I have the opportunity to try some first generation consumer gadgets. And while some are great, the majority just can’t match the high quality threshold that Apple has subconsciously conveyed to all of us (for better or for worse).
So it’s always a nice surprise to find a hardware startup that can create a product that just looks good and does what it advertises.
Sioeye is a compact action camera (think GoPro) that has built-in LTE cellular service so you can stream live directly from the device anywhere.
The startup has two main versions, the Iris4G Blink and the Iris4G 4K. I played 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 cheaper $ 249 and is exactly the same size and weight, but a maximum of 1080p, not 4K. It also lacks shock and position sensors, but the company said removing those sensors will give the new camera longer battery life. This isn’t too big a deal, especially since if you buy it for live streams, you won’t be using the 4K (or even the 1080p) much anyway.
First, let’s talk about the live streaming feature. Both cameras are unlocked with support for 4G FDD-LTE and 3G WCDMA cell signals, but come pre-installed with a T-Mobile SIM card (which I thought was very easy to set up). T-Mobile is also making a deal to give you 5GB of free data, which the company says is equivalent to up to 10 hours of streaming.
An interesting function that uses the data connection: the camera can act as a cellular hotspot so that you can connect your laptop.
Anyway, continue to stream.
The device allows you to stream live on YouTube, Periscope or their custom cloud platform. The cloud platform can be accessed via the mobile app or the internet and your streams will be saved automatically after you have completed the live operation. While YouTube and Periscope are more popular streaming platforms, I’ve only settled for Sioeye’s platform, mainly because it’s the easiest to set up.
So let’s talk about the live streaming quality. The company says it is a “software controlled” 480p @ 30fps, which is 480p x 854p if the data stream is above 300 kbps and 480p x 640p if it is below 300 kbps.
The camera simultaneously records 1080p and saves it to the memory card while the lower quality video is streamed.
When I tested streaming I definitely noticed a delay, but probably because I was having trouble finding 5 full bars of the T-Mobile service. Other than that, the stream wasn’t necessarily choppy, just delayed. Overall, the camera probably isn’t the best choice for live streaming something like a protest or event – your phone offers much better cellular service and streaming quality.
But if you want to stream yourself surfing or something else that your phone just can’t handle, the camera is a great alternative, even if the data connection was a bit spotty. The camera’s waterproof case also has an optional external antenna that has improved T-Mobile service by at least a “bar” or two when testing outdoors.
Let’s talk about traditional video recording. Like most action cameras, the camera has built-in time-lapse, video recording, still image recording at 18 MP and slow motion. The more expensive camera can record in:
- 4K @ 30fps *
- 2k @ 30fps *
- 1080p @ 120 *, 60, 30 fps
- 720p @ 120, 60, 30fps.
The cheaper model can do anything from 1080p.
I found the video quality to be pretty good. While it was definitely not as good as comparable resolutions on an iPhone, it was pretty good for an action camera, which typically has lower video quality due to the wide angle lenses and durable cases. You won’t win an Oscar with your footage, but its video quality definitely rivals most other action cameras on the market. The company’s YouTube page has a variety of footage to help you better understand what the camera can do in the wild.
Hardware & software design
The build quality of the camera is solid and feels a lot like a typical action camera. My only gripe would be that if you change the battery, memory card, or just want to charge it via USB, you would have to open a small plastic cover (which is small and easy to lose).
Most of the time, I’ve used the camera in its plastic case, which makes it waterproof and shockproof. As mentioned earlier, it also includes an external plastic antenna that amplifies the cell signal. I’ve found that this has significantly improved T-Mobile’s quality of service.
The software is a little less complicated. The camera is actually running a build of Android, and the camera platform is just an app built on top of it. While it launches straight from the app (and most non-tech would never know it was Android based), accidentally pressing the wrong button and getting to the device’s main menu is annoying. But for gadget nerds like me who love to customize and explore their devices, this might be a good feature after all.
That being said, the camera app is really well built. As I mentioned earlier, most hardware startups struggle to create software that isn’t buggy – but Sioeye built a solid UI and app.
Overall, the Sioeye is by no means the best. An iPhone is probably better at live streaming an event and GoPro’s The experience in the world of action cameras makes them a slightly 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 normally wouldn’t have thought of, but after trying an action camera with built-in live streaming, I find it very difficult to justify buying a camera without a data connection. Even if you only use it occasionally, it’s fantastic to be able to live stream something from the beach, mountain, or really anywhere that it’s inconvenient to lug around your phone.