We heard the rumours of course, but were still sceptical, mostly because it’s healthier to be tentatively optimistic when it comes to speculation. Not that we’re bitter from being burned in the past. No sir.
But moving on - the Gear 360 is Samsung’s hopeful attempt to bring home made virtual reality recording capability to the masses, so that everyone from your mates to your grandmother can experience your cocktail-fuelled 2am Thailand beach party in all of its questionable glory.
We managed to spend some brief time with it at a hands-on event, so here are our initial hands-on impressions ahead of our in-depth review.
The Gear 360 is actually rather adorable, and it brings to mind a cute little sentry turret from Portal. It’s a lot tinier than photos suggest, and it resembles a standard webcam, albeit one with two bulging fisheye lenses on either side.
It feels pleasantly weighty and solid in the hands despite its size, and its controls are minimal. One button on each side takes care of menu navigation and power, and a simple record button on top, next to a screen (which displays remaining shots, battery and the mode) are the only other features to mar its surface.
Flip open the access flap on the side, and you’ll find a removable battery (hooray for on-the-go hot-swapping), a micro USB port for charging, along with a microSD slot for, you guessed it, expandable storage.
The base features a standard tripod/accessory mount, and each Gear 360 camera comes with a miniature tripod too. The tripod is perfectly decent enough for positioning the camera on a flat table, but you’ll definitely want something more flexible like a Gorillapod or a larger hand-held grip if you want to get more adventurous.
Each 180-degree fisheye lens is able to capture 15MP shots, resulting in full 360-degree 30MP photos.
When recording video, the two separate videos are transferred to your handset via Wi-Fi Direct/Bluetooth, where they are then stitched together to create the final 360-degree VR video.
The 360 VR app lets you select either or both lenses, and it also offers you a live preview mode that, in theory, could turn it into a rather expensive full 360-degree security camera, assuming you’re on the same network.
Samsung will obviously be pushing the Gear VR alongside the Gear 360, which is no surprise given that they were quite literally made for each other.
We tried out a Gear VR running demo videos shot with the Gear 360, which comprised of watching ballet dancers prance about, and giraffes munching away on some leaves - two of our favourite things.
It’s hard to form a proper impression because the time we spent watching the short looping videos wasn’t enough to properly review it, but the content the Gear 360 produces certainly appears to be decent.
We were struck once again by the pixels on the 2K screen of the Galaxy S7 in the Gear VR shell, but that’s just the nature of all the VR headsets we’ve tried, and will continue to be so until we start ramping up screen resolutions to rather ridiculous levels.
Gear 360 videos can be played back on Samsung’s own headset, of course, but users can also upload videos to YouTube and Facebook. The former should allow users of Google cardboard and other generic VR headsets to watch recorded videos which is a plus, but we’re not too sure about Facebook at this stage.
Are two fisheye lenses as good a solution as a product such as Vuze (which has eight separate cameras)? Probably not, but then again, we doubt the Gear VR matches the Vuze’s US$1000 price tag either.
It’s clear that Samsung wants to bring VR to as many people as possible with the Gear 360 - it’s simple, accessible, and its videos are easily sharable to two of the biggest content platforms in the universe.
We’ll have to wait to spend some quality time with our full review unit for our final verdict however, so stay tuned.