Ion’s Air Races GoPro Down Kilimanjaro: Rich Jaroslovsky

Rich Jaroslovsky
Rich Jaroslovsky, technology columnist with Bloomberg News. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Whether you’re out for a Sunday morning bike ride or snowboarding down Mount Kilimanjaro, you may well want a video record of it for sharing with family and Facebook friends (or, in the case of Kilimanjaro, just to prove you really did it).

Until now, your main choices for so-called “point-of-view” videocams were the HD Hero cameras from GoPro and their competitors from Contour.

These rugged cameras are designed to be mounted -- on handlebars, inside cars, on sports helmets and boards -- to let you capture experiences in the moment, hands-free.

Now there’s a new entrant: the Ion (“eye on,” get it?) Air Pro. Despite some software issues, the camera is reliable and extremely easy to use, the latter in particular being an absolute requirement in this category. You don’t want to be fumbling for the record button when the sharks are striking your cage.

The Air Pro starts at $230, but as with all POV cameras, that’s just the beginning. You’ll also have to factor in the cost of a microSD card to store your content, plus whatever mounts and accessories might be needed to customize the camera for your particular purpose.

Going Wi-Fi

The coolest option is a $100 attachment that provides the Air Pro with Wi-Fi capabilities. (It’s also available as part of a $350 bundle that includes a variety of mounts.) The add-on puts the Air Pro ahead of its competitors, though probably not for long.

The Air Pro is a handsome blue-and-black cylinder just over four inches long and about an inch-and-a-half across. It weighs 4.6 ounces, has a built-in microphone and is waterproof to a depth of 10 meters, about 33 feet.

Beneath the bubble-shaped glass on the front of the camera is a 170-degree wide-angle lens that in addition to capturing video can also snap off five-megapixel still images. The rear houses the microSD slot, a high-definition video port and a USB port for charging the camera and transferring its contents to a computer.

Ion says the battery is good for up to four hours of 1080p recording. In a nice touch, the camera automatically generates two files for every video you shoot, one of them thumbnail-size for uploading to Facebook or other online sites.

Bike Trek

Not living anywhere near Mount Kilimanjaro, we’ve been using the Air Pro for more prosaic pursuits. A colleague used it to record a 40-mile bike trek through Northern California, including a 40 miles per hour downhill sprint, while I used it to chronicle my own particular extreme sport: navigating the California freeway system during rush hour.

In general, the camera performed well, with one exception: The autorotation feature, which is supposed to sense where the ground is, got confused at times, resulting in some footage shot at crazy angles.

The Wi-Fi add-on, which the company calls a Podz, works with a free Ion app for Apple’s iPhone, iPod touch and iPad. A version for Google’s Android operating system is in the works.

With Wi-Fi, you can use your phone as a viewfinder to aim the camera, then play back, on the spot, the video you’ve shot to see how it came out. And someone holding the phone near enough to the wearer can monitor the action in real time, seeing what the camera is seeing.

Big Drawback

There’s one big drawback, at least for now: When the Wi-Fi is on, the camera can’t record. You have to remember to shut it off before you catch that wave. In addition, and unlike GoPro’s promised Wi-Fi option, there’s no ability to remotely control the camera from the app. Communication is strictly one-way.

I also encountered a problem when I attempted to launch live streaming from the app: I kept getting an error message telling me the camera and iPhone weren’t connected, even though the phone’s settings confirmed they were. The company provided me with a workaround -- an extra tap of the camera’s power button -- that got things going. Still, the app needs work.

Obviously, not everyone leads the kind of life that demands an actioncam to document it. But even those whose most daring escapade is navigating the Interstate 280-Bayshore Freeway interchange at rush hour may find the Air Pro a welcome companion.

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

Muse highlights include Manuela Hoelterhoff on music and Jason Harper on cars.

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