A few days back we received the Elephone Explorer Pro Action camera and we posted an unboxing video along with a few pictures of the device too. And now it’s time for a proper review. For the uninitiated, this particular action camera is the Pro version of phonemaker Elephone’s first ever action cam: the Elephone Explorer (read review here) which was launched last year. What does the Pro version do that the first iteration didn’t? Let’s find out!
Elephone Explorer Pro Action Camera Review: Specifications
Elephone Explorer Pro Action Camera Review: Box Contents
As you can see from the unboxing video above, you get all the standard mounts, stickers and accessories inside the box. Here is a surprising inclusion though: A thorough and useful user manual. Yes you read it right: the manual gives you a diagrammatic overview of the device, its specifications along with detailed operating instructions. Really pleased to say the least, considering the usually useless manuals shipped with most Chinese action cams, including the first iteration Elephone Explorer.
Elephone Explorer Pro Action Camera Review: Design and Build
At first glance, the Pro version of the Elephone Explorer looks like just another GoPro or SJCAM, which is a good thing, because it makes for interchangeable cases and mounts. On closer inspection however, you can see the facade of the camera being a touch different. It features a red vertical power button instead of the more familiar roundish power button seen on most other cameras. Add to that a neat-looking wire-drawing texture at the front and you have a unique looking camera that is a welcome departure from the usual designs our eyes are used to. Note that this only is an aesthetic change with no noticeable difference during actual usage.
As far as build quality is concerned, the camera, the waterproof case as well as the mounts are well-built and feel good to last. Buttons on the camera as well as on the case are of good quality with good feedback from them. In addition, the buttons on the case are flat with a relatively large diameter that reduces stress on your fingers. Coming back to the waterproof case, the 30m one included in the box does its job well (immersing the case in water for about an hour and a half did not result in any water seeping through the case).
On the light side of things, you get a red charging LED and a blue indicator LED adjacent to the 2-inch screen. At the top is a yellowish WiFi LED that is unfortunately almost completely obscured by the backdoor opening mechanism of the waterproof case. As far as ports are concerned, you get a USB port, micro-HDMI port and microSD card slot on the left-hand side of the camera.
If there is just one aspect of the design that I would crib about, it’s the mount buckle clip that comes attached to the camera from the factory which was extremely tight and needed some stronger hands to unscrew. Apart from this, I can say that the overall design and build quality of all components is bang-for-the-buck.
Elephone Explorer Pro Action Camera Review: User Experience
The first thought that comes to mind with respect to the user experience is the useful manual that greatly reduces the learning-curve, especially if this is the first time you are using an action camera. Operating the camera is pretty straightforward, but I have used other action cameras with a better and quicker way to switch between different modes and settings.
One gripe while using the camera however, is the ease at which the camera accidentally powers up with an instant press of the power button. I would have definitely preferred a long-press (at least 2sec) of the power button to power up the device. Thankfully though, powering off the camera is through a long-press of the same button (about 2sec).
Coming to the display, the device sports a 2-inch TFT screen that is sharp and bright even under broad daylight. As far as screen content goes, you get a plethora of it in whichever recording mode you are in. Heck, there isn’t a single piece of information that I found to be missing on the display.
WiFi, Explorer Pro app:
WiFi is enabled on the Explorer Pro by pressing the up button on the side of the camera. Once switched on, the yellowish LED on top of the device blinks. Now you should see the WiFi SSID and password displayed, which you can use to connect to your Android or iOS smartphone. Install the Explorer Pro app on your phone and launch it (remember to switch off mobile data on your phone before attempting to launch the app, as the camera fails to connect to the phone otherwise).
From the app, you can live-preview video, record videos, capture images, and change a few settings. The app itself is okay, but there is a noticeable time-lag while previewing video on your phone. Moreover, there is no option to select 4K or 1440p video recording resolution from the app and that’s not the only shortcoming with the app. If you happen to set the video recording resolution to 4K or 1440p through the settings menu on your camera and connect your camera via WiFi, and if you then start recording video by pressing the record button in the app then guess what, the camera simply hangs up if you press any other button thereafter. Your only road to recovery is by disconnecting the camera battery.
I think the app needs more extensive testing and is a downer in my books, especially considering the really good XDV app for the first iteration Elephone Explorer. Seems like the devs were in a hurry to release an app for the Pro version, which is a real shame.
Elephone Explorer Pro Action Camera Review: Video
Supported Video Resolutions:
The Elephone Explorer Pro supports a wide range of video resolutions as follows: 4K (24fps), 1440p (30fps), 1080p (60fps), 720p (120, 60, 30fps). One glaring omission in the Pro version is the 720p slow-motion recording mode. It can of course record 720p at 120fps which can then be played back at a slower speed but hey, it was a good feature on the Explorer wherein slow-motion video could be captured straight from the camera.
All videos are recorded with a .mp4 file extension and a H.264 compression standard. If you look at the spec-sheet, you can see the Elephone Pro features a Novatek 96660 chipset and a 12MP Sony IMX117 image sensor. I can’t comment on how genuine this piece of information is, as the Novatek 96660 supposedly doesn’t support the Sony IMX117 sensor till date, but there isn’t any concrete proof. Also note that this camera doesn’t record true 4K video. It is actually interpolated so a bit disappointing to say the least but hey, let’s reserve judgement on video quality until we look at sample videos at various resolutions and frame-rates.
