• Swivl - Tracking Camera for iOS - Review

    Until a friend told me about the Swivl in a casual discussion about what he's found interesting lately, I had never heard of it, so naturally, I tried to get one to review!

    It arrived a little while ago and whilst the idea is good, and the implementation is fine, it's still not perfect. I'd also like to add that Swivl have announced a new device, that is currently on Kickstarter, and I think of this as a v1.0 product, with the one currently on Kickstarter, as the "proper" Swivl.

    So what is the Swivl? One part of the Swivl is a motorised based that your iPhone/iPod touch plugs into. Part two is a little remote control that the motorised base uses to track whatever it is attached to (a person, usually), and the third part is an iOS app that enables remote recording and utilising a microphone built in to the remote control/tracker.

    There's a lot of information on the Swivl website about use cases and a nice FAQ that should answer any questions. What I want to test is how practical it is for say, recording a lecture or a conference talk, or something like that.

    The first thing I noticed is that it doesn't work with an iPhone 5 as the dock connector on the Swivl is the old 30-pin kind. So whilst the base will still track the remote (it does that automatically, even with no camera), you can't use the microphone in the remote to get better quality audio, and you can't start/stop recording with the remote. I used a 4th-gen iPod touch for these tests, as it's the only device I have left that has a dock connector!

    To get started with the Swivl, just install the Swivl app from the App Store, and mount the device into the grip/cradle thing on the motorised base. If you want high quality recording, you need to insert your device backwards, so the rear camera (the better camera) faces what you want to record, like so:

    Unfortunately, putting it in this way, to get better quality, also means you can't use the app whilst it's in the base, as the buttons are obscured by the grip. It's not that big of a deal, considering you have the remote to stop/start recording (it flashes to let you know it's recording), but it's still an inconvenience. You also obviously, can't watch yourself on the screen, to make sure you're in frame properly, as the screen isn't facing you. This is probably best if you have someone who can monitor the recording for you.

    The tracking works pretty damn well. As long as the remote faces the camera, it will move to where the remote is. It's pretty cool! Works as advertised. I didn't put up a sample video, as I couldn't be bothered putting on pants, and you don't want a video of me without pants on. I could also do with a hair cut, but that also requires pants. Unless I do it myself... hm. Anyways.

    The only downside of the Swivl is that it's limited to the quality of the iPhone/iPod touch, and the microphone built in to the remote (which sounds average, at best). It'd be great to check out v2 of the Swivl, which supports a DSLR, which also means you can attach a wireless lapel mic to the DSLR and enjoy a high quality image, as well as audio. You could also add a small camcorder with a HDMI output and a 3.5mm input (for use with a Rode Videomic or a wireless lapel) and use it for recording long talks/lectures, without needing someone to follow you around the room. I can see the v2 of the Swivl being super handy for a lot of people. The current version of the Swivl is great if all you want to record with is an iPhone 4/4S and use the very average microphone built in to the Swivl remote.

    The Swivl is available in Australia from Software Only, and is $230.
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