CNET: Ion Air Pro review
The good: The Ion Air Pro is waterproof up to 30 meters and shock resistant. HD video is easy to capture with the record slider. Photos can be captured without stopping video capture. Wi-Fi Podz add-on allows syncing, remote viewing, and simple controls via an iOS app or Web browser.
The bad: The nonrotating lens makes orienting shots at odd angles tricky. No SD card is included in the box.
The bottom line: The standard Ion Air Pro is a rugged sports camcorder that is easy to use with many thoughtful features, but the addition of Wi-Fi and app connectivity makes it a truly standout camera.
The Ion Air Pro (which is the basis of all three of Ion’s new sports camera packages) uses a bullet camera design with a metal tube chassis. The camera is waterproof (up to 30 meters) and features a waterproof microphone that allows it to keep recording even when submerged. Along the top side you’ll find a power button that doubles as a still-photo shutter release and a recording slider. Slide the recording slider forward to start video capture and slide it back to stop. All inputs (power on/off, still snap, and video start/stop) are signaled with haptic feedback from the Ion Air Pro’s internal vibration motor. Personally, I like the audible beep that Contour’s and GoPro’s cameras emit during these events, but the hum and buzz of the Ion was certainly less obtrusive and less annoying to those around me during testing.
The bottom edge is where you’ll find Ion’s Cam Lock system — a plastic clip attached to the base of the camera that allows easy attachment to and removal from the plethora of mounting options included with the Ion Air Pro Plus and Ion Air Pro Wi-Fi kits. The Cam Lock clip can be removed with a flat-tipped screwdriver (or a coin) to reveal a standard threaded tripod connection for attachment to the included flexible mini-tripod or any user-supplied tripod or monopod. Ion also will sell separately other mounting options, such as a Panavise suction cup mount (the same mount, in fact, used by GoPro and Contour) for automotive applications.
The business end of the Ion Air Pro is where you’ll find its lens, an ultra-wide-angle job with a 170-degree field of view that puts it on par with its main two competitors. The lens sits behind dome-shaped glass, like that of the GoPro HD Hero cameras, which Ion claims allows the Ion Air Pro to shed water better for a clearer shot than the ContourHD camera’s flat glass. However, I’m convinced that the protruding glass dome will be easier to scratch than the Contour’s (which is mostly protected by a raised metal bezel) if the camera, for example, falls off of a moving vehicle. A ring of six small screws around the Ion Air Pro’s lens seems to indicate that it may be possible to replace the glass if it does get damaged.
At the back end, the Ion Air Pro has a locking cap that twists and releases to reveal the camera’s connections. Here, you’ll find a microSD card slot that accepts up to 32GB of storage (no card is included in the box, so be sure to factor that additional cost into the total price), a 3.5mm AV output, an HDMI mini connector (type C) for AV output, a Micro-USB connection for charging the 1,200 mAH battery (approx 2.5 hours of recording time) and syncing files, a pinhole reset button, and a switch for choosing among user-preset HD recording modes. That’s nearly a port for port replication of the Contour+ with the addition of that analog AV output. GoPro’s HD Hero2 features more ports and the more robust (in my opinion) full-size SD card slot and Mini-USB connection. However, the GoPro’s connections are largely unreachable when the camera is locked into its clear housing.
Comparisons to Contour cameras
At first glance, the Ion Air Pro may appear to be a bit of a ContourHD-alike. And while that may not be the case, both cameras do look a lot alike. Put side-by-side with the ContourRoam, the newest of Contour’s cameras, the Ion Air Pro is slightly longer, partially thanks to its convex lens glass. However, because the Ion camera lacks the protruding lower hump of the Contour cameras, the Air Pro ends up looking sleeker from most angles. At only 4.5 ounces, the Ion Air Pro is also the lighter of the two cameras by a hair.
Contour’s rail-mounting system allows for more flexible mounting than the Ion Air Pro, which only features a single mounting point at its base. The Contour camera can be mounted on either of its sides or from its base, plus its lens can be rotated to any angle within a 270-degree range to match the camera’s orientation. The Ion Air Pro features an auto-orientation sensor that detects if the camera is mounted upside down when the record switch is pushed and automatically rotates the recorded video right side up. However, the Ion Air Pro can only detect within 90-degree increments, whereas the Contour cameras can be twisted to any angle in between by using a physically rotating camera, rather than a software fix. Additionally, starting a recording with the camera rotated at a 90-degree angle results in a weird vertical HD “I recorded this video on my iPhone in portrait orientation” video format that doesn’t fit any screen or video-sharing service that I’ve ever seen without massive black bars to either side. So while the Ion Air Pro will more or less orient itself automatically, getting properly oriented video from, for example, a goggle strap mount, requires a weird L-shaped bracket where the Contour could just mount flush.
