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Review: Garmin Virb Elite

February 4, 2014 • Reviews, Top Stories

The action camera business is a huge deal for amateur videographers, adrenaline-junkies and professionals alike, but with so many options available, how does one distinguish between the average and the superb? The GoPro seems to have a firm hold on thril seekers around the world, but a number of competitors have come up with comparable solutions.

Garmin's Virb Elite action HD camera (image: Garmin)

Garmin’s Virb Elite action HD camera (image: Garmin)

Enter navigational device maker Garmin. The company is best known for its creation and manufacture of personal navigation devices, but stepping into the action camera world, they have released the HD action camera Virb.

What we like about it

The first thing that users will notice is that the device itself is larger than the GoPro, but this isn’t a bad thing. The size allows the device to still be operated with a single hand, and also provides a better housing for added functionality.

Taking 16MP still pictures is an absolute breeze, as users just have to press a single button without having set up the device first. Changing to video is just as easy, as the device has a big switch on the left side that just needs to be pushed forward to start the filming process.

Speaking of video, the device can record in a number of modes, such as Slow Motion, normal full HD, Super Wide and Time Lapse. The latter mode (and by extension the Slow Motion) works incredibly well, as all users need do is set it up and hit record.

Afterwards, there are no stitching of images, as the Time Lapse video is rendered on the device itself. Just plug it into a USB and download the completed video – no editing required.

In terms of specifications, the Garmin Virb Elite can record 1080p HD video (1920 × 1080) at 30 fps, 720p HD video (1280 × 720) at 30 or 60 fps; can take still images at 16MP, 12MP or 8MP, and can take photo bursts of 16MP images at 6 per second.

For connectivity, the device makes use of Wi-Fi and is ANT+ compatible, and has a micro HDMI output, as well as a built-in GPS. Being an outdoor-use device, it is capable of operating in -15° to 60° C temperatures, and is even waterproof up to 1-meter (or 30 minutes).

Aside from the added functionality it provides, the Virb’s size also allows it to house a rather large 2000 mAh removable Li-ion battery, and the company claims that users should get about 3 hours of 1080p (30 fps) recording time.

There is also an app that connects to the unit, which allows users to control most of the device’s functions from their smartphone. This comes in handy when the device is mounted in an environment that would make operation difficult or time-consuming.

It’s a very cool device, and it comes packed with one sticky mount. While the adhesive isn’t very strong, there are a number of different mounts that can be purchased – as well as a chest harness. It is very similar to GoPro’s Chesty, but instead of being on the chest, it’s on either shoulder – which provides for a unique and interesting filming perspective.

What we don’t like about it

There isn’t a lot that one could fault the Virb Elite on, but one glaring error on Garmin’s part is the rather small screen that is located on top of the device. The 1.4″ (205 x 148) non-touch screen serves as its main point for functionality where users select the settings and shooting modes, but it seems more as an after-thought than being practical.

The tiny screen is incredibly difficult to read in sunlight or in darkened environments as it is not back-lit, which proves to be a bit of a problem when adjustments need to me made. While in standby or filming modes, users can use the screen as a viewfinder, but it’s not entirely accurate either – there is about a 1 second delay between movement and the screen reacting.

Conclusion

The Virb Elite is a functional, durable action camera and serves its purpose well, but with the small screen it becomes difficult to operate. Other than that, the quality of the still images and recorded video are excellent, but it has to be said that it is only prefect under the right lighting conditions. For some odd reason, it seems as though the Virb struggles a bit to focus when operated in dim-lit or indoor environments. But then again, it is an action camera after all.

As a competitor to the hugely-popular GoPro cameras, the Virb definitely stands its ground, and later versions of the device will definitely give its competotors a run for their money.

Our score: 7.5/10

Charlie Fripp – Consumer Tech editor

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