When I first saw the Fitt360, all I could think of was how ridiculous it looked: it’s a lot like one of those chunky wireless earbud bands, except instead of having built-in headphones, it has three built-in cameras — arguably even worse, if we’re to take any privacy lessons from Google Glass. But after wearing a demo unit and watching some of the footage that came out of it, I have to admit I’m coming around. The footage it records is compelling to watch, even if wearing one does look a little weird.
Fitt360 comes from Linkflow, a company that got its start inside Samsung’s C-Lab product incubator and has since been spun out into a standalone company. The 360-degree wearable camera is Linkflow’s first product. It’s been on Kickstarter for close to a month, but I just got a chance to use a working prototype. The prototype is a bit chunkier and less polished than the final product is supposed to be, but the main function — recording everything around you — already works.
There’s something surprisingly engrossing about watching first person footage and seeing your own arms stretch out in front of you. You can watch recorded footage in a connected smartphone app (and then share it elsewhere; Linkflow is also planning a live-streaming function), swiping around to change the camera’s point of view or just moving the phone around in space as though it were your head. Because the cameras are worn around your neck, the footage all feels first-person, even when you aren’t looking in the direction the wearer was facing.
Linkflow doesn’t envision the Fitt360 as something you’d wear day in and day out — it’s more for times when you’re a tourist, or out hiking, or anywhere you might want to take a lot of photos to remember where you were. Hiking is pretty ideal, since you don’t have to worry about making people uncomfortable by filming. You press a little button on the neckband to start and stop recording, and on the prototype unit, a green light came on to indicate it was filming.
I asked Linkflow if they were worried about getting similar blowback to Google Glass, and the company’s CEO, Kevin Kim, said he thought the product would avoid bumping into those same issues because it has “blinking LED lights” that activate while recording. “We’ve actually had Fitt360 at multiple exhibitions and were stopped by a security guard who told us not to film,” Kim said in an emailed response. “So we believe that it is noticeable with the LED light on.”
I only spent a few minutes wearing the neckband, but I found it comfortable enough. And because it has two little braces that slope inward, it gently hugs your neck in such a way that helps it stay in place and not bounce around. One word of warning though: if you have long hair, you’ll need to wear it up, or else you’ll end up covering the two rear lenses.
Linkflow has posted a bit of Fitt360 footage to its Kickstarter page, and I was able to see some as I was wearing it around The Verge’s office. What I saw was on par with other 360-degree cameras: pixelated, blurry, with limited colors, poor dynamic range, and occasionally odd, cut off, and stretched out portions. But for all those issues, it’s still a joy to look through, for both the novelty of moving around in all directions and for the first-person experience. I don’t mean to say the image quality is awful, just that what it captures is a lot higher-quality in feeling than it is in resolution.
The real test, and something I wasn’t able to thoroughly test in my office, is how well the Fitt360 deals with constant movement — if the footage is really bumpy, it’ll be nauseating to watch. The neckband does a good job of holding the cameras in place, and Linkflow seems to be applying some stabilization to the footage to smooth out the motion. It felt relatively natural looking at the footage streaming from around my neck.
The product will be on Kickstarter through late next week. It’s already surpassed its goal several times over, having raised over $300,000 at this point in time. The product is expensive, though, even for a 360-degree camera: the early bird price is just under $400, and the retail price is supposed to be $600 when it launches later this year. Consumer 360-degree cameras tend to be around $300, though you can go much cheaper. Those cameras may not capture the first-person experience, but it might be worth trying them first to see just how much you enjoy 360-degree video.