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- Sony Action Cam HDR-AS15
- Sony's first wearable camcorder has a good collection of features, but it doesn't offer any breakthroughs for the adventure-cam market.
Sony Action Cam HDR-AS15 Camcorder Review
Handling & Portability
The point of the Sony Action Cam isn't to pick it up and use it like a regular camcorder. That wouldn't make sense. Instead, you're supposed to use it with its waterproof case and mount it to a helmet, moving vehicle, or board (snow or surf). The camcorder itself is fragile and easily corrupted, but inside its waterproof case it becomes a well-protected machine. The case does have its problems, however, particularly its awkward locking mechanism and the fact that you can't access any menu buttons while the Action Cam is inside the case. At least the start/stop record button is accessible through the case, and we are impressed with the built-in tripod mount on the base.
If you're looking for an adventure-cam package with a ton of mounts and accessories, then you'll probably also be a little disappointed with the Sony Action Cam. The camcorder comes with its waterproof case and a couple of adhesive mounts, but that's really about it. You don't get a whole slew of different mounts like you do with GoPro's Hero2 that came with your choice of three different packages. If you want more mounts with the Sony HDR-AS15, then you need to buy separate accessories... but there aren't many of them either. Sony's website lists a headband mount (waterproof or non-waterproof), an adhesive mount pack, a handlebar mount, a tilt adapter, and a suction cup mount. Hopefully more will be added to this list soon.
If you have a smartphone then you can take full advantage of the Sony Action Cam's WiFi capabilities. Using your smartphone as a remote control and remote viewfinder is one of the best features of the HDR-AS15, and the function works a bit differently than the system on the Contour+2. Instead of pairing with your smartphone over Bluetooth, which is what Contour does, the Sony Action Cam establishes itself as a WiFi hotspot. Connect to this WiFi network on your smartphone and open Sony's free PlayMemories Mobile app, and you can now see everything your camcorder sees (on your phone).
The smartphone app doesn't let you adjust many settings, but you can use it to start/stop video recording, change record modes, and turn stabilization on/off. With the Contour camcorders, you get a lot more controls using your smartphone with Contour's free app, but the quality of the remote viewfinder image didn't look nearly as good compared to the Sony Action Cam.
Battery life on the Sony HDR-AS15 with its provided battery pack was exceptional. The camcorder was able to record continuously (with WiFi turned off) for 162 minutes. That's nearly an hour longer than the Contour+2 and a good 20 minutes longer than the GoPro Hero2. And if you want even better battery life, the Sony Action Cam can make use of a slightly larger "G" type battery pack that must be purchased separately. More on how we test battery life.
The Sony Action Cam's battery is removable and rechargeable, as it should be, but there's also something unique about the camcorder's battery features. The battery slips into an enclosed compartment on the back of the camcorder, but it fits into a small and removable cradle. Adding to the mystery is the fact that the HDR-AS15 comes with a second, slightly larger battery cradle as well.
Here's the deal: the Sony Action Cam can work with two different batteries. It comes with the NP-BX1 battery pack, which fits into the plastic cradle marked with an "X". The cradle marked with a "G" is for use with a larger battery pack, presumably the NP-BG1 that is available from Sony. Unfortunately, Sony doesn't say that the NP-BG1 is compatible with the Action Cam on its website, nor is the battery listed in the accessories for the HDR-AS15. Sony is probably just behind on its updating, but this doesn't change the fact that the whole battery cradle design is strange. Why not just make a battery compartment that could fit both batteries?
See the little display on the side of the camcorder? That LCD is for adjusting menu options only, so don't expect it to show you a video feed during (or after) recording. If you've seen a GoPro Hero camcorder before, it's basically that exact kind of screen. You can access menu options, change settings using the previous and next buttons, but that's it.
But with the WiFi-enabled Sony HDR-AS15 there is a solution for being able to frame your videos on the fly: your smartphone. The camcorder pairs with iPhone or Android devices via WiFi and you can use your mobile device as a remote viewfinder (and you can change some settings or start/stop recording with the phone as well). This feature is not found on the HDR-AS10, which does not have WiFi.
Then there's also this. It's a an adapter that adds an LCD to your Action Cam, thus turning it into a small Handycam camcorder. The adapter costs $99 and fits into the proprietary port on the bottom of the Action Cam. Kinda cool? Sure. Is it worth it? Probably not.