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Polaroid's $100 Cube Camera Is Cute, but No GoPro

Can Polaroid's budget-friendly and adorable Cube action camera take on GoPro?

Bonnie Cha

“OMG, it’s so cute!”

I don’t ordinarily squeal like a teenager when I review tech products, but at first look, the Polaroid Cube took me back to my awkward junior-high days of mile-high bangs and acid-wash jeans. If the Cube was a boy, I’d totally be writing our names together on my binder — or maybe not, because this crush was short-lived. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The Cube is a $100 action camera, similar to the GoPro. It has a 124-degree wide-angle lens, and can shoot six-megapixel photos and record 720p and 1080p HD video at 30 frames per second. This isn’t particularly noteworthy in and of itself. Rather, it’s the fact that Polaroid was able to pack all of that into a product that’s slightly bigger than pool-cue chalk.

Designed in collaboration with the Ammunition Group (a San Francisco-based design firm that also worked on the Beats by Dre headphones and, most recently, the morphing iPad keyboard case Phorm), the Cube measures 1.25 inches all around. The small size is great for throwing in a bag, but it also makes it easy to lose. I currently may or may not know where my review unit is.

It’s also a conversation starter. While I was using it during a game of putt-putt golf, a passerby stopped and asked about it. One friend exclaimed, “No way! That’s a camera?”

The Cube comes in black, red or blue, and the body of the camera is shockproof and weatherproof. I used the camera while biking, skating and snowboarding, and it was able to handle some spills, including getting hit by a golf ball and falling off my bike’s handlebars. The camera can withstand rain and snow, but if you want to use the camera underwater, I’d recommend getting the waterproof case, which costs $25; it’s $40 if you want a suction mount.

The Cube actually doesn’t come with any mounts. Instead, there’s a magnetic plate built into the bottom of the camera, so you can stick it to any metal surface.

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This is great if you’re attaching it to something with a pretty flat surface, but not that helpful on uneven surfaces. For example, the Cube attached to my bike’s handlebars just fine, but when I rode over any bumps or potholes, the magnet wasn’t strong enough to hold it steady. I also attached it to the shaft of a golf putter, but as soon as I hit the ball, the camera spun around or fell off completely.

For something that offers more stability and to attach the Cube to non-metal surfaces, Polaroid sells accessories like bike- and helmet mounts, ranging in price from $18 to $40. You’ll also want to pick up a microSD card, since that’s not included with the camera. As with the GoPro, all of these extras add up pretty quickly.

There’s only one button on the Cube. On the one hand, that makes it simple. But you’ll definitely want to take a couple of minutes to read the instructions to figure out how to perform different functions on the Cube using the one button. I didn’t do this the first time I used it — before skating down around the neighborhood — and I only got still images, when I wanted to shoot video. To capture a photo, you press the button once; to record video, you press it twice.

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There is a small LED in front of the button that blinks and lights up different colors to show you the status of the camera. The Cube also beeps to provide audible confirmation. But I had some problems with this system, as well.

The beeps are so faint and the LED is so small that I had to hold it up to eye and ear level to make sure that everything was on. It’s particularly bad when you’re outdoors in a noisy environment. Because of this, I lost some great footage from a snowboarding trip to Colorado. I came home and found that the only thing the Cube had captured was a single image. It was pretty disappointing.

 The only footage of my awesome snowboarding trip to Aspen, Colo.
The only footage of my awesome snowboarding trip to Aspen, Colo.
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The GoPro doesn’t have the best interface, either, using a similar system of LEDs and beeps, but at least I can see and hear them. You can adjust the volume of the Cube’s beeps through software that’s installed on your microSD card when you first use it, but I wish it was louder out of the box. And the camera doesn’t have Bluetooth or Wi-Fi, so it doesn’t work with a mobile app where you can preview your image or video before shooting. Instead, you line up your shot and hope for the best.

One other minor gripe about the Cube is that you need a coin or some kind of tool with a flat edge to open the small disc that covers the microSD card slot, microUSB port and switch to change video resolutions. I know, I know. File under “First World Problems,” but it was annoying to have to find a coin every time I wanted to transfer footage.

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As for photo and video quality, the Cube does a decent job for being a $100 camera. Not surprisingly, still images taken outdoors looked the best, while indoor and nighttime shots were a bit noisy.

But when I compared the Cube’s video footage to the entry-level GoPro, the Cube fell short. It doesn’t show as much detail, and video can get blurry during lots of action. The Cube also doesn’t offer some of the different shooting modes the GoPro offers, such as time burst and time lapses, and battery life is pretty short at one hour and 30 minutes.

Kudos to Polaroid for coming up with such a neat design, but looks will only get you so far. It’s like getting together with your crush, and then finding out he or she is not all that. The Polaroid Cube might be fun to have at parties and social gatherings for capturing unique perspectives, but if you’re looking for an action camera and can swing spending a little more money, go for the entry-level GoPro.

This article originally appeared on Recode.net.