Insta360 Air
$129/£139 | www.insta360.com | Buy Now 

The Insta360 Air is a smartphone add-on that turns your Android device into a fully-fledged 360-degree VR camera. It's capable of capturing still images and video, and comes with a live-streaming function. It only weighs 26.5 grams / ~1oz, comes with a protective rubber case and attaches to your phone either via the microUSB or USB Type-C port. We got our hands on the latter version and have tried it out on the Huawei P10 and Motorola Moto Z Force.

Key specifications:

  • Phone Compatibility Android phones
  • Dual-fisheye lenses
  • F2.4 aperture
  • 3008 x 1504 (3K) still image resolution
  • 2560 x 1280 video resolution (3008 x 1504 with some smartphones)
  • 30 frames per second
  • Real-time stitching
  • 37.6mm / 1.48in diameter
  • 26.5 grams
  • Available with microUSB or Type-C connector 
The Insta360 Air is small and lightweight enough to always be carried anywhere. A rubber case provides protection on the go.

Operation

The capture screen offers a good range of features, including filter effects. Optionally images and videos can be exported in 'tiny planet' format.

Using the Insta360 Air is very intuitive. Plugging the camera into your phone's USB-port launches the Insta360 app which lets you capture images, record video or live-stream to YouTube or a web-address. When shooting images or video you can apply exposure compensation or Instagram filters, which are applied to the preview image. 

The integrated viewer allows you to create albums and see your recorded content in all its 360-degree glory. There is also a range of sharing options which let you choose between sharing full 360-degree photos/video or 'tiny-planet' style images or animations. Overall the app is nicely designed, works reliably on our test phones and reacts swiftly to user input. 

The Insta360 Air can also be used as a 360-degree webcam on Skype and other video-chat applications after connecting to a PC’s USB 2.0 or 3.0 port. 360-degree webcam support for Mac should be provided soon via a software update. 

 The Insta360 Air can also be used as a 360-degree webcam.

Stills

In still image mode the Insta360 Air captures photos with a size of 3008 x 1504 pixels. That's less still image resolution than you'll find on cameras like the Samsung Camera 360, the LG Cam 360 or the Ricoh Theta SC and when viewed in 360-degree mode on a large screen the levels of fine detail aren't great. That said, images usually show good color and exposure, and the stitching algorithm that joins the two halves of the images does a very good job. Very occasionally, minor ghosting can be visible but otherwise images taken in good light are relatively free of artifacts.

To view this image in the Google Photos 360 degree viewer click here.

When sharing images, you get the option to export them in a 'tiny planet' style format which can, depending on the subject, make for interesting effects. The radius of your 'planet' can be adjusted by pinch-zooming. The image below is the 'tiny planet' version of the photo above.

This is another image in bright light. Up-close the images can look a little soft but still provides a very immersive experience when viewed in a 360-degree viewer. We also like the way the area right below the camera is slightly darkened to make it less intrusive in the image.

 To view this image in the Google Photos 360 degree viewer click here.

The Insta360 Air deals well with well-lit interior scenes like the one below. There is some luminance noise in shadow areas but given the relatively low image resolution it is not very intrusive.

  To view this image in the Google Photos 360 degree viewer click here.

The image below has captured a good impression of what's going on in this busy scene at MWC 2017. The camera white balance deals very well with the many different sources of illumination and image detail is not significantly reduced from outdoor images. There is no EXIF-data reported but the shutter speeds are fast enough to avoid most motion blur in indoor scenes.  

  To view this image in the Google Photos 360 degree viewer click here.

Image filters can be applied at the point of capture, like I did for the image below, or in post-processing.  

 To view this image in the Google Photos 360 degree viewer click here.

Video

In video mode the Insta360 Air can record 2560 x 1280 video resolution, which is more or less in line with other entry-level 360-degree cameras. Insta360 says that with some phones a resolution of 3008 x 1504 pixels can be achieved but neither the Motorola Moto Z Force or the Huawei P10 which I used for this test offered this option, despite start-of-the-art chipsets. 

2560 pixels wide is more than Full-HD resolution but stretched across an entire 360-degree circle the it's actually not that impressive and at screen size videos look a little soft. They are great at typical social media size though, with good exposure and color and smooth motion. As with the stills, occasionally some ghosting is visible. 

The 1280p low-light clip below is clean but again pretty soft. Nevertheless, the clip offers a good impression of the interior space it was recorded in. 

The camera also offers a 960p video option which saves you some space in your phone's storage, but as you can see in the clip below, compared to the 1280p footage detail is noticeably reduced. If you're not about to run out of space, 1280p is definitely the better option. Still, the clip below shows that, thanks to the super-wide angle lenses, Insta360 Air footage looks quite stable, even when captured hand-held from a fast-moving bike.

The 960p video below shows that the Insta360 Air is capable of capturing a usable exposure even at night but image quality is suffering quite a lot, making this clip only watchable at small output sizes.

Like in stills mode, you get the option to share videos in the 'tiny planet' format. It's a great way of displaying your entire surroundings in a standard video format and can be a fun effect.

Conclusion

The Insta360 has a lot going for it. It is one of the most affordable 360-degree cameras we have seen, and perfectly integrates with your Android device. It's ready to shoot a few seconds after plugging it into your phone and doesn't require a microSD card as it is using your device's built-in storage. The small dimensions mean you can always carry it with you and inside its rubber carrying case the camera is well protected.

The USB-connector means there is no need for a potentially flaky Wi-Fi connection to your mobile device but it does look a little fragile – disconnecting the camera when using your smartphone for other things is wise. In terms of still image resolution the Insta360 Air is not quite on the same level as some of its rivals in the entry-level segment, but images are well-exposed and mostly free of stitching artifacts. 

Overall, the Insta360 Air is a great introduction to the world of 360-degree imaging that offers a good variety of features and functions to play with. And at $129 it doesn't break the bank either. More information is available at insta360.com.

What we like:

  • Compact dimensions
  • Intuitive app control 
  • Generally good stitching quality
  • Price

What we don't like:

  • Still image resolution lower than some competitors
  • USB-connection to smartphone feels a little fragile
  • No tripod mount