The easiest way to think of Swivl is probably as a robot cameraman. It's a dock for your smartphone that follows you around automatically, designed to make video recording or chatting easier and better-looking. You drop in your phone, and hold a small remote control as you're recording; the dock tracks the remote connection and swivels to point toward it, so you can have it follow you as you move around, or you can point the remote where you want the camera to look. The gadget has been around since early this year, originally as an IndieGoGo crowdfunding campaign with the name Satarii Star, but the company has re-branded and is nearly ready to start shipping.
I got to play with an near-finished version of the device, and I was impressed. It'll take virtually any phone (as long as it's under 11mm thick), since the dock is basically a vice — just crank it until your phone's snugly in there. The camera moves side-to-side automatically, and pans up and down using controls on the remote. If you're using an iPhone, there's some cooler technology at work: the company developed an iOS app that lets you start and stop recording with the remote control. A similar app for Android devices is in the works, and Swivl has plans to expand the apps' capability over time.
As I chatted with Swivl founder Brian Lamb in the Verge office, we passed the remote back and forth and the camera followed us easily. There are two speed modes: one that moves really fast but is fairly jerky, and one that's a little smoother but a bit slower. It generally worked really well, though there were hangups: if I moved the remote too quickly the dock seemed to lose track of it, and I had to wave it around before the dock found it again. Generally it seems like a perfect solution for the heavy video chat user: it elevates the camera and gets rid of the double-chinned angles FaceTime users probably know well, and the motion makes the resulting video look a bit more produced as well.
Check out the gallery and video below, and if you're interested in a Swivl you can pre-order now for $159 before it starts shipping early next year.