Keeping with the trend of turning life into little pixels to upload in clouds that rain down sparkly data packets for humans to share and like, rising Chinese tech company Xiaomi a.k.a. Little Rice presents: the Xiaomi “Yi” (蚁) camera, a.k.a. the Ant. Aesthetically, it is a clone of the popular GoPro sports camera, but stripped down to a 400rmb (64 USD) price point. It’s out in China now but supposedly nowhere else yet. We got one and tested it. Will the Ant crash GoPro’s stock?? Let's find out.
Buying And Unpacking: Xiaomi makes another camera, conveniently named “Yi” as well. Don’t accidentally buy that -- it’s a webcam. You want the one in the construction paper brown box. After much hassle and calling Taobao shops who were simply listing the item but hadn't stocked it yet, we got an Ant for 500rmb in the hood phone market by the train station. It’s a hundred more than the official price but hey, that’s the cost of being first.
What’s In The Box: A cable, the camera, a battery pack, and some basic instructions in Chinese only. For an extra 100rmb, you can get a selfie stick. Passed on that. Unlike the GoPro, there is no waterproof housing. Yet. Xiaomi's website says that's coming soon.
The Ant’s lens sits slightly lower, so the GoPro housing and some other accessories we tried are not compatible. Xiaomi say they'll roll out a bunch of accessories soon, including a harness for cats. Here's a GoPro and the Ant side by side, looking like long-lost cousins.
First Impressions: While it's approximately the same weight as our GoPro Hero3+, the Ant feels more like a toy. Probably not something I could drop out of a plane like the GoPro. Start-up time is fast. Getting the microSD card in was tricky -- you may have to use the port cover to gently push the card down.
Features: Like GoPro, the Ant has just three buttons: a power button, a shutter button, and a wi-fi button. No screen, though. It's easy enough to figure out -- the camera powers on in photo mode. To take a photo, just click the shutter button and wait for the beep. To switch to video mode, hold the power button down for a second and the top light will turn red. Press the shutter button again to start recording and the red light will keep blinking. So simple!
So...you can shoot basic photos and videos like this, but there’s no way to change the settings, or do burst mode, time lapse, etc...You can, however, do this with the app. Really quite good, this one. The integration is really tight, at least on a Xiaomi phone .
They only have an Android version out now (conveniently the .apk is available directly on Xiaomi’s website, since the Google Play Store is blocked in China). I don’t know how this will run on non-Xiaomi phones, but the app runs smoother than the GoPro app on an iPhone. Xiaomi says an iPhone app will be out in April.
Quality: The 16 megapixel Ant has a 155° lens, and can shoot in 1080p at 60fps or 30fps, 720p at 120fps, and 480p at 250fps. Files are saved in the H.264 Mp4 codec. You get an uncompressed file, and a highly compressed one at about 1/20th of the size that's perfect for sharing.
Photo Quality Test: We took a GoPro Hero3+ and the Ant on our rooftop and took some photos at the highest settings. We did the test twice -- once with the app and once without, just to make sure there was no user error. Now, this is far from a definitive test, but there is a clear difference.
Ant's Photo Skills
GoPro's Photo Skills
The Ant lacks a lot of micro detail. You can see it in the roof panels and in the windows in the distant buildings. This could be an issue with the infinity focus on the Ant. Basically, the Ant just focuses on whatever is close, as shown below.
Video Quality Test: The colors and tones in videos shot with the Ant don’t feel as rich as the GoPro. It’s just alright. Kind of bland. GoPro video feels a bit more fluid and hyperreal. Speaking of real, here’s the Ant on Shanghai Metro Line 10. Look out for this avant-garde shiz in the White Cube gallery soon. Not really though.
Sound: It's decent. Better than a phone recorder. I listened to some videos in some Sennheiser HD-25's and could hear some low bass notes.
Verdict: We’re talking about a sub-100 USD hi-def camera that's less than half the size of a cell phone, and for that, it’s just alright. The pics and video are passable. It does not feel as rugged and durable as the GoPro. Again, we've only had this for four days -- we can't predict how long the Ant will last . It's pretty wack that Xiaomi didn't launch this with a waterproof case or other basic accessories. My guess is that Xiaomi is testing the market with this one, and over the next few years they'll release a bunch of Ants at different price points.
The difference between GoPro and the Ant is, more or less, commensurate with the difference in price. Nevertheless, if you were strapped for cash, or just wanted to get a first camera for your teenager, the Ant is not a bad look. It's simple to use, decent quality, and has good app integration. That said, it does not seem to pose a threat -- in the short term, at least -- to GoPro in the mid- and high-end market. The people who shoot weddings and Mountain Dew commercials will mostly likely see the difference and stick with GoPro -- for now, anyway.
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