Star Trek's Borg May Love Wearable Videocam: Rich Jaroslovsky

Sometimes I come across a gadget that’s an “almost.” Often, it’s an interesting idea that’s inadequately executed, or maybe an early entrant in a new category.

I’ve been trying out one such device, the Looxcie (pronounced LOOK-SEE), a hands-free video camera you wear like a Bluetooth wireless-phone headset. While much about it is intriguing, it’s a little too complicated and limited -- more of a watch-this-space product than a must-have-now.

There’s a certain dorkiness factor to the Looxcie; wearing it makes you feel like you’re ready for a Star Trek convention dressed as a member of the Borg. Though the device weighs less than an ounce, it’s 5 inches long, with a thick hook that hangs over your ear and a slender cylinder that houses the lens, microphone and indicator lights.

Traditional videocams, even those in wireless phones, force you to make a conscious decision to use them. By the time you get the camera rolling, you may have already missed whatever it was that you wanted to shoot. The Looxcie, by contrast, is designed to always be on, capturing everything you see as you see it and allowing you to decide, either on the fly or later, what’s worth keeping.

To use the Looxcie, which costs $199 and is currently on sale only through Amazon.com Inc., you first pair it via Bluetooth to your smartphone and download Looxcie’s free app, which is currently available only for recent versions of Google Inc.’s Android operating system.

Push-Button Sharing

The app turns your phone into a viewfinder, remote control and handheld monitor for the camera, allowing you to see what you’re shooting and to create the video clips you can then e- mail to friends, or to YouTube, Facebook or Twitter. You can create and send instant 30-second clips at the push of a button, edit and send longer clips via the app or save your footage for later download to your PC via a USB connection.

The Looxcie runs for up to four hours between charges and stores five hours of content in its internal memory, overwriting old stuff with new except for what you choose to save or share.

Getting the Looxcie to fit right is crucial -- and it isn’t easy. Even though the ear hook is bendable and the product comes with an assortment of earbuds, it takes a lot of adjusting to get it comfortable and stable. If you’re like me, you’ll end up shooting a lot of video of the floorboards, sidewalk and your own hands, before you get it aimed correctly. And once you do, you won’t want to let anyone else use it; this is personal technology in the strictest sense of the term.

Hard to Operate

In spite of its small size, or perhaps because of it, the Looxcie is harder to operate than it should be. Some of its four buttons perform different functions depending on the situation; the on/off button, for example, also answers and ends incoming phone calls, while holding the volume button rejects a call. The indicator lights are tiny and can be hard to see in sunlight, particularly the green LED that tells you whether the device is turned on.

Once I got the fit right and more or less mastered the controls, though, I was pleasantly surprised by the results. Although the Looxcie has no built-in image stabilization, it turned out that my head made a pretty decent tripod; as long as I was reasonably still, there was little bouncing or blurring of my videos. The camera also did a good job of automatically adapting to different light levels as I moved indoors and outdoors, and between sunlight and shadows.

‘Avatar’ It’s Not

On the other hand, at 15 frames a second and 480 x 320 resolution, no one will mistake the Looxcie’s output for “Avatar” -- or even an iPhone 4. The audio was also fuzzy and dim both in video I shot and when I used the Looxcie to take wireless phone calls. Also, the Android app continued to display a message that my video clip was being sent long after it had actually arrived at its destination.

Looxcie, which is based in Sunnyvale, California, says my sending and audio problems may have been the result of preproduction glitches that have been or are being addressed. But it’s still working on another big issue: making the camera compatible with other smartphones. The company says it’s developing apps for Research In Motion Ltd.’s BlackBerry and Apple Inc.’s iPhone.

Even with the Looxcie’s shortcomings, it’s easy to imagine it getting a lot better over time. For some folks, the prospect of this sort of always-on wearable technology is exciting; for others, it’s probably horrifying. But like it or not, it’s here. As the Borg would say, resistance is futile.

(Rich Jaroslovsky is a Bloomberg News columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.)

To contact the writer of this column: Rich Jaroslovsky in San Francisco at rjaroslovsky@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this column: James Greiff at jgreiff@bloomberg.net.

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