When someone mentions action cams, most people think of expensive pieces of equipment loaded with features designed for people who spend the weekend snowboarding off Mount Everest into a pool full of sharks. The Polaroid Cube action cam is also billed as tough, but it's main selling points are that it's also simple and affordable. Gizmag recently had the chance of testing one and its accessories.
Measuring 35 mm (1.38 in) per side, the Cube is exactly that; a cube with rounded edges. On the front is a 124-degree, wide-angle lens. The stills and full HD video unit is billed as a "mini lifestyle action camera" designed around a philosophy of keeping things very simple, so there's no viewfinder, and no preview screen. For controls, there's an all-in-one button for power, video record/off, and taking stills.
The case is rubberized, splash resistant, shockproof and has a small screw-open access port on the rear. Open this with a coin and inside is a mini USB port and a slot that takes a micro SD of up to 32 GB. Next to this is a switch to adjust between 1080p and 720p resolution. The USB port is for charging and connecting to a computer.
The system is plug and play, but there's also a desktop app resident in the Cube's memory. This allows for simple adjustments, such as adjusting the automatic exposure, adding timestamps, and setting the camera to cycle, so when the memory is full, the oldest footage is deleted as new is added.
Polaroid has also adopted the Barbie principle for the Cube. In other words, the dresses are as important as the doll. The Cube fits a variety of accessory mounts that are sold separately. This include a monkey clamp, which is a clamp that looks like a monkey complete with tail; a strap mount; a self-adhesive helmet mount; a bicycle handlebar mount; a tripod mount; a bumper case; and a combination pack consisting of a tilting suction mount and a plastic waterproof case good to 10 m (33 ft).
Along with its accessories, we put the Cube to the acid test by giving it to a 12-year old field tester who put it through a string of trials, including dog walking, duck chasing, bike riding, and playground antics. The Cube survived even this punishment, and we got enough stills and footage to assess its features.
The Cube is ridiculously easy to set up. The back comes off with the help of a small coin and adding the micro SD and plugging in the charging cord takes less than a minute. The single control button is also simple to use, though it takes a few tries to master the sequences that activate the video without turning off the camera.
In both still and video mode, the automatic exposure setting works very well with even accidentally taken stills coming out looking as if they'd been composed. The wide-angle lens limits some of the possible shots, but not as much as we first thought.
The major disappointment was the high-resolution video. Though the audio was excellent, the image was halting, broken up, and often froze on replay. However, by setting the Cube to low resolution, the picture quality dramatically improved and the results were quite satisfactory. The video remained stable during action shots and the automatic exposure was fast and effective.
We also tried out the various accessories. These have the plus of using the same simple clip, which makes installing the Cube very easy. In fact, the mount is detachable from the base, so shifting from one accessory to the next was very fast. The only exception was the waterproof box and the suction mount. This required a bit of fiddling to put together and take apart, but since this combination is intended for video under nasty conditions, that's actually a plus.
Each of the accessories does what it's intended to do, though some, such as the strap mount, need some inventiveness to use them to their best advantage, and the bumper case, which is a flexible rubber pocket that can be hooked to a lanyard or clip, seems of limited value.
Perhaps the most useful is the built-in permanent magnet in the rubberized case. This has a strong grip and allows the Cube to be instantly installed anywhere metal that won't be jostled too much, so if there's a sudden need to put a camera on a bicycle or car bonnet, the Cube can handle the job.
The Cube is available three colors for US$99.99. Accessories are sold separately.