Hands On with the FrontRow Camera, a Wearable Camera for Hands-Free Video

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Hands On with the FrontRow Camera, a Wearable Camera for Hands-Free Video

FrontRow is a wearable camera that, like its name implies, wants to take a front row seat to your life. As a lifestyle camera, FrontRow is meant to be worn on your body, and the concept isn’t unlike strapping a GoPro to your helmet to capture the thrills of your extreme sports skills. However, FrontRow targets a different market. Rather than chasing after the same athletes that’s drawn to GoPro, FrontRow, instead, is making a play for everyday users, travelers and bloggers.

The sole purpose of FrontRow is to help you remember and capture candid memories along the journey as you would snap posed shots in front of iconic landmarks when traveling. Simply put, FrontRow is just as much about the journey as it is about the destination. In my case, in San Francisco, creating memories from my strolls along the city’s hilly and winding streets is just as important as my selfies in front of the city’s iconic Golden Gate Bridge.

Design

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As a camera, FrontRow comes in a compact teardrop-shaped package. At the top, there is a modular connection mechanism that allows you to change the different connectors, giving you flexibility on how you can wear the camera. There are several different options right now —a neck strap allows the camera to be worn comfortably, or you can even clip the camera to your clothing with a metal clip.

If you have the clip on, you can open up the clip and use it as a tripod, allowing you to rest the camera on a tabletop and capture moments, like a meal when traveling. FrontRow will also offer a third-party metal chain, giving it more of an urban aesthetic if that’s the look that you’re after. These various clips and chains can be inserted into an interlocking mechanism up top, which looks kind of like a compact power outlet. To remove the strap, you;d have to press and hold an eject button while pulling out the accessory clips or chains.

The overall shape of FrontRow reminds me a lot of a stopwatch, especially with the lanyard attached. The built-in clock app even makes it look like a stopwatch. The unibody metal build gives the camera a very sturdy, but lightweight, feel and adds a touch of premium to the wearable. And since FrontRow is build on top of the company’s proprietary customizations to Google’s Android operating system, using the camera feels like a mix between a smartphone and an Android Wear smartwatch, partly because of its 2-inch round glass display.

Like older smartwatches, the circular display is broken up with a small strip at the bottom, giving it a “flat tire” effect. However, FrontRow made good use of the strip by embedding a capacitive touch home button, which makes it feel a lot more useful than older smartwatches with this design.

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On the display side, a 5-megapixel selfie camera sits at the top, and it can capture 1080p full HD videos as well. There’s a small record button on the side that allows you to manually initiate a photo or video capture, and the device recharges via USB Type-C. Like a smartphone, navigating FrontRow’s touchscreen experience requires taps and swipes. Swiping in from one side, for example, pulls up the camera gallery, and you can tap to make selections to view photos. The camera also has a built-in speaker, allowing you to hear audio when reviewing videos captured with FrontRow.

On the back, there’s an 8-megapixel camera that serves as the main camera. This camera can record videos in 1080p resolution, like the selfie cam, or 2K resolution in 16:9 aspect ratio. There’s also a 4K video mode, but you have to record in a 4:3 aspect ratio, which is fairly unusual for videos these days.

The main camera has a 140-degree field of view, giving it a wide angle perspective that’s almost twice as wide as the view you’d get on a traditional smartphone. This allows you to capture more of the scene. The wide angle camera is great for urban shots while navigating tight city streets. There’s slight distortion—as with most wide angle lens—the further you get away from the center of the shot, but the distortion isn’t as pronounced as what you’d get from a fisheye lens.

In all likeliness, you’re relying on FrontRow to remember aspects of your trip that might otherwise have forgotten—like the walk to see the Golden Gate Bridge or the moments lying idly in the sun in Golden Gate Park—and not for portrait shots, so the distortion shouldn’t be too big of a problem considering the camera lets you see more.

Documentary Photography

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When it’s setup for Story Mode, FrontRow captures photos automatically and stitches the images together to create a time-lapse video clip. This way, you’re not shifting through hours of video footage on your own after a trip, and the camera’s algorithm helps it pulls in good or interesting shots.

