YI Action Camera review

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I excitedly opened the Official U.S. version of the YI Action Camera in this cool lime green face and teal body colors. (Apparently there is also an all white and all black version out there too).  The packaging was a simple cardboard and contained the camera, instruction booklet (only in Chinese), the battery and a micro USB cable for charging.  I put it on the charger, watched a giant red ring light up and waited patiently.
YI Action Camera live view
While charging the camera I headed to get a micro SD card (they recommend a 16-128GB class 10 or UHS-1) and figure out what the other port was for under one of the back tabs.  I discovered the other port was a micro HDMI. NO cable is included for this connection however. The other tab on the back of the YI Action Camera was placement for the battery itself that I had already figured out.  Pay special attention to the needed direction of the pins on the battery to match to the camera slot. Since the battery is a rectangle it is possible to put it in backwards, upside down or both.

This YI Action Camera allows you to do numerous shooting modes for both video and photos.  All the settings changes, outside of a quick flip between modes, are found within the application after you connect to it via wifi. I will cover both of those steps later in the review. Let me jump right into the review of the hardware, then a breakdown of the application and an overall conclusion.
The Hardware
The YI Action Camera is super simple in design with limited options physically on the camera.  There is power button in the front, surrounded by a color changing LED ring based on what is going on, the shutter button on the top and a small button to enable the wifi on the left side (when camera is facing away from you). The lens is fixed and relies on auto focus ability instead of you having to tweak and twist it. With a size under 2.5 inches across x 1.65 inches high and less than 1 inch thick it is quite light at 2.4 ounces.

Speaking of the fixed lens, it is a 155 degree wide angle offering a wide picture with limited edge distortion. Perfect for making sure you get everything in the shot. Almost everything that is, since there is no display actually on the YI Action Camera to see what you are taking a picture of.  To view what the camera is taking a picture of live you have to connect to the application and that means having your phone out too.

When I first set up the YI Action Camera I knew there may be a firmware update waiting for me after checking the YI website. I was correct in that assumption and made sure to grab the newest firmware before any further testing.  I was a bit concerned that the camera arrives with a firmware older than January 2016 when this was October. The image below shows exactly the version it arrived with, the new version number and the date of the new firmware.
YI Action Camera firmware
The wifi button on the side enables the camera to emit a pretty strong signal for connecting your phone directly to. There is a small blue LED light that blinks on the camera side to let you know wifi is enabled so you can connect your phone directly with a very obvious name. The default password is common across all of their cameras so I would suggest changing it when done performing setup of the application. You can also change the name of the wifi if you desire. I was able to get quite the distance from the camera in testing. Much further than Bluetooth technology allows. After some website digging I found the camera uses 802.11bgn single band over the 2.4ghz channels. You may encounter some competition that affects distance. But in reality how far away would you walk from your camera for a remote shot?

Battery life with this camera was an issue for me for a few reasons. The main one is that there is not easy way to tell how much life I have left if not connecting the camera to the phone and using the app. The LED will show red when battery low (too late by then) or booting up and then blue when connected in use. I honestly never saw the purple ring for the 15-49% battery life that I found much later in the online English instruction booklet. The second part of my issue is that this camera seemed to chew through the battery even when off or sitting for a day. That made no sense to me until I saw other reviews with the same issue. While running the app connected live to the camera, I kept note of the battery percentage indicator in the upper right of the screen and slowly watched it drop over short periods of time. Wifi plus live streaming eats into the battery quick.  There is an auto power off setting in the application to assist in saving battery.

The microphone button is on the top near the shutter button.  I found this to be a bad placement idea.  I presumed it would be on the front near the lens since that is where I am aiming the camera in the first place. That way the object I want in the video also had the microphone directed to it, not to me.  Also, I tend to rest my finger on the top of the camera when holding it, like I was going to be taking pictures with the shutter. Guess where the natural tendency to rest your hand is? All around the shutter button.  So you often get muffled sounds or the worse effect of your finger dragging back and forth across the microphone instead of the video audio you so desired.

