The makers of the Ion360 U ($299) are banking on the idea that lots of people want to record full 360-degree selfie videos with their phones. That’s a reach, but if you’re part of that group, there are much better ways to do it, for less money. The Ion360 U is easy to use, but requires you to add a bulky case to your phone and nets video that lacks detail, shows overly ruddy skin tones, and has glitchy audio. For a lot less you can get our Editors’ Choice Samsung Gear 360, which can operate independently of a phone or in conjunction with any of the phones supported by the U.
The Ion360 U doesn’t require a form-fitting case to work, and because of
The case is plastic, available in gray or teal, and includes its own battery. It connects to the USB-C (Samsung) or Lightning (Apple) port to communicate with your phone. The camera portion is detachable, plugging into the case at the top via USB. It fits
If you’re an Apple user, there’s some bad news. The case has its own micro USB port. It supports pass-through charging, but not audio (and the supported iPhones lack headphone jacks). That means you absolutely need to upgrade to Bluetooth headphones if you want the Ion360 U to live on your phone at all times. That’s not a problem for Galaxy owners—the case lets you plug headphones in.
You need to download the Ion360 U app from the Apple App Store or Google Play. It’s easy to use, but that’s because it doesn’t offer a lot of options. You can choose between video, still, or live video streaming to Facebook or YouTube. That’s it. Once a clip or image is captured you can view it, save it to your camera roll, or upload it, but you don’t get video editing or image adjustment tools. The Ion360 U doesn’t support Little Planet projections either, which is surprising as it’s a popular way to share 360-degree content.
Video and Image Quality
The U records video at 4K (3,840 by 1,920) quality at 30fps. That’s par for the course for 360 cameras. We’ve seen a couple on the higher end of the price spectrum break the 5K barrier—notably the GoPro Fusion, Garmin Virb 360, and YI 360 VR. Resolution is important with 360-degree video as pixels aren’t constrained to a tight 16:9 frame. Instead, they’re stretched out into a virtual sphere for playback.
Because of this, the 4K video captured by the U doesn’t look as good as what you’re used to from the resolution. It doesn’t even look as good as 1080p; it’s more like standard definition. Close-up subjects, like your face, show acceptable detail, but distant objects are blurry. Stitching is actually quite good; as long as you don’t get too close to the side of the lenses there are no visible seams.
A lack of resolution, inherent to 4K 360 footage, isn’t the only problem I saw. My face looked unnaturally red in test clips, and there were random audio glitches throughout the soundtrack—you can hear them when viewing our test clip.
And, because the Ion360 U is a handheld device by nature, you are limited to selfie videos. Yes, you can get a phone clip and tripod, but that’s a cumbersome contraption. You’re better off with a freestanding device with a standard tripod socket, like the Gear 360 or Ricoh Theta V, so you can do more than just record yourself.
Images are essentially frame grabs from video, matching it in resolution, about 7.3MP. The same quality issues that apply to moving footage applies to still imaging. This is in contrast to other 360-degree cameras, most of which offer higher still image resolution than video for more detailed shots.
I can’t recommend the Ion360 U. At $299, it’s just too expensive. Video quality isn’t great, there are audio problems, and its design is clunky. You need to add a bulky case to your phone to use it, and because it’s a phone add-on, using it with a tripod is a tricky proposition. If you want a 360-degree camera and you already own (or are buying) any of the phones supported by the U, get the 2017 version of the Samsung Gear 360 instead. It sells for less than $200, works with the same phones, and boasts a standalone form factor that lets you do more than just record yourself.