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Drift Compass review: Inexpensive, wearable camera for everyday life underwhelms

J.R. Bookwalter | Aug. 3, 2016
This camera's attempt to be inconspicuous is marred by usability and image quality issues.

Remember Google Glass? Once hailed as the future of wearables, the device soon found itself under scrutiny from critics and a paranoid public alike who feared body-mounted cameras would be an unwelcome invasion of privacy. (Imagine that!)

Although that grand experiment wrapped up last year, manufacturers continue dabbling in wearable cameras. But here’s the rub: With such a high-quality camera on the iPhone in your pocket, is a dedicated device really necessary?

drift compass mode button
Drift Innovations

The mode button features an LED light that changes color based on what type of content you want the camera to shoot.

The latest attempt comes courtesy of Drift Innovation, a company best known for making affordable Ghost and Stealth action cams. While the concept of a wearable camera for everyday life may sound intriguing, the hardware winds up being every bit as awkward and intrusive as Google Glass.

Life, camera, action!

Drift Compass ($130) is a well-constructed, diminutive black 43mm square that’s only 13.8mm thick and weighs just over an ounce without accessories. On the front is a small f/2.2 lens which protrudes about two millimeters (twice that of current iPhone 6s models), along with a dual-purpose power/mode button and LED status light.

drift compass side
Drift Innovations

Less than 14mm thick, the Compass includes a micro-USB port for recharging, as well as a micro-SD slot compatible with cards up to 32GB.

Around the sides are a built-in microphone, Wi-Fi button with status light, micro-USB port for recharging the 750mAh sealed battery, and a micro-SD card slot for up to 32GB of storage (I tried a 64GB card, but it didn’t work). The package includes a mounting clip for placing the camera on a table or sliding onto a shirt pocket, micro-USB cable, and lanyard for hanging the device from your neck. (Drift also offers a $40 Compass Mount Pack that includes a handy skin with magnetic back, extra clip, tripod adapter, and 3M VHB mount in a carrying case.)

Compass is capable of recording H.264 720p or 1080p HD video at 25 or 30 frames per second (also 50 and 60 fps in 720p), or snapping photos in 5-, 8-, or 12-megapixel resolution; time-lapse options are also available for both modes. The quality is decent, but colors are muted even in well-lit scenes; there’s also a fair amount of noticeable compression artifacts and noise with video.

Image quality: Samples from the Drift Compass

As small and unassuming as Compass is, the design winds up working against the device. The lens is situated in the corner, so the camera has to be held at an angle with the mode button down to avoid a tilted image. It’s counterintuitive, and certainly makes it harder than it should be to properly line up a shot, especially when the camera is swinging freely from the lanyard.

 

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