway Bidetmega 400 Review: A Glorious Way to Clean Your Derrière

The millennial generation’s discretionary cash isn’t being mashed into avocado toast. It’s being spent on cell phones, smartwatches, wireless headphones, and Netflix subscriptions. Senior reviewer Adrienne So says we pay this much for little things because the big things are broken. If we can’t fix health care, rid ourselves of student loan debt, or compete with skyrocketing housing prices, we may as well treat ourselves to The Witcher on a big ol’ flatscreen.

I think she’s right, in no small part because, over the past two weeks, I’ve discovered a new must-have for fellow techno-nihilists: A $599 electrified toilet attachment called the Bidetmega 400.

Butt tech: The next thing you didn’t know you needed. Coway’s heated seat, heated water, auto-cleaning, blow-drying, and night-light-laden throne is a masterpiece of comfort and cleanliness I now can’t live without. If I’m gonna Uber to the hospital because I can’t afford an ambulance, I might as well do it with a sparkling undercarriage.

Why You Need a Bidet

It’s basic armchair philosophy: If you got pooped on by a bird, would you wipe it off your skin with some two-ply and keep walking? No. You’d use water. The bidet is better, right?

Photograph: Coway

Not necessarily. There’s no indication that the amount of microbial junk in our trunks (about 0.14 grams in the average American wiper, according to fellow WIRED writer and bidet enthusiast Jason Kehe) is an actual health concern. I couldn’t even find peer-reviewed evidence that suggested using bidets is actually cleaner, which is crazy because bidets make me feel so much cleaner.

The real reason to use a bidet, I’ve learned, is how gently they clean your nether regions. Some studies have shown that bidets may be helpful for people with hemorrhoids or other issues where wiping causes physical discomfort (or, in some cases, more damage). Medical professionals also say they are good tools for people with physical disabilities. They’re also popular in several parts of the world, just not the US.

Gentle Giant

The Bidetmega begins its magic as soon as you descend into its ergonomic clutches.

A pressure sensor on the front of the bold, slanted toilet seat automatically tells the bidet to rinse itself clean—trickling a bit of water below you, as though self-aware of the generation of economics that led to this moment. At the same time, the Bidetmega starts heating the seat to one of two temperatures (three if you include leaving the heat off entirely).

My butt now follows the seasons. I prefer the hot setting during the dreary Portland winter but envision myself transitioning to medium heat in springtime and no heat in summer. It’s mega fast, reaching a warm temperature in about a minute.

After you’ve done your business, you press the Rear or Front buttons on the included remote—which is wireless, and thus a hilarious way to surprise a visiting friend or relative.

Photograph: Coway

Push the button (also printed with braille), and the Bidetmega starts one of three preselected cleaning modes: Basic, Soothing Wash, and Active. I prefer Soothing Wash, for obvious reason. Active mode isn’t why anyone buys a $600 bidet, and Basic mode just feels like a waste of the money.

Soothing Wash mode is as magnificent as it sounds. Unlike many cheaper toilet attachments—like my previous model from Amazon, which bows its plastic spritzer wand at the feet of this well-heeled Coway model—the Bidetmega very carefully regulates pressure and temperature of its water stream using something it calls “i-wave technology.” The stream changes in intensity throughout a cleaning, providing a multistage wash at one of three user-selected water temperatures. I, now a connoisseur, prefer medium heat.

Unlike that Amazon-bought predecessor, the Bidetmega never misses, so there’s no weird waddling action; both nozzle positions can be adjusted forward or backward using the remote during the first use, for laserlike precision thereafter.

That’s the best part of the Bidetmega 400: There’s nothing to think about. You press a single button, and for a brief, private moment, you are a God, gloriously beloved by a toilet seat. You’re cleaned, warmed, and—in the end—you press another button, and a warm stream of air blows you dry.

This is a perfect modern machine. There’s no internet connection and no virtual assistant to talk to. Nobody at the NSA is going to snoop through your poop data. The Bidetmega simply takes something that offers you little excitement and makes it a joyous highlight of your day. It’s even got a glowing blue light to guide you in for late-night landings.

Easy In, Easy Out

Think you might want to experience the Bidetmega’s magic? Coway offers a 90-day free trial on its website—which raises the question: What are they doing with used bidets?

