Although most people these days have more than suitable cameras with them at all times inside of their smartphones, there are still times when you need something small and rugged to capture those action-packed moments.
The APEMAN Trawo 4K Action Camera (A100) fits that bill while also providing what appears to be one of the best values in the tech gadget space given everything you get for the price but be prepared to make compromises.
The APEMAN Trawo 4K Action Camera goes by the model name A100 on the company’s website and according to that they consider it in their professional line as opposed to other models that are more consumer grade. This is the successor the A80 which my colleague Dan Cohen reviewed before. The main claim to fame is the upgraded 4K sensor, electronic image stabilization, better battery life and WiFi control through an application on mobile stores. The key specs are outlined below by APEMAN:
|Video Resolution||4K@30fps; 2.7K@30fps;
|Image Resolution||20M; 16M; 12M; 10M; 8M; 5M; 3M|
|Screen||2.0’’ IPS Screen|
|Lens||170° Wide-angle Lens (Adjustable)|
|Video Format/Compression Format||MP4/H.264|
|Wi-Fi Connection||Android/IOS Supported|
|SD Card||Class 10 Micro SD Card up to 128G (not included)|
|Charging Time||About 3 hours|
|Recording Time||120 minutes (1080P)/60 minutes (4K)|
|Battery||Rechargeable 1350mAh Li-ion Battery|
|Waterproof Case Depth Rating||40M/131.2ft|
|Camera Size and Weight||Length, Width, Height: 61*30*45mm
Weight: 76g (with battery)
On paper, these are all very respectable specifications that put it in the same class as many action cameras but at a significantly lower price point.
What’s in the Box
I have to admit I’m guilty of the logic that if something doesn’t cost a lot of money, I don’t expect it to come with many things or features as a result of that price. I know more established action cameras that cost several hundred dollars come with very little in the box so the price you pay is just the beginning of your journey and you’ll end up spending more to really make use of it. Given the low price point of the A100 I was expecting basically the camera, a battery and maybe a waterproof case since they advertise that as a key feature. Boy, was I blown away with everything that came with the camera.
First of all, the box itself is rather small so it truly is jam-packed with all these items. The camera ships in the water-proof housing which is good for up to 130ft and includes a separate detachable back that has cut-outs for better audio when not using underwater. It also comes with 2 x 1350mah batteries so you can charge both and have one ready to swap out as needed. Keep in mind, the only way out of the box to charge these batteries is within the camera though. Then comes just endless mounts and accessories which should have something for basically every common scenario you can think of. While I’m not going to go through each one, there are some key ones worth mentioning. There’s a bike mount, which I used as part of the review, along with a swivel mount, helmet mounts, bag clip mount, adhesive mounts with extra adhesives and even a nice soft microfiber cloth to clean the single rear-mounted IPS screen.
User Interface and Features
The batteries didn’t have any juice in them so I plugged the camera in with a battery inside and it started charging. When I came back a while later I was able to power up the camera and start checking out what it can do. While there is some documentation that comes in the box but it’s not really that great and not the easiest to follow. However, APEMAN has embraced the internet and they actually have pretty nice videos available on YouTube (linked from their Support site) that show how to use the camera. Rather than recreate something, I’ve embedded the official video below to give a sense of the user interface and features.
My initial reaction to the user interface was immediately a moment of realization that this is where you’re going to see cause of a lower price. As they always say, or I like to say at least, making good hardware is one thing but making good software is a whole different challenge. The A100 is a perfect example of that.
The camera has one screen on the back that is decent but not spectacular and it is not a touch screen. There is no screen whatsoever on the front of the camera next to the lens as other competitors have. The only thing is a thin red line that indicates when you are recording (by flashing red) but is admittedly hard to see in many situations, especially bright light. There are two buttons on the top, one for power that also doubles as a multi-function button as well as a shutter button that also doubles as an OK button when navigating menus. The two buttons on the right side are also used in the menus to navigate up or down but they also perform a function depending on the context when in a shooting mode. For example, pressing the up arrow will toggle WiFi – something that would be impossible to know without carefully reading the manual or watching a video.
That’s the main problem I have with the user interface, it’s just not intuitive at all. Pressing the multi-function button to switch between video, camera, gallery, and settings seems to make sense but in practice, it is extremely frustrating to use on a regular basis. Since there’s one button that cycles in one direction if you’re in video and you want to go to settings you have to hit the button many times and good luck if you miss the settings screen, you’ll be spending a lot of time pressing that button. Even navigating the setting screen is a bit of a chore and sadly while you might think that you’ll be spending only a little time in the settings, that’s not true. Want to use the time lapse feature? Head over to settings. Want to toggle burst mode? Head over to settings.
Finally, while not a huge deal, I still haven’t figured out any way to delete images or videos on the device from the user interface. You can do it by inserting the microSD card into a computer or using the WiFi app, but on the device itself, there doesn’t appear to be any way to do it. The only possible issue I see with this is if your microSD card gets full or you are a control freak and don’t have your smartphone or PC handy to take care of this.