1. 4K, 24fps video:
2. 1440p, 30fps video:
3. 1080p, 60fps video:
4. 1080p, 60fps night-time video:
5. 1080p, 30fps video:
6. 720p, 120fps video:
7. 720p, 60fps video:
8. 720p, 30fps video:
Note: For all the above video recordings, a SanDisk class-10 microSD card was used.
The Elephone Explorer Pro records interpolated 4K video at 24fps but video quality is pretty good, albeit with a very slight stutter. In fact, video quality is actually pretty good across the whole resolution range and frame-rates. Color reproduction is natural and accurate, contrast and saturation levels are satisfactory, hardly any blur is present and there is no sign of any jagged edges too. The recorded videos are crisp, pleasing to the eye and smooth flowing as well.
For low-light recording, the Elephone Explorer Pro features a night recording mode which works okay: not too bad not too great, as you can see in the sample video I captured at night. Details are captured no doubt, but there is quite a bit of pixellation present.
The Elephone Explorer Pro features a voice broadcast feature as well. What it does is play audio cues like video started, video stopped, memory full and low battery. This feature is a gimmick, as you can hardly hear anything when the camera is inside the waterproof case. Moreover, some of these audio cues get captured in the recorded video files too, which is annoying to say the least.
Coming to the various video related settings, you get quite a good number of things to play around with:
When enabled, it records videos in segments. When the microSD card is full, the first video is erased, and so on.. This particular feature is useful when the camera is used as a dash-cam. Talking of dash-cams, the Explorer Pro features a car mode where video recording starts automatically when connected to a power source.
The Elephone Pro can capture still images at intervals ranging from 100ms to 5sec. Once done, the device automatically stitches all the images together and gives a time-lapse video as output. This particular feature is handy if you want to capture a sunrise or a sunset, the blooming of a flower, or any such slow-paced activity.
When you enable motion detection, the camera starts recording automatically when a moving object is detected and stops recording if no movement is detected for 10 sec. This feature worked as advertised, but I would honestly not like to rely on this feature to use this action camera as a CCTV. Anyways, it’s a novel feature that can be put to use as far as your imagination goes.
In this mode, light exposure is automatically increased to take better videos and pictures when underwater. I didn’t get a chance to test out this functionality yet, but hope to do so soon.
To add to this list, you also get manual ISO adjustment, manual exposure, adjustable FOV, wide dynamic range (WDR), white balance adjustment and sharpness adjustment in both recording modes (video/image capture). All in all, the list is pretty comprehensive.
Elephone Explorer Pro Action Camera Review: Image Capture
Generally speaking, capturing still images is not something action cameras are meant for. But you still might want to capture still images when needed right? The Elephone Explorer Pro can capture images up to 12MP. The settings page shows 20MP as the maximum but that can’t be true, considering the image sensor to be 12MP. I managed to click a few pictures in broad daylight on default settings. You can click on them below to view them in their uncompressed form.
As you can see, image quality is decent (nowhere near smartphone or digicam level quality of course). Images are clear and color reproduction is natural. There is no hint of aliasing or blur as well. However, there is a fish-eye effect present at the edges of each image, but this is due to the very nature of wide-angle lenses, so no complaints there. Anti-shake is available too, wherein a shaky hand shouldn’t be a hindrance to capturing clear images.
Another neat feature is the ability to capture still images while video is being recorded. This is done by pressing the power button when video is being recorded. On the flip side though, you cannot turn off the date stamp on captured images, which is a baffling exclusion.
There are a few options available when it comes to image capture as well:
As the name suggests, this option allows you to set a timer between 2sec and 10sec for capturing images.
In this mode, the Elephone Explorer Pro captures multiple images continuously. To use this feature, you need to enable it in the settings menu and then keep the shutter button continuously pressed in order to capture multiple images at a stretch.
Elephone Explorer Pro Action Camera Review: Battery Performance
Powering the Explorer Pro is a removable 1050mAh Li-ion battery that slots in at the bottom of the unit. A full charge takes about 2.5 hours to complete. While the unit is being charged, the LED besides the screen turns red and goes off once charging is complete.
At 1080p 60fps video recording with WiFi off, the battery lasted for about 80min which is in the ballpark of other action cameras with similar battery capacities. To aid longevity, an auto-screen off and auto-power off options are available too.
Elephone Explorer Pro Action Camera Review: Verdict
Phonemaker Elephone’s first action camera dubbed the Elephone Explorer was a pretty good camera and a value-for-money product too. The Pro version ups the ante in the video and image capture quality department, but the WiFi app is a bit of a downer. However, the action camera does well in the video recording department, which is what an action camera should do best. Plus, the Elephone Explorer Pro is well-built with a bright 2-inch screen doting the device as well. Overall, the Pro version takes a good step ahead but improvements in a few areas like the app would do no harm.
Elephone Explorer Pro Action Camera Review: Image Gallery
Design and Build