Photograph: Coway

In any case, installation didn’t have me fearing I was going to break my toilet or flood my bathroom. It was as simple as changing a toilet seat. Put it on, install a T-connector to your toilet’s water supply, and plug it into an outlet. Job done. The remote even comes with a tape-backed mount, so you can put the controls anywhere you want.

Watch the Throne

The Bidetmega is the Rolls Royce of bathroom accessories, but there are many similar products from well-known brands that offer many of the same features for less. I’ll be testing more soon, but for now the Bidetmega 400 reigns supreme. This is the fanciest device I’ve ever put in my bathroom, and I cherish every moment I spend in its company.

Don’t believe me? Give it a shot. Your parents might have a ritzy house and no student loan debt, but they probably don’t poop like this.


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Polaroid Lab Review: Turn Your Smartphone Snaps Into Polaroid Prints

The physical world will likely always retain an emotional primacy that the digital one lacks. I suspect that millions of evolutionary years without screens have primed us to enjoy a Polaroid taped to a bathroom mirror over Instagram, any day of the week.

At least, that’s what Polaroid is hoping. Polaroid Originals’ new Lab printer takes images from your phone and turns them into Polaroids. Yes, actual Polaroids, just like the ones that Dad’s (Granddad’s?) Polaroid used to spit out in the 1970s. The result is a fun, if pricey, way to bring your digital snaps into the real world.

Photo Lab in Box

The new Polaroid Lab is the second iteration of Impossible’s Instant Lab. Polaroid acquired Impossible in 2017 and rebranded it Polaroid Originals. As a result, the company no longer has to worry about trademark issues, so the product has been renamed.

Unlike all other instant cameras and printers we’ve looked at, the Polaroid Lab does not simply grab an image from your phone using Bluetooth and print it out. Instead, you pull up the image on your phone using the Polaroid Originals app, then lay your phone face down on the Lab. The Lab takes a picture of the picture on your phone, optimizes the color for printing, and spits out a Polaroid. Like the Polaroids of old, it takes about 15 minutes to fully develop.

Photograph: Polaroid 

While the focus of the Lab is analog, it does offer the ability to “embed” a video with your print. Fujifilm recently did something similar with audio in its Mini LiPlay camera/printer, and in both cases it feels very awkward and gimmicky. Since you can’t embed a digital video in a physical print, anyone who wants to see the video has to install the Polaroid Originals app. It’s also worth noting that anyone with the app installed can view the video, which has some potentially awful privacy consequences that I’d be more worried about if the feature wasn’t so utterly useless. I wish the instant camera world would just drop this idea.

Aside from the video gimmickry, the Lab is dead simple to use. The Polaroid Originals app can select any media file on your phone, and you can edit the image a little within the app. (I suggest increasing brightness.) The one quirk of the app is that when you edit, there’s no preview. The slider covers the final image, which is, quite frankly, crazy. Originally, I assumed this was a beta software bug since I started testing before the app was publicly released. However, the final app is out, and the lack of preview remains.

While this is a ridiculous design decision, it didn’t bother me much since all I was doing was increasing brightness about 20 percent for every photo. I arrived at this value after some experimenting and a lot of overly dark prints.

Outside the Lab

The finished prints from the Lab approximate the vibe of old school Polaroids in many ways, with washed out colors and soft edges. I mean that in the best way possible. The Lab got enough right to trigger my nostalgic love of Polaroids, image quality be damned. But in other ways, the look of images from the Lab just didn’t work for me. I found some colors, particularly bright greens and blues, to be over-saturated in ways that old-school Polaroid images never are. They gave certain scenes a garish look that’s just unpleasant.

The Lab also introduced considerable vignetting (where the corners become darker) that was not in the original images. I am guessing that this is due to either the design of the case or light leaking around the phone when it’s placed atop the Lab.

Fortunately, I got the best results with images of people, which is what most people will probably want from the Lab. It was fun, and a touch disconcerting, to turn snaps of my kids taken yesterday into images that look like they were made in 1983.

Photograph: Scott Gilbertson

What’s missing is the spontaneity of old Polaroid cameras, which were as much about producing an artifact in the moment as the artifact itself. Separating the fun of making the image—now the job of your phone—and the fun of getting it makes getting it somehow less exciting. Or maybe it’s the fact that seeing your image on the phone creates a set of expectations that no instant printer can reproduce.

