When approached at their stand during the IFA trade show in Berlin, Garmin’s reps proudly told us - when asked - that the company's latest action camera was better than a GoPro. Of course, we were sceptical, until they showed us how it worked and everything it can do.
From a feature list side, it’s got more than enough to compete with the market-leading Hero series, but it is more expensive.
Focusing on the camera technology first, we’re looking at a 12MP sensor which is capable of recording Ultra HD (4K) video at 30 frames per second, and shooting slow motion video at 720p HD resolution with a frame rate up to 240 frames per second.
To make sure its footage is steady, it has 3-axis image stabilisation. So whether you’re filming on choppy seas, or rough terrain, the end video should still be very watchable.
Like most Garmin gadgets, it has a built-in GPS for high precision location tracking, but can also gather data like how high a user is jumping, or how far or fast they’re travelling, and can add those metrics to the footage in attractive graphics.
There’s an easy-to-use touchscreen on the back, which can be used to control the camera and works even when it’s covered by a waterproof case, unlike the GoPro Hero 4 which requires you to switch to physical buttons when encased in the waterproof protection. This waterproof case itself is designed with anti-glare coating over the monitor and lens to ensure footage is still clear.
As well as the touch screen on the back, the Virb Ultra 30 has all of its buttons built-in to the top of the camera, including a very tactile and well-built power switch. There's also a highly sensitive microphone to ensure audio capture is clear and usable.
As if all those controls and features aren’t enough, it can even respond to voice commands using Sensory TrulyHandsfree technology. That means you can say things like “OK Garmin, start recording”, or “OK Garmin, remember that.” The latter command tags individual moments within a long video, so that they can be found easily later.
It records video to microSD, but can be controlled using the smartphone app, and the footage can be edited on the company’s own software on the smartphone too.
The small Hero-like form factor lends itself well to being mounted to helmets, bikes, dashboards, or anywhere else you’d like to have the camera stuck.
You can buy the Virb Ultra 30 for £449.99, and it comes shipped with a waterproof case. Price-wise, that makes it around £40 dearer than the Hero 4 Black from GoPro, and more than £100 more expensive than the Hero 4 Silver. Still, if its features all work together well, it may well be worth the extra outlay.