TomTom Bandit: can the satnav maker beat GoPro at its own game?

The satnav giant is aiming to shake up the action-camera market with its striking and feature-packed machine

TODO alt text

For

  • Easy to use
  • Fast app streaming
  • Create-a-Story feature

Against

  • Record and stop not together
  • Waterproofing needs Dive Lens
  • 4K frame rate is poor

The world of extreme sports is as much about capturing and sharing the action as it is about the sports themselves. Action cameras, usually mounted on vehicles or kit, enable us to take fantastic footage of our exploits, which can then be edited and shown to awe-struck (we hope) friends. GoPro has dominated the field for years, with its 4K-shooting Hero4 Black currently leading the way – but others are catching up.

Now, TomTom has decided to muscle in on the action-camera scene with its Bandit. Cue furrowed brows as the cynics among us doubt whether the satnav giant can cross over into unfamiliar territory. As we open the packaging, though, the first signsare promising: the Bandit looks great. And some major features have been touted, too: GPS; 4K filming; in-camera sensors that enable you to quickly find significant moments in your footage; slow-motion video capture and the ability to edit together the 'highlights' of your footage simply by shaking the camera. It certainly bodes well – but can this new kid on the block mount a genuine challenge to GoPro's throne?

Charging the device

Power to the Bandit is supplied bya Batt-Stick that slots into the backof the camera. This contains a USB connector and a microSD card slot,so there's no need for additional cables or a card reader. Its removable nature also means that if you're
going somewhere that doesn't have mains power to enable recharging, you can carry additional Batt-Sticks with you (they retail at £45). Each offers three hours of use when filming 1080p at 30fps – and while that drops when using Wi-Fi or higher-resolution video modes, it's still respectable.

Out of the box, the camera is not waterproof (although the lens cover is splashproof). However, if you buy the optional Dive lens cover (around £30), the Bandit becomes waterproof up to 50 metres – ideal for filming those deep-sea dives, or for when you drop the camera in a swimming pool.

The mount can be rotated 180 degrees around the Bandit's body, enabling you to easily position the camera as you require. If you want more choice, both the Base Pack (£299) and the Premium Pack (£379) come with an adapter for attaching the Bandit to GoPro's mounts.

Ease of use

Action cameras should be easy touse – after all, you want to be able to record spontaneous action – and the Bandit really hits the spot here. Once the camera is switched on using the Start button at the rear, a small, flashing GPS icon can be seen in the top left of the LCD; this tells you that the camera is attempting to pick upa GPS signal. In our test, we foundthat the Bandit would usually connect in less than a minute. Also alongthe top of the LCD are a microSD-card symbol showing whether ornot a card has been installed, and a battery-life indicator. The main part of the screen displays either the modeor settings, and these are navigated using a large, four-way control pad.

Choosing your mode

The initial screen enables you to select your mode, from Photo, Video, Slow Motion, Time-Lapse or Cinematic. We love the simplicity of the terminology here, and it continues throughout the set-up process, meaning anyone can pick up the camera and start filming without having to refer to the manual. Choosing one of the aforementioned modes takes you to another screen, where you can fine-tune your
settings and also connect to Wi-Fi.

Once you've selected your mode and settings, it's just a case of hitting the red button on the back of the camera to start recording (the stop button is situated on the top of the device, which is a slight inconvenience). If you want to highlight any of your footage, simply hit the red button again during filming – this is a really handy feature for when you come to organise and view your clips later.

Cinematic mode gives you access to 4K shooting. It's limited to 15 frames per second, though (compared to30 on the Hero4 Black), so while the footage has a huge resolution, motion can look a bit stilted in playback.As a compromise between 4K and 1080p, there's 2.7K shooting at 30fps. This frame rate and resolution arejust enough to look good on a 4K screen, with smooth motion. As default, Slow Motion filming drops the Full HD resolution down to 720p, though it enables a rate of 120fps – the result being that for every second of real time, you'll get four seconds of smooth slow-motion playback. You can choose to adjust the resolution and frame rate in Slow Motion mode, though.

So far, so good, then. The Bandit looks great, is simple to use and shoots decent footage. But it's when you start using the accompanyingapp that it really comes into its own.

Working with the app

Connecting the Bandit to your mobile device follows the usual procedure:on the camera, switch on Wi-Fi by pushing up on the four-way control panel, then swap to your mobile device and select the relevant Wi-Fi network from the list in your Settings. The app is a free download fromthe App Store or Google Play. Once loaded,it will instantly display a live-view stream of what the camera is seeing. This initial screen also enables youto quickly switch between the camera's modes and settings. It's worth noting here that the speed of the live view is a step up from any other action camera, with little delay between what's happening in real life and what appears on screen.

Clicking the menu button, illustrated by a circle with three dots, in the top left corner of the interface enables you to navigate to different sections of the app: Viewfinder,My Library, Create A Story, Camera Status and Preferences. The Viewfinder option is the default screen; My Library shows all of the files recorded on the camera; and Camera Status and Preferences really just show information about the camera.The Create A Story section is where this app gets interesting.

Once you've opened it, you can just shake your mobile device and, using highlights taken from the camera's built-in sensors (GPS, accelerometer, gyroscope and pressure meters),or from footage you've highlighted yourself, the app will quickly edit together a compilation movie. This process takes a matter of seconds, and creates an exciting and engaging short ready for you to upload and share with your pals. If you find that there's a clip or two you don't want, you can scroll through the movie and remove them (or add additional ones) as required. You can also manually edit your own simple movie byhitting the Add Highlights icon, rather than shaking the mobile device.

A couple of additional features finish the app off nicely; these includea speed and G-Force overlay, andthe ability to add a soundtrack from your iTunes library. Once you've finished making your movie, it canbe processed, saved and uploadedto your destination of choice.

Rounding up...

Action cameras are about capturing and sharing the moment, and while many of the market leaders enable you to record footage of incredible quality, few enable you to edit and share that footage without spending time at a computer. The Bandit'svideo quality is excellent, showing plenty of detail and well-saturated colour, and coping really well with changes in exposure. The three hours of 1080p recording time at 30fps means that this small camera won't run out of steam before you do, but you have the option to charge it via USB or by carrying reserve Batt-Sticks if worst comes to worst.

We're going to stick our neck out here and say that the TomTom Bandit offers the best balance of featuresand filming quality in today's market. OK, there are better options for high-res shooting (the Hero4 Black being the top dog), but there's plenty more to shout about here – notleast, that fun and user-friendlyCreate A Story feature. And whileit's strongly recommended that you buy the aforementioned Dive lens cover – especially if you participatein watersports – the Bandit also represents great value for money.

Tags