Thursday, July 9, 2015

Battle of the Selfie Sticks

Selfie sticks are big news at the moment. A week can’t go by without some event, institution, or theme park banning their elongated and wavy presence. Despite this, selfie sticks are as popular as ever.
The success of selfie sticks is really just the natural evolution from smartphone front cameras. The only thing better than a selfie with one person, is a selfie with five people and the entire background. Whether everyone likes it or not, selfie sticks are here to stay. It’ll be impossible to ban them everywhere.
Even with all the hate they get online, no one cares when you use one. I took a selfie stick out in public and acted like a total prick; no one batted an eyelid.
Given all that, we thought it was worth our while having a look at what’s out there. We’ve picked three selfie sticks that cover a broad spectrum of the market and tested them head-to-head: The Polaroid 40″ Selfie Stick, the Looq The Second Generation Selfie Stick, and the Samar Selfie Stick.

Measuring Up

Polaroid 40″ Selfie Stick Specs

  • Max Length: 40″
  • Min Length: 8″
  • Trigger Mechanism: Bluetooth
  • Price: $59.99

Looq The Second Generation Selfie Stick Specs

  • Max Length: 24″
  • Min Length: 5.5″
  • Trigger Mechanism: Custom wired trigger.
  • Price: $19.99

Samar Selfie Stick Specs

  • Max Length: 40″.
  • Min Length: 11″.
  • Trigger Mechanism: Bluetooth.
  • Price: £4.99 (UK only)

Selfie Stick Size Shootout

Of all the selfie sticks, only the cheap Samar actually matched it’s stated specs.
Despite the 40″ length being boldly proclaimed in the Amazon listing, the Polaroid Selfie Stick’s max actually checks in at 36″. Similarly, it’s minimum length was much closer to a foot than eight inches. The Looq Selfie Stick matched it’s max length, but shrunk to nowhere near the claimed 5.5″. All three were just over 11″ in length when fully folded.
Such blatant spec manipulation is a problem with tech products where decisions on how to measure something play a big role in the final result. With the selfie sticks, the majority of the manufacturers tried to ignore the large smartphone clamp on the business end of the stick when it came to the minimum length, but include it when calculating the maximum.
Even with the number fudging, the Polaroid Selfie Stick, and slightly longer Samar Selfie Stick, are more than long enough to get some great shots. Stretch out your arm and your phone’s camera will be close to six foot away from your face. With the semi-wide angle lens used in most smartphones — the iPhone’s camera is roughly equivalent to a 30mm lens on a full frame body — the extra reach massively increases the amount that can be included in each selfie.
The Looq, however, is a bit on the short side. It’s max length of 2 foot is enough to widen your field of view, just not as much as the other two do. If you’re trying to cram as much into a single selfie as possible, the Looq probably isn’t for you.

While all three selfie sticks have similar folded lengths, the Polaroid model (far right) is significantly bulkier. The plastic handle that contains the trigger mechanism is twice the size of the other two. The actual size difference is minor but it feels much bigger in the hand. All three, however, are pretty big. None will fit comfortably in a pocket which means you either need to carry them all the time or have a bag with you. They’re certainly not as portable and handy as the manufacturers would like you to believe.

Clamp Comparisons: Keeping Your Phone Safe

Arguably the most important part of the selfie stick is the clamp that locks onto your phone. If it’s not up to scratch your several hundred dollar smartphone is going to get flung out in a random direction until it hits a wall, small child, or priceless painting.
Of the three selfie sticks on test, none had a particular secure feeling clamp — although the Polaroid was better than the other two. In order to fit as many different smartphones as possible, the three selfie sticks use friction clamps rather than anything more secure. All that stands between your smartphone and a shattered screen is the grippy-ness of a small rubber pad.
Only the Polaroid model blocks the phone from falling out the front thanks to plastic lips that protrude; the Samar and Looq rely on pressure and the friction of the rubber alone. The Samar’s clamp feels particularly unsafe. While the Polaroid and Looq use large clamps that grip a significant amount of my iPhone 5S, the Samar (centre) only attaches with a small piece of rubber. It didn’t feel secure.