It’s too bad, because Polaroid cofounder Edward Land very clear saw the world of ubiquitous cameras coming long before most of us even considered the idea. In a video made for Polaroid shareholders in 1970, Land says that one day we’ll be taking photos using “something like a wallet.” He reaches in his pocket and pulls out a black object that could easily be mistaken for a smartphone, and goes on to say that “we’re still a long way from … a camera that would be, oh, like the telephone, something you use all day long.”

Land’s vision is here, but Land and the modern-day Polaroid (now Polaroid Originals) are not the makers of the camera that’s the size of a wallet and as ever-present as a telephone. Instead, Polaroid Originals is on the outside, trying to get back in. While the Lab is definitely in the spirit of the old Polaroids, and it’s undoubtedly fun, in the end it feels pricey for the results it produces.

Fujifilm’s SP-3 printer produces better-quality images, without the strangely oversaturated blues and greens of the Lab. This is somewhat subjective, but to my eye nearly all the Instax-based options in our guide to instant cameras and printers produce better images than the Lab, including the Polaroid OneStep. On the other hand, I like the Lab’s images better than most of the cameras and printers in our guide to Zink-based printers. And the Lab does print larger images than either the Zink or Instax options, so if it’s full-sized Polaroids you’re after, the Lab is your best bet.

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Insta360 One R Review: A Smarter, Modular Action Camera

Ever since the GoPro Hero worked out its kinks, defining the action camera genre in the process, not much has changed for action cameras. Every year, worthy competitors arrive on the scene, and GoPro releases incrementally better cameras as well. But until I played with the Insta360 One R earlier this year at CES, I would have argued this type of camera was pretty well baked.

Now I am not so sure. Insta360’s One R challenges the basic assumptions about what an action camera can be, and uses a unique modular design to allow for more flexibility. The result is an action camera that’s capable of handling a greater variety of shooting scenarios and generating unique footage you won’t get from any other camera in this genre. It’s a two-in-one combo that actually delivers.

Mod Squad

The One R is not your standard action camera. It’s not necessarily even an action camera. The One R is a modular camera system that can be used as an action camera, but it can also be used as a 360-degree camera similar to Insta360’s One X camera.

To make sure it’s still water-resistant and up to the challenging environments action cameras usually inhabit, the lenses and sensors are a single, watertight unit. The lens and sensor snap into a core module. It’s a bit like putting together Lego blocks. The core has all the rest of the features—a power button, record button, MicroSD slot, and a small touchscreen monitor. These two then sit on top of a battery plate that runs along the bottom. Fully assembled, the One R is roughly the shape of a GoPro Hero 8, only slightly larger.

The heart of the system is the interchangeable lens/sensor combos, which Insta360 calls mods, and currently there are three. The 4K mod is the typical 4K action camera lens, with a 16.4 lens (35mm equivalent). The field of view is slightly narrower than what you’ll get from a GoPro Hero 8, but otherwise it’s similar. This mod serves as the base model for the One R as an action cam and costs $300.

Photograph: Insta360

The next mod is a dual-lens 360 camera that uses two fisheye lenses, capturing a 360-degree field of view. I’ve never found 360-degree lenses particularly helpful because they require postproduction—the time-consuming process of stitching together your raw footage in software. Insta360 manages to simplify this process with some smart software editing options. This lens is also available as an attachment for DJI’s Mavic Pro or Mavic 2 drones.

The final and most interesting of the mods is known as the wide-angle mod. This lens pairs a larger, one-inch sensor with a 14.4 lens (35mm equivalent) coengineered with Leica. The resulting footage is hands down the best-looking video and images I’ve seen come out of an action camera.

You can buy these mods in various bundles (or make a custom combo), and whichever configuration you opt for, you’ll also get the monitor piece, the battery base, and a mounting cage that’s compatible with nearly any action cam accessory. Another accessory worth mentioning is the boosted battery base, which doubles the capacity (though it also makes the camera considerably larger).

Photo and Video Quality

Assembling the Insta360 One R and swapping lenses is simple enough, but you do have to disconnect from the battery, so it’s not technically hot-swappable. Swapping lenses here is different than a traditional interchangeable lens camera, and it takes enough effort that you aren’t going to manage it without stopping whatever you’re doing. This is especially true with the one-inch mod, which requires removing the front cover before taking it out of the cage to swap lenses.