You can use the buttons on the camera, instead of the below application, to swap between photo and video camera modes. There is good and bad to this manual swap ability for the YI Action Camera. The good ability is the quick change without having to fumble with your phone being connected and active. This allows you to easily capture moments.  The bad was that you can easily and accidentally change modes. This quick change also only allows a default setting for each. If you need to change the picture quality, frame rates or other settings you must use the application.
YI Action Camera specs
I had no idea the bottom of the camera has both a speaker and LED indicator lights for modes until reading the booklet online.  The booklet did not say what the indicator lights meant on the bottom. Which mode was on and which was off for the LED? You had to figure that out for yourself.
YI Action Camera bottom
The instruction booklet also referred to using the YI Action Camera as a small car dashboard camera by pulling out the battery and only using the micro USB port for power. I did not test this and the camera has no real night vision ability. So I am not sure why you would want to do this unless you wanted to video a drive for scenery.
The Application
This is where the magic really happens in my opinion. Without the app controls, the YI Action Camera is just a point and shoot camera with a wide angle lens and SD card slot. That also happens to have the ability to mount to most standard connectors.  Functional software always makes the experience better.

The application has a ton of features, camera settings and more that we need to cover. There are five options across the bottom to work with including taking pictures, viewing their own in app stream of postings, working with your profile and exploring their community.

The camera has a bunch of video modes, 11 to be exact: 1296p - 30fps | 1080p - 60fps, 48fps, 30fps, 24fps | 960p - 60fps, 48fps | 720p - 120fps, 60fps, 48fps | 480p - 240fps.  All are easily set from within the application and then pushed to the camera.  Some modes will allow you to still grab a snapshot while recording video. You need to check the guide for which is supported.

One thing I instantly disliked was the requirement I associate my account with Facebook.  I am very selective about that and much prefer to sign up with email and then allow postings to Facebook.  I hope they add additional options for signing up. See the below image that also allows you to switch to the China Facebook.  You cannot even add a device to the application to manage  without authorizing Facebook.  I am not sure what having a locally connected camera has to do with Facebook but they force it.
YI Action Camera Facebook
The photo editing software inside the application reminded me greatly of Instagram with options and tools. There are numerous built in quick templates, auto correction ability and custom tooling.  I grabbed a quick picture while on our trip to the Dominican Republic, which was luckily during testing time, and used the built in editing for color addition and touching it up some. Here is that quick edit result.
YI Action Camera edit
The photostream found inside the application is primarily from non-USA profiles at this time. I think the camera has to catch on here in the US a bit more to get some variety.  You are suggested users to follow, and I presume they get the same. Since it hooked to Facebook I would think it would instantly try and connect those friends. Maybe since I did not have anyone I knew using it yet it did not.  You could search for users and hashtags on the search tab and people were getting tens of thousands of likes on pictures. That told me they have quite a number of users.

I had some issues with how adding to the photostream worked as well.  Adding pictures would only allow you select your current location. I may want to go back and add photos later when I have time and not being able to search and select made no sense.

Typing was horrendous inside the application.  Using the same keyboard I use for everything else there was a huge delay as I typed and as I then had to select words. I use Swiftkey and it definitely never behaves like this in any other application on the phone.  It made me not want to type. 

When you add a photo it instantly has you like your own picture (very odd) and moves it to the top of the stream.  I could not find any easy way to see pictures that I had published previously. Even on the profile tab it was not available to me as an option.  Maybe a later application update will offer that ability.

Each photo you take live, import later or have posted has the ability to share to other networks.  Those include Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Line and local apps.  Sharing was easy to the other networks and selecting new photos and videos to share was easy as well.  The video editor allows you to clip and quickly apply templates.
I love the compact size of the YI Action Camera and the three color choices.  I enjoy the ability to quickly take camera shots, bursts and videos. The application makes it easy to change the settings and defaults.  With only a couple buttons the cool design is the simplicity of the usage.  

However, the application needs some definite work and that is a key part of the user experience.  Forcing Facebook login, the slowness of the adding picture information and the inability to add a location later were downfalls.

Overall it has some great features and modes. Terrific and simple options for things like frame rates and a slew of tools for photo editing on the fly.

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