Users have a choice between a few HD video modes with the Ion Air Pro including the standard Full HD 1080p, Tall HD 960p, and 720p HD at 30 and 60 fps. While recording, the Ion Air Pro is able to do a few things that the Contour and GoPro cameras can’t. For starters, alongside every HD video recorded, the Ion Air Pro also records a second WVGA (480p) thumbnail video that can be used for quickly sharing to social networks and the like. Users can also tap the photo button at any time (even while recording a video) to snap a quick 5MP JPEG photo. Additionally, while the Ion Air Pro features time lapse and burst photo capture modes.
That’s all standard action-camera-type stuff. However the Ion Air Pro has an extra trick up its sleeve when purchased as part of the Ion Air Pro Wi-Fi kit. That trick is called the Wi-Fi Podz. Ion camera’s Podz system is essentially a series of replacement rear-end caps for the Ion Air Pro camera that add to or enhance the camera’s functionalities.
The Wi-Fi Podz adds ad-hoc Wi-Fi connectivity to the Ion Air Pro camera allowing users to interface with the Ion Air Pro via an iOS app for iPhone. The app allows users to view the video files stored on the microSD card, download those files to the iOS device, and share the photos and videos to social networks, such as Facebook. There’s also a remote feature that lets the user view a live stream of what the camera sees with the iOS device’s screen. From there, users can also trigger and stop recordings and adjust many of the camera’s settings from the app.
Don’t have an iOS device? The Ion Air Pro Wi-Fi’s Wi-Fi Podz will also connect to a PC, Mac, or any other Wi-Fi-enabled device with a browser. Simply make the ad-hoc Wi-Fi connection and go to “wifi.podz” in your browser to access the files stored on the SD card and view a live stream from the Ion Air Pro. This browser-based interface doesn’t give users remote-control functions or access to settings beyond changing the camera’s SSID and password. The browser interface is a good function for a quick check before formatting the camera’s card or double checking that the camera is aimed correctly before recording.
With the standard battery, using the W-Fi Podz will reduce the Ion Air Pro’s battery life to an estimated 1 hour. Fortunately, the Podz can be turned on and off with the touch of a button. Ion camera is planning to release other PODZ in the future that add additional functions to the Ion Air Pro camera, such as an extended battery pack.
The Ion Air Pro Wi-Fi is a worthy third addition to what was just a two-player battle between GoPro and Contour cameras. Combining the ruggedness and water resistance of GoPro with a bit of the user-friendliness of the Contours, the Ion Air Pro slots right in the middle of this brawl. However, the GoPro is still the most customizable and rugged camera in the group and the Contour still manages to be more flexible and user friendly. Additionally, most of Contour’s cameras also feature GPS tagging and tracking (the exception being the entry-level ContourRoam).
However, the Ion Air Pro isn’t without its own charms. The ability to quickly snap a photo without having to stop recording or switch modes is a great addition to the standard action-camera feature set. So is the camera’s ability to simultaneously record a WVGA thumbnail video for quick sharing and previewing on the go.
Speaking of “on the go,” the Wi-Fi Podz that comes as part of the Ion Air Pro Wi-Fi kit places the Ion camera’s abilities on par with (and a bit beyond) that of the Contour+ or the Contour GPS with the Connect View card addition. However, by using Wi-Fi, Ion gains the advantages of range and bandwidth over the Contour’s Bluetooth connection. Additionally, the built-in browser-based interface adds a level of universality to the camera’s interface.
Finally, the Ion Air Pro kits have an advantage in the pricing department…sort of. Compared with the top-of-the-line Contour+, the Ion Air Pro Wi-Fi kit ($349) represents a savings of about $150. Granted, the Contour+ is probably a slightly superior camera where video quality is concerned, but it’s not submersible and isn’t more ruggedly constructed than Ion’s camera. (The battered condition of our long-term loaner Contour+ should be an indicator of that. I’m not sure that I’d want to spend that much extra money on something that’s likely to end up smashed.
If you don’t care about Wi-Fi or apps, the Ion Air Pro Plus is probably the best point of entry. This kit includes the Ion Air Pro camera, the Cam-Lock mounting system, a selection of mounting accessories (including adhesive mounts, straps, and a bicycle handlebar mount) for $289. That’s comparable to the GoPro HD Hero2 Outdoor kit for a $10 savings. The GoPro’s on-device interface and extremely rugged construction makes it one of our favorites, but in many ways the Ion Air Pro is its match. Likewise, GoPro offers a BackPac system that is similar to Ion’s Podz system. GoPro’s established ecosystem of accessories gives it the edge for now.
Finally, at the entry level is the Ion Air Pro basic kit, which is a bare-bones kit that just includes the camera, a mini tripod, and an international charger for $229. That’s $30 more than the $199 ContourRoam (itself a very basic waterproof camera that ships with very few mounting options), but the Ion is head and shoulders a much more fully featured camera.