The $350 ContourGPS sits among the top-tier of consumer-friendly helmet cams, but it's always posed one major problem: you can't really tell where it's pointing. Sure, it shoots a pair of wicked lasers out of the front, but it's always a challenge to gauge the extents of its 135 degree lens. We knew there was a secret trick in there waiting to be unleashed, which we got to play with at CES, and now here it is. Contour has released its Connect View functionality for iOS, letting you view live footage from the camera right on your phone. Keep reading for our full impressions.
The ContourGPS helmet camera has a GPS receiver built in, as you might have guessed. Interestingly, though, it also has Bluetooth functionality lurking within, disabled at first but now unleashed with the release of a suitable receiving app. The latest camera firmware turns it on and, if you install the (free) app from Contour onto your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch, you can pair the two up.
But first you need to install a little augmentation. Apple requires some certified hardware inside the camera, so you'll need to cough up $29.99 for the Connect View card. It slots in next to the battery and lets camera talk to phone (or PMP, or tablet). We're told this won't be necessary for the Android release that's coming later, which is mighty good news for synthetic humanoids.
Once the card is installed and the firmware updated you're ready to pair. To connect you need to hold the "hidden" button on the ContourGPS down, which is located beneath the slider on top. This requires a healthy squeeze and, if done with enough vigor, will set the camera's status light blinking blue. At that point you can pair it to your device and launch the app.
We were at first having troubles getting the camera and our receiver (a fourth-gen iPod touch) to reliably connect, but a reboot of both devices quickly fixed that. Once paired all that's required is a crushing of the hidden button and, a few seconds later, the two are talking to each other. The problem is that "button" is difficult to find and, even when located, difficult to press. A proper button would have been nice, since you'll be using it a good amount.
The app itself offers a somewhat grainy but definitely workable image of what the camera is seeing, letting you line up the perfect shot before you strap into whatever exotic adventure you're about to partake. That's handy, but even more so is the ability to tweak camera settings. Previously you could only change things like resolution and exposure when the camera was tethered to a computer. Now you can quickly do it in the field. This is a huge step forward, and the app even helps the camera's GPS get a lock.
When you start recording the camera automatically disconnects, so you'll need to squeeze the button after every shot if you need to adjust positioning. Having to manually reconnect each time is a bit of a drag, but probably better than the battery drain you'd get by leaving Bluetooth constantly on.
Contour Connect View isn't exactly a perfect experience -- the positioning of the button sucks, spending another $30 on a $350 helmet cam stings, and we'd really like to be able to review recorded footage -- but ultimately if you already have the camera and the Apple hardware this is worth the extra money. Knowing which way the camera is pointed is great, but being able to change exposure settings without lugging along a laptop is a lifesaver, especially when we were chasing the setting sun and using this camera to grab footage for our Tesla Roadster review. So, yes, it's worth the money if you're on iOS, but we can't wait to try out the Android version.