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Seek Thermal Camera Review

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Seek Thermal Camera Review

Ever since Predator used its iconic heat vision to hunt down its enemies, we’ve been waiting for the technology to become more accessible. Now that same type of thermal imaging, previously left only to expensive technical equipment, has finally made its way to your mobile phone. Seek Thermal is small camera you attach to your Android or iOS phone to view temperatures around you.

The camera displays an image that looks something like night vision, but it’s detecting heat and can do so whether its day or night. There’s no doubt the capability is extremely cool (pun intended), but is it necessary? At $200, it should probably have an intended task at time of purchase—rather than just being a new toy.

Hardware

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The camera is a small phone accessory which, on newer iOS devices, can be positioned forwards or backwards because the Lightning connector works both ways. On Android devices, MicroUSB means it only fits one direction, and if you have one of the few specific Android phones you’ll need another adaptor to make the camera face away from you.

Out of the box, it snapped onto the bottom of my iPhone and—after downloading the app—I was immediately able to look at the different temperatures around my living room.

There’s a very audible clicking noise that comes from the thermal camera. It’s so prominent that I did a quick search on the company’s website to see if they mention the noise. The good news is that the clicking is normal though still slightly annoying—the sound is the camera continually re-calibrating itself.

Once you know the device isn’t broken, the noise is less worrying and quickly fades from consciousness. The only issue is that your chances are slim if you had hoped on sneaking up on people in the dark.

Considering one of the only ways to use your phone for thermal imaging is either FLIR or Seek, the latter is definitely the least obtrusive way. I haven’t tested FLIR, but Seek put up some pretty great results from a tiny device.

As a nice bonus, the camera also comes with a small hardshell case which is ideal for traveling. Having it protected in a small case means I would be more likely to throw it in a bag or bring it along, just in case.

Software

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The accompanying Seek app is a required part of the experience. There’s no surprise here, most the time hardware accessories need specific first-party apps to work. Also not surprising is that like most other companies focused on a hardware product, the app—or software side—isn’t very good.

Bottom line, the app is fine. There’s nothing inherently wrong or broken with it, which is no small feat in and of itself, but it’s just not anything special. For one, it’s not optimized for the new iPhone 6 yet, but hopefully that will change soon. More importantly, the app just leaves a lot to be desired in terms of design.

The first time you open the app a navigation overlay pops up letting you know what all the buttons do. It means well, but the thermal imaging experience is so foreign that the tutorial either gets ignored or doesn’t make sense until the user has played with it.

Fortunately, the app isn’t very complicated. On the main screen you can either take a picture of what you’re seeing or you can record a video of it. Clicking on the icon in the lower right hand corner gives a few other modes to monitor your surroundings. There’s one for spot temperature, high/low differential, and threshold, where you can specify above, equal to, or below certain temperatures.

The spot temperature gives you a readout for the average around whatever the camera is pointed at. The high/low mode provides two temperatures on screen where it is the highest and lowest. The threshold mode allows for more control over what you can see and the ability to dial in custom monitoring.

Throughout all modes and the entire app, the user can also choose different color palettes. None of the choices are obvious better than the others and mostly depend on personal preference and the viewing circumstance.

Viewing the different color choices, I began searching for an option that provided the most clarity, which highlighted one of the biggest possible issues with Seek. Thermal imaging can give off the impression of night vision, but it’s clearly not. If there aren’t items around of fairly distinct temperatures, you only see fuzzy smears of what’s in front of you—which can be disappointing, though not incorrect.

Also, keep in mind that the device does use a good amount of power from your phone so aimlessly walking around looking at heat, might not be the best use case.

Seek gives some examples of why you might want need to see heat. One is security, being able to see a person’s body heat in the dark. Another reason is for energy, to see where heat is escaping a room or house. There’s also some DIY reasons like clogged pipes. These examples probably aren’t regular enough uses to justify the price. There are lots of uses for thermal imaging, I just couldn’t come up with many.

It was neat to see that my TV cabinet was giving off lots of heat, even though the TV wasn’t being used. Seeing that the modem and router were warm while the Apple TV stayed cool was interesting, though again not necessary.

This useful superpower, like the Predator had, has its drawbacks. Which doesn’t take anything away from Seek, it just means that you should have a heat related matter you plan on using Seek to assist with.

Verdict

Seek is an awesome tool. It worked as advertised—though I couldn’t figure out how to see the studs in the wall like is mentioned. The only concern is that the device definitely needs a specific use, even just one, for the person buying it to get their money’s worth.

Chalk accessible thermal imagining up to living in the future. It’s a wonderful piece of technology anyone can now own, the question still remains: Do you really need to see temperatures around you? If the answer is yes, you now have a pretty good option.

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