I get the chance to test out quite a bit of first-generation consumer gadgets. And while a few are great, the majority just aren’t able to meet the high threshold of quality that Apple has (for better or worse) subconsciously instilled in all of us.
So it’s always a nice surprise to find a hardware startup that can build a product that just looks good and does what it advertises.
Sioeye is a compact action camera (think GoPro) that includes built-in LTE cell service, so you can live stream directly from the device, wherever you are.
The startup has two main versions, the Iris4G Blink and the Iris4G 4K. I’ve been playing with the 4K version, which retails for $429 and is essentially the exact same size as a GoPro. The Blink comes out in October for a much more affordable $249, and is the exact same size and weight, but maxes out at 1080p, not 4K. It also lacks shock and position sensors, but the company said removing these will give the new camera more battery life. This isn’t too big of a deal, especially since if you’re buying it to live stream you’re not going to be using the 4K (or even the 1080p) much anyways.
Let’s start by talking about the live streaming feature. Both cameras come unlocked with support for 4G FDD-LTE and 3G WCDMA cell signals, but come preinstalled with a T-Mobile Sim card (which I found was really easy to set up). T-Mobile is also doing a deal to give you 5GB of free data, which the company says equals up to 10 hours of streaming.
One interesting feature that takes advantage of the data connection – the camera can act as a cellular hotspot so you can tether your laptop.
Anyways, on to the streaming.
The device lets you stream live to either YouTube, Periscope or their custom cloud platform. The cloud platform is accessible via their mobile app or the web, and automatically saves your streams after you are done going live. Even though YouTube and Periscope are more popular streaming platforms I was actually content just using Sioeye’s platform, mainly because it’s the easiest to set up.
So let’s talk about live streaming quality. The company says it’s a “software controlled” 480p @30fps, which is 480p x 854p when the data stream is above 300kbps, and 480p x 640p when it was below 300kbps.
The camera will also simultaneously record in 1080p and save it to the memory card, while streaming the lesser quality video.
When I tested the streaming I definitely noted a delay, but it’s probably because I had trouble finding 5 full bars of T-Mobile service. That being said the stream wasn’t necessarily choppy, just delayed. Overall the camera probably isn’t the best choice to live-stream something like a protest or event – your phone has much better cell service and streaming quality.
But if you want to stream yourself surfing or something else where your phone just wouldn’t make it, the camera is a great alternative, even if the data connection was a little spotty. The camera’s waterproof case also has an optional external antenna, which I found improved the T-Mobile service by at least one or two “bars” when I was outside testing it.
Let’s talk about traditional video recording. Like most action cameras the camera has built-in time-lapse, video capture, still photo capture at 18MP, and slow-motion. The more expensive camera can record in:
- 4K @ 30fps*
- 2k @ 30fps*
- 1080p @120*, 60, 30fps
- 720p @120, 60, 30fps.
The cheaper model will be able to do everything from 1080p down.
I found video quality to be pretty good. While it definitely wasn’t as good as comparable resolutions on an iPhone, it was pretty good for an action camera, which typically have lower video quality due to the wide-angle lenses and durable cases. You’re not going to win an Oscar with your footage, but its video quality definitely stands up to most other action camera on the market. The company’s YouTube page has a bunch of recorded footage, which will give you a better sense of what the camera can do out in the wild.
Hardware & Software Design
The build-quality of the camera is solid, feeling pretty much like your typical action camera. My only gripe would be that you need to open a little plastic cover (which is small and easy to lose) if you want to change the battery or memory card, or even just charge it via USB.
Most of the time I used the camera in its plastic case, which makes it waterproof and shock proof. As I mentioned, it also includes an external plastic antenna which boosts the cell signal, something I found really helped improve T-Mobile’s service quality.
The software is a little less straightforward. The camera actually runs a build of Android, and the camera platform is just an app build on top of this. So while it does boot up directly to the app (and most non-techies would never know it was built on Android) it is annoying to accidentally press the wrong button and be taken to the device’s main menu. But for gadget nerds like me that like to customize and explore their devices, maybe this is a good feature after all.
That being said, the camera app is really well built. As I mentioned earlier, most hardware startups have a really hard time building software that isn’t buggy – but Sioeye came through and built a solid interface and app.
Overall, the Sioeye isn’t really the best at any one thing. An iPhone is probably better at live-streaming an event, and GoPro’s experience in the action camera world make it a little better action camera overall. But here’s the thing: Sioeye’s product does both, and includes a cellular data connection. It fills a product niche that I wouldn’t have typically even thought of, but after trying an action-camera with live streaming built in, I’d find it very hard to justify buying one without a data connection. Even if you only use it occasionally, it’s awesome to be able to stream something live from the beach, mountain, or really anywhere it’s impractical to schlep around your phone.