Actually using the camera for its supposed to do is extremely easy. There’s a large shutter button on top and that’s all you need to start and stop. Thankfully if you plan on just using it without messing with settings or the gallery, it’s perfectly usable and simple.
Using It to Shoot Video
For my initial 4K video shoot, I decided to take advantage of the included bike mount combined with a swivel mount. For whatever reason, the bike mount they include, if used without an additional swivel mount, would make the camera face sideways on the handlebars and I have no clue why anybody would want to do that so you’re forced in a way to use a swivel mount, which is fine.
I made the mistake of leaving the camera in the waterproof case with the waterproof cover on the back so the audio was very muted. As mentioned, they do include a separate back that clips onto the same case but has cutouts so the microphone can pick up audio better. That one is on me. My daughter then decided to ride her bike around our neighborhood and relished the idea of having a camera strapped to her bike. I would honestly consider this a torture test for any type of video stabilization because of not just the vertical shake but the horizontal shake that it has to deal with as well. I had the video stabilization turned on, and while I think it did something, it wasn’t really that impressive and understandably since other action cameras include optical image stabilization (OIS) which actually has tiny springs that stabilize the lens whereas this camera requires on software-based stabilization. The picture quality itself was pretty impressive and the detail is great while audio couldn’t be judged because of what I mentioned about not using the back with holes.
I also tried out the camera’s time-lapse feature at 1-second intervals. This time the subject is me helplessly trying to do a straight arm plank for two minutes. Spoiler alert: I made it, but my form leaves a lot to be desired at this point
I took some video of a tiny caterpillar with the camera out of its case, and this highlighted one of the other problems which is the lack of good auto-focus. Sure I may have been too close to the object, but there’s no touch screen or touch-to-focus that we all take for granted on our phones and more expensive action cameras that might have helped. So even if this wasn’t the best example, the fact remains there’s no way to set a focal point, and you are completely reliant on the camera making the right choice on what to focus on and when.
Getting the Media off the Camera
I figured that now I had the videos I wanted, the easiest thing would be to get them off the camera but here again, is where I feel you are giving up something due to the price point. The most obvious thing for me was to plug-in the camera to my 1-year-old Windows 10 PC running all the latest updates and that has never had an issue with any other device before. Sadly, no matter what I tried I could not get anything to transfer from the camera to the PC and I eventually gave up. Luckily my PC has an SD card slot and I have a microSD to SD card adapter so that allowed me to get to the content but be aware that many laptops and even PCs may not have that as an option. Another hint that this may be a common issue is their own instructional video shows them using the USB transfer with a Windows 7 machine which is an end-of-support operating system that most people these days will not have.
The other option you have to access the camera for both controlling it remotely and getting content off is a mobile app available in both the Apple and Android stores. Here again, you are struck by the fact that it is not a first party app but a generic WiFi camera app that will work with the A100 assuming you don’t run into issues. For reference, the Android one has a rating of 2.5 stars and the Apple version has 1 star (although only 2 reviews). I loaded the app on my Android device and was able to connect to the camera fine – it uses the same process as many of these whereby you turn off mobile data and turn on WiFi on the camera. You then connect to the camera’s WiFi with your smartphone and use the app to control or download content. One positive is the transfer of videos from the camera to my phone over this local WiFi was much faster than I had expected so that was one pleasant surprise. All-in-all the whole experience is one of the weakest points of the A100 and might make you think for a moment about spending more money for a more polished user experience.
You Get What You Pay For
Given the price of the A100, it is hard to be very critical of its shortcomings because it costs hundreds of dollars less than the more established competitors in the market. So the question of whether you should buy it is an extremely tricky proposition. If you have never had an action camera before and don’t want to spend a lot of money, then the APEMAN Trawo 4K Action Camera (A100) is perhaps the starter action camera you need in your life. You will have to learn to live around the many software quirks and shortcomings but if you can look past that, you still get a reasonably easy to use, feature packed action camera that outputs 4k/30fps video to capture your action-packed life for posterity.
However, if you can save up the extra money, I would recommend buying a more established brand that has things like a front-facing status screen, touch interface, auto-focus control, first-party mobile apps, and a better user interface/experience to avoid the frustration that comes with using the A100 on a regular basis.
The APEMAN Trawo 4k Action Camera (A100) is available at Amazon for $89.99 [affiliate link].
Source: Manufacturer supplied review sample
What I Like: Excellent value; Comes with extra battery and many mounting accessories; The video quality is great; can be operated perfectly within the waterproof case; Wi-Fi transfer speed is surprisingly fast; Battery life is good; Time-lapse feature works without a huge loss in quality; good quality sensor; YouTube videos by company are helpful
What Needs Improvement: USB transfer didn’t work; The mobile app is generic Chinese app with low ratings; The user interface is severely lacking and can be frustrating; No OIS and EIS isn’t that great; Lack of touch-to-focus or any way to change focus; No ability to delete pictures or videos on the device