Phone cameras have gotten extremely powerful. The one in your phone right now can capture your kid's quick moves at the soccer game, take day-spanning time-lapses, and it probably has a chance to take a decent picture in low light. Maybe it can even stabilize the image to protect your photo from your shaky hands.
But it can't see in the dark, and it definitely can't help you see if you undercooked your food. The Flir One lets you do those things by turning your phone into an infrared camera. Visible spectrum photos are so last year.
Flir has been doing thermal imaging for decades. Its infrared cameras are used on military aircraft, by first responders, and it even provides the cameras that capture those wild thermal views of Formula One cars.
But the new Flir One is an improvement on the company's first foray into consumer thermal imaging, which worked similarly but was much bulkier. Like the old Flir One, the new version actually contains two cameras: one that sees infrared light, and one that sees visible light using a low-resolution, 640x480 CMOS sensor. The app embosses the edge detail captured by the visible light sensor and lays it over the thermal image in real time, giving detail to the colored blobs of infrared information.
You can use the Flir One to get a live look at the difference in temperature range of a particular scene or object, or measure the temperature of a particular spot. The app has photo, video, time-lapse, and timer settings, too.
The biggest question with a gadget like this is: what can it do? The most obvious applications seem to be in home improvement and repairs. You could use the Flir One to identify or locate a leak, spot drafty windows and doors, and see through smoke and fog. Because of its ability to see in the dark, it could also be used as a security monitoring device. Flir is also launching an SDK program to let outside developers work on other ways to use the infrared technology, and there are already a handful of Flir-approved apps available at launch.
Impressive camera technology is only as good as the corresponding software. The Flir One app works just fine — it could be faster — and it hides a few clever tricks. For example, any time you measure the temperature when you take a picture, you can drag a crosshair icon around to read the temperature of other objects in that image after the fact. You can also drag your finger across each image and slide between the thermal and regular views. There's an option to set a custom temperature range, too, which is helpful if you're looking for specific variations in heat.
SBNation's own Rodger Sherman
The app also offers nine different color schemes that change the live thermal view and the pictures you take. (They work just like the built-in filters on the native iOS camera.) Most of them don't offer much more than new colors, but two in particular are pretty helpful: one colorizes only the coldest spots in the room, and one highlights the hottest.
After using it for a few days, I can say the whole Flir One experience works really well. The camera boots up quickly, and the app is intuitive. That said, I didn't find much practical use for it. The most valuable thing I did with the Flir One was map where the air conditioning was flowing in my bedroom; thanks to my thermally enhanced iPhone, I found out the frosty cold air wasn't spreading around the room as efficiently as it should have.
But Flir doesn't want you to buy this and find a use for it as much as the company wants you to find it useful when the time comes because you own it. The $249 price tag seems reasonable considering the tech behind it, but it feels steep for someone who might not know what they'd use it for. The only similar option on the market is the Seek thermal dongle, which costs the same, but has fewer features and powers itself off of your phone's battery. The Flir One has a 350mAh internal battery that lasts about an hour.
The Flir One is available starting today for iOS devices. The Android version of the dongle (which attaches via micro USB) will be available in July.