Instead of a static time-lapse where you’re capturing images at a set interval, FrontRow found that this could result in blurry photos, given that you may be walking around while the camera is shooting away. To combat blurry photos, FrontRow uses a process called dynamic time lapse. Powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon processor, the camera draws in accelerometer data. When the camera is relatively motionless, FrontRow will snap a photo, and the time-lapse is set to capture a photo at an interval between two to ten seconds, allowing for optimal photo captures.

And since photos are captured automatically, the process of documenting and vlogging your vacation is far less distracting than taking out your phone and pointing the camera at people. The discreteness of having a wearable camera clipped to the breast pocket on a suit jacket means that FrontRow is less intimidating to people around you, and this encourages people to be more candid. It’s also a lot less obnoxious than walking around with a selfie stick.

When you’re in Story Mode, you can pause story mode by clicking on the record button twice, and then clicking once to snap an interesting photo or a selfie. You can also press and hold the record button to capture a video. Unfortunately, these independently captured footage won’t get incorporated into your automatically created story, but FrontRow spokesman Johan Till-Broer informed me that a workaround is to not pause Story Mode, point the camera at what you want to capture, wait a few seconds while holding it still, and FrontRow will capture that scene as part of your story. This way, it gets incorporated into your Time Lapse. To resume Story Mode, if you’ve paused it, you’ll need to double click the record button again.

Captured videos and photos are stored on the device’s 32GB of internal storage. Unfortunately, there isn’t a memory card slot to increase storage, so you’ll likely want to take transfer your recorded clips every so often to ensure there’s room to capture new memories. FrontRow has an app for Dropbox on the camera, so at least this way you’ll be able to offload your footage if you find yourself low on storage.

Unlike action cameras, FrontRow’s captured images and videos are transferred to your phone over Bluetooth rather than requiring a Wi-Fi or Wi-Fi Direct connection. Till-Broer said that the advantage here is that you can still maintain your connection to the internet while the camera is connected, and it doesn’t require a complicated setup to connect or create your own Wi-Fi network on the spot.

Once transferred to the phone, the FrontRow app, available for iOS and Android devices, allows users to view and edit their time lapses. You can speed up the time lapse, which gives it a more video-like effect, or you can slow down the time lapse effect, which results in more of a slide show feel. Additionally, you can trim the time lapse to get shorter clips to share on social media. And should you find an image you like from your Story Mode-created video, the app also allows you to freeze the frame and extract the image file.

Livestreaming Your Life

The camera can also be used for live streaming content, so you can share your in-the-moment experiences live with your audience. At launch, FrontRow supports live streaming to Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, and future updates could potentially open up the camera to additional video sharing services. For LiveStreaming, the camera can directly connect to a Wi-Fi network, so it doesn’t need to be tethered through your phone.

Livestreaming does take a toll on battery life, and FrontRow claims that it can last for up to two hours in this mode. The traditional Story Mode—which is used to automatically capture photos and create a time-lapse video—will give you about 16 hours of battery life, which should be plenty of time to get you from morning to night. In standby mode, Uniquity Labs, the company behind FrontRow, assured me that the camera will last for up to 48 hours. When you need a charge, 20 minutes with a USB Type-C plug will replenish the battery.

More to Come

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Because FrontRow is built around Android, it shouldn’t be too difficult for developers to bring their own apps and experiences to the platform with the company’s APIs and SDK. It’d be interesting to see if Android developers will port over new experiences, like custom photo and video editing software, to FrontRow for native editing on the camera.

FrontRow is available today from Amazon and FrontRow.com for $399. FrontRow definitely leverages the technologies available today—like the accelerometer—to create a better experience at capturing your life’s mundane and memorable moments. It’d be interesting to see how FrontRow performs with lifestyle bloggers and vloggers.

As it stands, you don’t have to be member of the Kardashian family to get your own reality spinoff. FrontRow positions itself as the producer to your own reality show, and it does all the hard work of editing the boring moments together to make a video that tells a far more interesting story about your life and adventures.

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