Taking Selfies, or Why Bluetooth Sucks

To trigger the camera, the Samar and Polaroid selfie sticks connect to your smartphone using Bluetooth, while the Looq uses a custom wired remote (it assumes your phone is compatible with “volume up” being the shutter trigger when camera apps are open). The two Bluetooth powered models need to be charged via USB, while the Looq works without a battery.
The problem with using Bluetooth as the trigger is that, overall, Bluetooth sucks. To start, you must pair the selfie stick with your smartphone. This involves digging into your smartphone’s settings and waiting for the two devices to register with each other. Once you’ve done it, they’re meant to work reliably together for ever. Sadly, that rarely proves to be the case.
If you turn Bluetooth off on your phone, or turn the selfie stick off to save power, the two have to reconnect again. In theory they should do it automatically once both are switched on, but in practice, this isn’t very reliable. Every so often they just refuse to connect and you have to go through the initial pairing again.
Even worse, there’s a noticeable lag when you trigger the shutter. For whatever reason, it takes about half a second from when you press the shutter button to when your phone actually takes the picture. This isn’t just annoying, it will cause you to miss a lot of pictures. I found that I’d often trigger the selfie stick, think it had taken an image and move it just as it actually took one. It’s the sort of persistent problem that makes using a product truly unpleasant.
The Looq, with it’s crazy magic trigger, had none of these problems. Connecting was simple and reliable. Images took instantly. The one flaw is that, because it uses the headphone jack, your phone is essentially muted when you’re using it. On second thoughts, this might not actually be a flaw.
The Polaroid selfie stick doubles down on a bad user experience with its awful button design. For some reason they saw fit to include four identical buttons on a device that needs, at most, two. There’s the shutter button and the power button, but there’s also a button that turns Bluetooth on and off, and a button that swaps the selfie stick between iOS and Android modes — something no other selfie stick seems to find necessary. What makes these buttons mind-bogglingly awful is that they all feel the same to the touch, are placed close together and, in my entirely average sized hands, the shutter button wasn’t the one that falls where your thumb rests. Essentially you’re playing minesweeper every time you want to take a photo: one square wins it for you, but the other three turn the selfie stick off.
The Samar and Looq’s button design is far superior to the Polaroid’s. Neither is anything special but they shutter button is naturally positioned, easy to press and the only damn button on the handle.

Overall Considerations

Of the three selfie sticks, each has its good points and its gaping flaws.
The Polaroid selfie stick has by far the best clamp so is least likely to send your expensive phone careening into a curator, but it’s expensive ($60 for an extendable pole!) and the trigger system feels like it was designed by a committee of especially dim monkeys. Polaroid, once a great name in photography, now sells their name and reputation out to whatever Chinese manufacturer is willing to pay the license fee.
The Samar model is really cheap and you get a solid selfie stick for the price. The clamp never slipped when I was using it but it felt like it could. Maybe it’s more secure than I give it credit but I couldn’t relax when I was using it. The Bluetooth trigger works… most of the time. Really, the simplest thing is that you get what you pay for. It’s a fraction of the cost of the other two and it’s no more flawed.
The Looq selfie stick was the best in the test. The trigger was miles above the other two. The clamp was also far more secure than the Samar’s but still left a little to be desired. It was by far the shortest though, which may be a deciding factor for some. Overall, it’s a solid selfie stick that you’d get a lot of use from.
The Looq came out on top for me, but it’s quite short, so look elsewhere if you’re after length. There are countless selfie sticks at every price point available on Amazon, but remember that the priciest ones aren’t always the best, as demonstrated by Polaroid’s failure.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

The Polaroid 40″ Selfie Stick, the Looq The Second Generation Selfie Stick, and the Samar Selfie Stick.

Selfie button

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