Picture this: you’re hanging out with your kids or pets and they spontaneously do something interesting or cute that you want to capture and preserve.
But by the time you’ve gotten your phone out and its camera opened, the moment has passed and you’ve missed your opportunity to capture it.
That’s the main problem that Google is trying to solve with its new Clips camera, a $249 device available starting today that uses artificial intelligence to automatically capture important moments in your life.
Google says it’s for all of the in-between moments you might miss when your phone or camera isn’t in your hand.
It is meant to capture your toddler’s silly dance or your cat getting lost in an Amazon box without requiring you to take the picture.
The other issue Google is trying to solve with Clips is letting you spend more time interacting with your kids directly, without having a phone or camera separating you, while still getting some photos.
That’s an appealing pitch to both parents and pet owners alike, and if the Clips camera system is able to accomplish its goal, it could be a must-have gadget for them.
But if it fails, then it’s just another gadget that promises to make life easier, but requires more work and maintenance than it’s worth.
The problem for Google Clips is it just doesn’t work that well.
Before we get into how well Clips actually works, I need to discuss what it is and what exactly it’s doing because it really is unlike any camera you’ve used before.
At its core, the Clips camera is a hands-free automatic point-and-shoot camera that’s sort of like a GoPro, but considerably smaller and flatter.
It has a cute, unassuming appearance that is instantly recognizable as a camera, or at least an icon of a camera app on your phone.
Google, aware of how a “camera that automatically takes pictures when it sees you” is likely to be perceived, is clearly trying to make the Clips appear friendly, with its white-and-teal color scheme and obvious camera-like styling.
But of those that I showed the camera to while explaining what it’s supposed to do, “it’s creepy” has been a common reaction.
One thing that I’ve discovered is that people know right away it’s a camera and react to it just like other any camera.
That might mean avoiding its view when they see it, or, like in the case of my three-year-old, walking up to it and smiling or picking it up.
That has made it tough to capture candids, since, for the Clips to really work, it needs to be close to its subject.
Maybe over time, your family would learn to ignore it and those candid shots could happen, but in my couple weeks of testing, my family hasn’t acclimated to its presence.
The Clips’ camera sensor can capture 12-megapixel images at 15 frames per second, which it then saves to its 16GB of internal storage that’s good for about 1,400 seven-second clips.
The battery lasts roughly three hours between charges.
Included with the camera is a silicone case that makes it easy to prop up almost anywhere or, yes, clip it to things. It’s not designed to be a body camera or to be worn.
Instead, it’s meant to be placed in positions where it can capture you in the frame as well.
There are other accessories you can buy, like a case that lets you mount the Clips camera to a tripod for more positioning options, but otherwise, using the Clips camera is as simple as turning it on and putting it where you want it.
Once the camera has captured a bunch of clips, you use the app to browse through them on your phone, edit them down to shorter versions, grab still images, or just save the whole thing to your phone’s storage for sharing and editing later.
The Clips app is supposed to learn based on which clips you save and deem “important” and then prioritize capturing similar clips in the future.
You can also hit a toggle to view “suggested” clips for saving, which is basically what the app thinks you’ll like out of the clips it has captured.
Google’s definitely onto something here. The idea is an admirable first step toward a new kind of camera that doesn’t get between me and my kids. But first steps are tricky — ask any toddler!
Usually, after you take your first step, you fall down. To stand back up, Google Clips needs to justify its price, the hassle of setting it up, and the fiddling between it and my phone.
It needs to reassure me that by trusting it and putting my phone away, I won’t miss anything important, and I won’t be burdened by having to deal with a lot of banal captures.
Otherwise, it’s just another redundant gadget that I have to invest too much time and effort into managing to get too little in return.
That’s a lot to ask of a tiny little camera, and this first version doesn’t quite get there. To live up to it all, Clips needs to be both a better camera and a smarter one.
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