Virtual reality has arrived in 2016 in the form of headsets, apps and now attachable smartphone cameras. With all the hype around virtual reality these days, it’s cool to see products offered at a lower price point than an Oculus Rift ($599) or HTC Vive ($799) that offer a unique experience for mapping your own virtual reality with 360-degree photos.
For those who love tech, photography and love taking selfies, the new Insta360 Nano device will be a fun, welcomed VR experience. But those who get annoyed easily should test before they commit.
VR on your iPhone
The Insta360 Nano brings virtual reality to your iPhone offering the ability to record and share experiences directly to social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. It’s a high quality camera that links two 210-degree fisheye lenses and is able to shoot and stitch panoramic photos in real time. Though the video definition can go as high as 3K at 30fps and image resolution is at 3,040 × 1,520, you will have to export the photos or videos and open in a media player to fully experience the high quality, as the image you see on your phone will appear grainy and blurred.
Currently, the device is only compatible with iPhones (iPhone 6, 6 Plus, 6s and 6s Plus) and connects to Apple devices using an Apple Lightning cable. Essentially, you plug the device into your iPhone, turn it upside down and then you have a neat little contraption that shoots 360-video and lasts for about 70-minutes.
However, I should note that, like many other add-on cameras to smartphones, the Insta360 Nano was not compatible with my iPhone case, so I did have to remove it to use the device. Though this isn’t really surprising since many products not made by Apple have this same issue, it does become inconvenient, especially when wanting to shoot with both the native iPhone camera and the Insta360 Nano.
The device has an internal 800 mAh battery and supports a micro SD card for up to 64GB of storage. It supports a TF card extension, but is not provided with purchase. You do not need a TF card when using the device with your phone, as the photos and videos can be downloaded to your iPhone. However, if you want to use the Insta360 Nano independently, you do need a TF card for it to work as a standalone device. Moreover, videos are stored as MP4 files whereas photos are stored as JPEGs and will appear as panoramic images when downloaded to your phone.
Unique Packaging Design
Probably the coolest feature of this product is its packaging, which is designed so it can be used as portable VR glasses. The box design is very unique, featuring glass eyes and a nose hole on the back. Inside, once you remove everything, you’ll see there is a slot in the top lid of the box where your phone fits. Using their app, you open your photos and easily switch from “Review Mode” to “Glass Mode.” This is a really cool add-on to the experience, as using the box as glasses allow you to immerse yourself in virtual reality with your phone!
To use the Insta360 Nano you have to download their app, which is pretty straightforward and offers a walkthrough to help you get set up for the first time. In the app, you can also set up direct sharing to your social accounts as well as to live stream video on Facebook and YouTube, one of the major marketing components of this device.
The Insta360 Nano stitches in real time and the stitches are pretty unnoticeable, so it does appear to look like a real nice 360-degree shot. Plus, a countdown timer was a recently added in the app’s latest update, something that many users asked for upon first receipt.
When you select to share an image to Facebook via the InstaNano360 app, it will post a thumbnail with a link to an Insta360 Nano cloud page where your photo is hosted. So, instead, you end up posting a link rather than an actual photo. But, if you save the photo to your phone, open the Facebook app and upload it directly onto Facebook’s platform, the photo will work. It might sound silly to say that it’s annoying to have to do all those steps, but, if you’re marketing a product that allows for instant sharing, well, then users better be able to do that without having to backtrack and exit your app to properly post a photo.
In response to my questions about this issue, a representative from the company explained that the default setting for the Facebook sharing process is to share a link, noting that the reason is that current Facebook 360 settings are not in perfection.
The company says they chose to do the thumbnail and link to give users a better experience and to stay consistent over different social platforms. Twitter does not currently support 360 formats, so you have to share a link when sharing a photo to Twitter. Facebook is reportedly updating their 360 settings, so once it is completed; Insta360 Nano says they will update the share process.
Moreover, one of the bigger issues with photographing with the Insta360 Nano is that the photographer is always in the photo. If you love selfies and want to capture some epic 360-degree selfies, then you’ll enjoy the way the Insta360 Nano photographs. However, for the rest of us who would rather be out of the photo, you’re out of luck. Yourself and especially your hand is in the way of the image, which honestly just looks silly and makes taking the photo feel awkward.
I walked around my neighborhood to test out the product and whenever I took a photo I couldn’t decide if I should just smile in the shot or pretend not to be looking at the camera. I would assume that, in the future, this would be resolved with additional gear, like a selfie stick. But, you’ll have to pay extra to be able to get yourself out of the photo.
Design and Functionality
The design of the overall product is simple, yet a little bulky. It is a rather small, lightweight piece that comes in different colors to match your iPhone, but, once attached to your phone, you’ve got an overall awkward contraption to walk around with. Plus, if you drop this thing and it breaks, you’re going to find yourself with a broken iPhone and a broken $200 camera attachment.
Plus, the design of the camera and functionality of the app requires that you use your phone upside down. It takes some getting used to and can be frustrating at first when you’re trying to navigate through the app and switch back and forth between using your phone and the Insta360 Nano. After using it enough, while it’s not a huge issue (it really just requires you to turn your phone upside down when using it and holding it like normal when not) but when you’re out walking around or hiking, it’s those little annoyances that might make you miss a perfect shot. Plus if you go to do anything else on your phone outside the app—or when you try to share to Facebook—your screen will switch back and forth from being upside down or not. It’s reminiscent of the struggle that eventually leads to putting your iPhone lock screen on.
Some good news is that the Insta360 Nano can be used independently of the iPhone to record videos (you just won’t be able to see what you’re shooting). On the back of the device there’s a single button that also works as a shutter release. There’s a light indicator that tells you when it’s on, recording or charging.
Similar to using a GoPro, you could just turn the device on, carry it with you or stick it on a backpack and let it record your hike with a 360-degree view until it runs out of battery. Realistically, that’s probably how I would use this.
Overall, I would say the app and product is not entirely user-friendly. Beyond the issues with sharing to social networks, having your hand in the photo and using your phone upside down (especially when the camera is not even attached), there are random prompts or text in Chinese (which can be confusing and just seems to be an oversight), software issues and I’ve seen various typos in the text on the app. I get the impression that this (and app updates) are done quickly and rushed, unfortunately resulting in a lack of attention to detail that diminishes the customer’s experience.
But, it is really cool to be able to experience VR and shoot 360-degree images using an iPhone, let alone be able to own something like this for $200. The quality is amazing for an iPhone and if you want the ability to capture a 360-degree perspective of your reality, the Insta360 Nano will let you do it and will give you pretty cool photos to share.
I think the company just needs to spend a little more time tweaking the annoyances and improving the user experience rather than seemingly rushing through their efforts. If they’re able to accomplish that, I think the product is more likely to impress.