At a single stroke, Garmin has raised the usability bar for action cameras and introduced voice control to its latest model, the Garmin VIRB Ultra 30. If you find yourself in a position where there’s not even a spare finger to tap the touch-screen, or if you can’t even see the camera, all you need to say is “OK Garmin, start recording” and the camera will do your bidding. You can even capture favourite moments during a recording by saying, “OK Garmin, remember that”. Whether the camera can hear what you’re saying when it’s rear-mounted on your bike, and you’re gasping for breath into a blasting head-wind, remains to be seen – but this is the sort of use case that Garmin must have worked on.
The Garmin VIRB Ultra 30 isn’t a one-trick pony though, and boasts a range of improvements within the Garmin VIRB family. It features HD live-streaming to YouTube (via an Apple smartphone on a Wi-Fi network), enhanced GPS for ultra-precise geo-location, 3-axis image stabilisation, and up to 4k video resolution. To capture more of your surroundings there is a new “Expansive View” mode, and data augmentation gets a boost with the built-in compass and altimeter.
If you use other Garmin data recording devices (eg, the D2, Forerunner 920XT or Edge 1000) then G-Metrix will appeal to you. A standard feature across the VIRB range, it overlays relevant metrics onto your video so that you can show off your power output – and the gradient – whilst attacking that Alpine switchback.
Waterproof operation is a given for action cameras, and the Garmin VIRB Ultra 30 is no exception. However, to achieve this it needs a waterproof case (included), which fortunately doesn’t interfere with the touchscreen operation. Other VIRB models don’t need a waterproof case, so it’s a bit odd that Garmin’s latest and greatest model has this short-coming.
Battery life is something else that hasn’t improved, with Garmin quoting up to two hours of recording at 1080/30fps – identical to other VIRB cameras. Its rechargeable lithium-ion battery actually has a 27% greater capacity, so all of the video recording enhancements (like voice control and better image stabilisation) appear to have taken their toll. You also have only an hour of recording at 4k resolution, although that should be more than sufficient for most uses. Spare batteries are available and are reasonably priced, too.
Overall this is an impressive addition to Garmin’s family of action cameras, but you will find yourself asking whether the premium price is justifiable for voice control and a handful of minor improvements.