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Garmin Virb XE review

4 Nov 2015

The Garmin Virb XE is a great action cam, but it works better when it’s not connected.

Cyclist Rating: 
Great quality footage, lots of stats
No external battery charger, confusing paired with Garmin

Remote control of objects makes everything better. TVs, cameras, the war on terror… Now thanks to WiFi, Bluetooth and ANT we can use many things to control many other things, including the new Garmin Virb XE camera.

Upgraded from the Virb Elite

Garmin Virb XE case hinge

The Virb XE has had a big form change since the original bullet shaped Virb, so it’s now much more like a GoPro. There are two obvious changes: the Virb XE has lost the colour screen the Virb had, and the mount has switched 90 degrees and is now compatible with GoPro mounts. There are spec changes too – the XE can shoot 1440p HD video at 30 fps, and 1080p at 60fps. The Virb could only do 1080p at 30fps, although this is at the expense of image quality (12MP on the XE compared to 16MP on the Virb).

The features list is also different. The Virb XE gains Bluetooth and streaming over WiFi. The XE loses the altimeter from the older model and the battery is just under half the size (980mAh from 2000mAh), although it remains replaceable. There’s also an upgrade to gyro-enhanced image stablisation from the digital stabilisation on the Virb. The water-proofing on the new case is also greatly increased from IPX7 (submersible to 1m for 30 minutes) to being capable of diving to 50m. For the weight-weenies out there, the Virb XE has also dropped 50g. So lots of changes, but how do these affect the usage?


Garmin Virb XE battery

First up, swapping batteries and fitting memory cards is very simple. The heavy-duty hinge pops the whole case open where you can access the internals. There’s also a replaceable desiccant pack that should absorb any residual moisture in the case and prevent fogging. I’m not quite sure how effective it is though, as only opened the case twice during the test and it showed as requiring replacement by the end. A pack of four is £7.99.

The replaceable batteries are a nice touch, but to charge them they have to be fitted in the camera and the Virb requires a specific USB cable. Garmin needs to release an external charger if the Virb is to become a major player in the way the GoPro has. There are plenty of external buttons on the body to turn the camera on and off, access the menus and change settings. There’s also a large camera icon shutter button that takes a still photograph, and a big switch that starts the camera recording.

Mounting and shooting

Garmin Virb XE shutter button

The Virb XE bundle comes with a sticky pad mount (which I still don’t trust…) but there is a cycling specific bundle due out shortly that includes various mounts that can clamp onto tubes of different sizes. For the test we used an out-front Garmin mount from K-Edge, with a camera mount underneath it.

To start shooting all you need to do is flick the camera switch – the little red light comes on and hey presto – you’re Spielberg, even if the camera is switched off when you flip it. The mechanical switch is simple, even for a luddite like myself, but when you pair it with an Edge 1000 it actually becomes harder to use. You have to swipe here, press there and its hard to tell what’s going on. Unless you mount it somewhere particularly obscure, I think it’s easier to just reach down and press the button.

Garmin Virb XE screen

The footage that the camera produces is excellent, and remarkably smooth. The wide-angle lens takes a little bit of getting used to coming from an iPhone but you quickly get an idea of what’s in the frame. Because the Virb XE has inbuilt GPS receivers and accelerometers, it is able to capture G-Metrix and, using the Garmin edit software, can overlay them on the video. Always wanted to show people just how many Gs you were pulling while descending off Ventoux? Well now you can. The GPS also means that if you were to lose the camera out in the field somewhere (or it’s stolen by a seagull), there’s the ability to lock onto its signal and track it down.

On consideration, the Virb XE is a good fun camera that’s easy to get to grips with, but if you were to try and do some serious filming with it the battery problem would quickly slow things down.


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