Wearable camera companies bank on us living interesting lives. If I were to live in their vision of what my life is supposed to be like, I would be at an endless music festival. At sunset. There would be dogs on skateboards. Probably a waterfall. A child would be looking up at me with marvel as a butterfly wondrously perched on their finger.
Companies are also banking on us wanting to strap on silly looking hardware to capture those moments—you know, instead of the phone that’s already on my person at all times. It’s a vision that Google failed at with its Glasses and has more recently led to sluggish sales for both Snapchat’s Spectacles and GoPro’s action cams. So why on earth did Ubiquiti Labs make a $400 wearable camera in a pendant-like form that dangles beneath one’s boobs?
According to Ubiquiti, a company that mostly develops really nice high-end wi-fi routers and networking devices, the FrontRow is a camera you can wear as a necklace to capture every cool moment as soon as it arrives. It can shoot photos and video, livestream to Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube via wi-fi or Bluetooth, and capture day long timelapses.
The water-resistant pendant has a 2-inch round LCD touchscreen that is meant to be worn facing the body with the FrontRow logo facing outward. There are two cameras —the 8-megapixel one that faces the world and the 5-megapixel camera that points toward your body. It also shoots 1080p video. The company claims it has 50 hours of standby battery life—approximately two hours if you’re recording and a few minutes shy of that if you are livestreaming. I took the fully charged device out for about five hours, intermittently taking photos, videos and timelapses, and still had some juice left at the end of the day. When it powers down you can charge it via USB.
The hardware itself feels nice and solid, but it requires some mental gymnastics to understand why someone would want to drop $400 on the thing. That’s the same asking price as the waterproof GoPro Hero 5, and that thing shoots 4K video on a 12MP camera. Ubiquiti seems to believe that hands-free will afford you the more disconnected, in-the-moment lifestyle you so desperately crave. I’m not convinced its a lot less obtrusive than something like Spectacles. It certainly isn’t stylish—if totally bricked, it would serve me no fashionable purpose. But it’s surprisingly lightweight and sleek, and it teases me with the promise of stitching my life together in a way that would make it appear interesting. Cinematic, even.
Only my life isn’t that interesting. I’m not sure anyone wants to watch a timelapse of me catching my exhausted reflection in the subway window. So I waited for the weekend, slid the lanyard around my neck, and let the device dangle near my belly button as I headed off for the botanical gardens. I snapped a few photos—my friend standing near foliage, a big ass plant that I liked, as well as some shots of the general ambiance of the gardens.
The 140-degree wide-angle lens that points outwards gives every photo a fish-eye look. That’s not necessarily a bad thing as it captures more of what’s happening! But the quality is not great. Check out the image to the left. There’s nice detail in my friend’s jacket, and you can see all the berries and the tree and the structure of that giant leaf. Still, look at all the chromatic fringing (the purple stuff) where foilage meets sky. That’s bad.
And it’s very common with this camera!
As is the big blur around the edges. Unless I held the camera very still photos looked blurred and ugly. This spelled doom for FrontRow’s most interesting feature, called Story Mode, in which the device will collect hours 16 hours of first person video with the click of a button. A GoPro can do a timelapse too, but it only lasts two hours on a charge. My timelapse videos turned out… fine. With the camera flopping around on my chest there were a lot of blurry images, and the exposure was inconsistent from shot to shot, which led to too bright images next to ones that were too dark.
But there is still something undeniably cool about the timelapse. If I was an art student or a desperate Youtuber I might be more stoked revisiting my day in timelapse form. Yet the prospect of lifelogging has never particularly appealed to me, and I’m pretty confident no one wants to watch a somewhat shaky, blurry recount of my day (or anyone else’s). But day-long timelapses are certainly the gadget’s killer feature. While lifelogging may not appeal to everyone, for those who do want to capture their entire life, this device will afford them that option and with little to no editing required.
But if you aren’t titillated by lifelogging, NavelPro leaves little to desire. If I want to carefully curate a few moments from a particularly photogenic day, I will take photos on my phone and post to Instagram. If I want to share a candid albeit mundane moment, I’ve got Snapchat. If I want to livestream myself whitewater rafting down the Hudson river, I’ll invest in a GoPro. So what does FrontRow offer me that the aforementioned can’t deliver? A new form factor that nobody asked for.
The $400 device feels like an out-of-touch effort from a tech company that believes kids these days just want more cameras, but in a fun new package! That we want to share more than we already are, but while also living in the moment, and that the path to living in the moment, for some reason, is strapping a bunch of cameras to our bodies. The FrontRow might do the job of lifelogging timelapses for hours, but the use case is so niche, the camera quality so bad, and that price tag so high that it is doomed to end up in my drawer of gadgets that time forgot.
- FrontRow is one of the more sleek wearables out there, but like its counterparts, it’s still a superfluous purchase if you already have a high-end smartphone
- The USB-C connector is the most sustainable part of this device
- Stop trying to capitalize on my mediocre life