I have read that Polaroid was making a come back post you know, Polaroids. The cycle of traditional tech giants going under and reemerging continues with a new line of products. The Polaroid Cube is a ruggedised pocket camera that takes video and still shots. Is there a market for something that you can take everywhere and anywhere, reasonably unobtrusive and stick to any magnetic surface? Is it worth carrying on top of what your smart phone can do? Should GoPro lose sleep over it?
Taking the name quite literally, Cube is ... naturally a cube that measure a very svelte 35 mm on each length. It is cute, feels right for a bit of tough love treatment, handed to a toddler to throw, lick and bite on. The unit is solidly built, wrapped in what feels like texturised hard rubber with a retro rainbow stripe to break the monotone. It is splash-resistant, shockproof, mountable, and calls out to me to use it, abuse it and to love it.
From a design point of view it is as minimalist as things can get. The "front" side is dominated with a 124° wide-angle lens, the "bottom" by a magnet and the "top" by the single multi-function button. A hatch in the back hides the micro SD card slot, micro USB charge port and a switch to toggle between 720p and 1080p modes.
First thing first, is this thing on? In a nod to the Polaroids of yore, one button rules it all. Feedback comes in the form of a series of beeps and a tiny light. The light can be off, red or green, flashing or steady - each to denote an operating mode. A series of corresponding beeps provides an audio heads up.
Holding the button down for three seconds turns the Cube on or off. A steady green light indicates the Cube is ready for action. Push the button once and it takes a happy snap (led blinks red once) at 6MP. Double press starts recording video and sound (led goes red and blinks). A single press after that stops the recording. Voila. That's it.
The strong magnet on the side opposite the button allows for some pretty funky positioning without the hassle of a mount. Certainly it makes it less of an effort to get the show on the road. For example taking my boys and my niece to the park, I could slap the Cube onto the play equipment without needing try and slow down their play. The Cube is so easy to use that my almost 9 year old niece could use the magnet mount to attach it to her favourite playground equipment, start the recording and subsequently captured her own facial expressions as she (accidentally) swing the rather heavy steel pole into my mouth and breaking my tooth in two places, all in full HD and audio. That video is coming back out on your 21st, girlie.
In another test the Cube was hands free on the roof of the car I was driving at 100 kph, not a problem at all. It was also strong enough to pick up a small cafe menu clipboard without any fuss.
Speaking of video, the quality is not going to win any awards or blow socks off. There is no image stablisation, this is all Mark 1, Mod 0, how steady are your hands deal. The wide angle lens distorts the image for a bigger frame, but the resultant image is clear if a little washed out. Audio pick up is good and decent when close to the subject (it clearly picked up the sound of my tooth shattering). A little distance away from the Cube will result in muted and hollow audio pick up.
Bear in mind however, that the Cube has an internal mic in a tiny package. It was never going to give professional grade, sheep skin covered microphone level of quality. It is perfectly adequate for the impromptu grab.
Check out this short clip here.
In an ironic twist, the Polaroid Cube does not allow for instant gratification of what you capture. On the bright side, from my perspective, it just means I can snap away and not worry about if it looks good or bad and just move on to the next thing.
The Polaroid Cube runs against the everything connected and instant gratification needs of the current time. I rather like the nostalgic feel of capturing something and having to wait to see how it turned out. Being an amateur photographer I spend way too much time looking at the back of the camera checking to see if what I captured reflects what is in my head. Rather I could put the Cube on, enjoy the time with the kids in the park (until the time when my tooth got broken) and not take my eyes off what is important - seeing and living the fun moments with my own eyes.
The Cube can be connected to a computer via the shortest micro-USB cable ever, the folder structure functions like any other digital camera / video recorder. No surprises there. Alternately you can pop the microSD card out into a card reader.
There is a program on the unit which allows control over light frequency, timestamp, cycle recording and beeper volume. Light frequency controls shutter speed, which can be switched between 50Hz and 60Hz. Additionally there is an option to overwrite files if the SD card fills up. It is your choice if you want the Cube to stop recording as soon as the SD card is full, or start overwriting from the beginning. By default all videos are segmented into five-minute clips, even during continuous recording.
While the Cube is fine to use straightaway (once you insert a MicroSD card), there are a number of accessories to extend where and how you can use it. Amongst these include:
1. Tripod mount with universal Metal Insert Fits all Standard Tripods.
2. Bicycle mount that easily attaches to any one-inch thick Handlebar with included rubber shims, the camera platform allows for left & right rotation.
3. Helmet mount using adhesive 3M stickers, the platform allows for left & right rotation.
4. Strap mount multipurpose rubber strap at attaches to virtually anything, the platform allows for left & right rotation.
5. Waterproof case good for up to 10 meters (33 feet) deep, suction cup mount available separately.
6. Mr Monkey stand that is a cute design that serves as an unique base, attaches by concealed magnet.
The biggest gripe I have is the memory support being only up to 32GB. From a user perspective that means I need to remember to clear the card when I am at home (remember there is no viewing on the Cube itself). Particularly on 1080p mode it would be easy to fill up the card and be stuck as personally I would not enable the write cycle feature.
Can't change from 720p to 1080p mode without unscrewing the porthole in the back and flipping the switch.
The battery life is limited to 90 minutes, which given the size and weight of the Cube is actually not too shabby. Just remember when you are charging the Cube, go clear the SD card.
The hatch is fully detachable and totally easy to lose.
The videos are encoded in MOV format, which if Windows Media Player is used will result in no audio. Those with iTunes/Quicktime installed and using it as default media player will have no issue.
Video capture resolution: 1920 x 1080; 1280x720 (30FPS)
Recording format: H.264
Still image resolution: 6 megapixels; JPEG still image
Lens: 124º wide angle lens (F 2.0, f=3.4mm)
Viewing angle: 124º (wide angle)
Weatherproof/splash proof. (Waterproof up to 10M with waterproof case)
External memory: support Micro SD card, up to 32GB
Battery & power: lithium battery, 90 Min
Output: USB 2.0
Weight: 45 g
PC and Mac interface: Micro USB Port (USB 2.0)
The Polaroid is not a GoPro with extreme clarity in high definition. It is not a smart phone with a gazillion filter apps to manipulate the captured images. What it is, is a quaint old-school non-interconnected device that is fun to use, unobstructive and affordable.
To clarify, affordable in the sense that it is cheaper than the cheapest GoPro by half, cheaper than most smart phones. You will happily hand it out to anyone and everyone because it does not hold a bunch of personal data. You can have it fall onto the ground and not worry about breaking the digitiser. Yes I kept handing it over to the kids to do as they wish because it can take the abuse.
The Polaroid Cube is available in red, black and blue, weather proof and splash proof straight out of the box. As noted earlier, there are a number of cases and mounts to extend the functionalities. The Polaroid Cube is available here for AUD$149.99. Most of the mounts are available for AUD$29.95, it may be cheaper to look at some of the bundles on offer though. Personally I can see a use case for the Polaroid Cube, but it will benefit from a lower price point especially when it does not come with any memory at all.