Photograph: Insta360

Also note that while the One R is water-resistant to 16 feet, divers may want to spring for a fully waterproof case ($60 that’s good to 197 feet (the one-inch mod requires a different case ($80)).

I used the 4K mod alongside a GoPro Hero 8 (8/10 WIRED Recommends), using all auto exposure on both, recording H.265 4K video, and found the performance and video quality very similar. There are some situations where the GoPro rendered better detail, particularly fine details like grass or leaves, but to notice this I had to zoom in on both and look closely. Suffice to say that Insta360’s efforts are on par with the rest of the action camera market.

Where the One R really shines is the one-inch mod. The larger sensor means you get 5.3K video (versus 4K in others). What’s immediately noticeable in the footage from the one-inch mod is the improvements with contrast, dynamic range, shadow detail, color depth, rendering, and sharpness. It blows every other action cam out of the water.

This shouldn’t be terribly surprising given that the sensor is larger and capable of capturing more detail, and the glass, with its Leica pedigree, really excels at rendering details and micro-contrast.

I pitted the stabilization of the One R with the 4K mod against the GoPro Hero 8 as well as the One R with the one-inch mod, and what really jumped out at me was how good they all were. Again, I had to really zoom in and watch background objects to find problems. I am hard-pressed to pick a favorite, but the GoPro comes out slightly ahead. The Hero 8 just has a certainly silkiness to it that I have not seen anything else match.

Insta360 claims 65 minutes of battery life for the 360 mod, but I never managed to hit that. With the screen always on, I got about 45 minutes. Turning off the screen made the battery last longer, but to my mind, it makes more sense to buy another battery ($29). Thankfully the One R is USB-C and can charge up fully in about an hour. A dual-battery fast charger is available that cuts the charge time to 30 minutes.

There is no dedicated 3.5mm microphone input, but you can get a USB Type C–to-3.5mm microphone adapter for higher-quality audio. You can also pair a Bluetooth headset and use that as a microphone.

Software

Insta360’s video editing app for Android and iOS is one of the best I’ve used. It offers simple but powerful automatic options for beginners, while also providing more complex, feature-rich options to satisfy more advanced users.

If you’ve used the app with the One X, there are some big improvements in the new version, especially the ability to edit over Wi-Fi. Using this, you can edit your footage without waiting for it to download to your phone. It does use lower resolution footage in this mode though, so don’t worry if your clips aren’t razor-sharp—they will be once the background downloading is done.

The biggest problem with 360-degree footage is, well, how do you focus and frame what you want out of the shot? It’s the classic paradox of choice: When you capture everything, what do you actually want to show? Insta360’s app solves this with its Auto Frame feature, which parses through your clips and uses artificial intelligence–powered image recognition and tracking to frame shots for you. It’s not perfect, but it picked out exactly the parts of the shot I wanted at least 80 percent of the time. All you need to do is pick which of these clips you want to use, sort them around the way you want, and export your video.

Photograph: Insta360

The AI-tracking algorithm makes it possible to go back through your footage and track a subject after the fact. Just tap the subject and the app will automatically frame and track it.

If you do want to set keyframes yourself and frame your own shots, that’s possible. Insta360 has a number of nice tutorials available online that teach you how to shoot and edit different types of shots. The app can also work with any footage, ideal if you want to combine your 360 footage with some video from your phone, for instance.

Future Proof?

Insta360’s One R solves several problems with action cameras I didn’t know I had. First, it expands your range of shooting possibilities without requiring you to buy another camera. It combines the related, but disconnected, worlds of 360 capture and action camera into a single unit and the result is—I’ll admit this surprised me—a camera that is very good at both.

The modular design introduces another possibility: The hardware can be incrementally upgraded. If you buy the one-inch mod now to get higher-resolution action-camera footage and decide in two months that you want to try shooting 360-degree video (and trust me, you do want to try it), you can buy the 360 mod without shelling out for a whole new camera.

Ideally, two years from now, when the one-inch sensor mod supports, say, 8K video, you’ll be able to buy a new one-inch mod and attach it to your existing One R, just like you would a new lens for your DSLR. It remains to be seen if Insta360 will make such things possible down the road, but I for one certainly hope so.


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