5 GoPro Alternatives for All Your Action Camera Needs

Now that smartphones have all the ruggedness of the cookie I just dipped in my tea, people are starting to turn towards action video cameras. GoPro helped make this a big trend, and now a host of rival gadget makers are coming out with their own – many of which feature lower prices.

Let’s take a look at five good GoPro alternatives that all cost just under US$150. Most of them are very light, strong, and support a growing array of accessories for strapping them to your bike, cat, car dashboard, helmet (delete as appropriate) – and they’re all good candidates to be on your Christmas shopping list. Although they’re all rugged as well, our selection is more likely to be used by a family or a techie than someone who wears a Red Bull cap and says things like Whoa that was gnarly!

1. Xiaomi YiCamera

  • Weight: 72g
  • Video: 1080p HD
  • Slo-mo: Yes, at 1080p HD
  • Viewing angle: 155 degrees
  • Storage: up to 64GB
  • Price: US$63

The newest GoPro rival comes from Chinese phone maker Xiaomi. It’s limited to the China market for the moment, but it may spread to other markets as the company expands.

As with Xiaomi’s smartphones, the Xiaomi YiCamera costs about half the price that you’d expect considering its pretty strong specifications. As with all the five options on this list, it’s competing head-on with the entry-level GoPro Hero, which costs $129.

The Xiaomi YiCamera is lighter than the GoPro Hero and it also beats the big-name brand by doing slow-motion 60 frames per second (fps) at full 1080p HD.

Note that the YiCamera – which is actually made by a Chinese firm called Xiaoyi, but is marketed by Xiaomi and sold as part of its smart gadget line-up – cuts corners by giving you no accessories, not even a microSD card. There’s also no video/image stabilization.

Our own review of the YiCamera shows good video quality, but the lack of stabilization becomes an issue once you start moving. It used to be unbeatable at the price, but as prices gradually drop, you don’t need to spend too much extra to get the kind of stabilization that an action cam really needs.

Our full review of the Xiaomi YiCamera is here. Below is a video sample showing it used while riding a bike:

2. HTC Re

  • Weight: 66g
  • Video: 1080p HD
  • Slo-mo: Yes, at 720p HD
  • Viewing angle: 146 degrees
  • Storage: Up to 128GB
  • Price: about US$80

Poor old HTC is still struggling to regain its lost momentum in the smartphone race, but its roll-out of the HTC Re action camera shows that the Taiwanese company is still tuned in to what youngsters want. It comes in a choice of colors – white, orange, blue, or turquoise – though you might struggle to find it in anything but white and orange.

The HTC Re used to be pricey, but HTC has had the sense to drop prices in recent months. This was initially priced at a hefty US$200 upon launch, but now you should be aiming to get it for less than US$100 – ideally about US$80, which is the current Amazon US price.

The periscope-shaped gizmo is great in terms of portability, shaped perfectly to be gripped with one hand. You could even use it whilst riding your bike and still be able to hold onto the handlebars with the same hand. Yes, there’s image stabilization.

In the box there’s a free multi-purpose mount as well as a dock. HTC’s camera also wins out for supporting the most storage (though you only get an 8GB microSD card in the box).

Here’s a nifty review of the HTC Re by the Android Authority team, which suggests the video quality isn’t that great, and it struggles in low light conditions:

3. Polaroid XS100 HD

  • Weight: 136g
  • Video: 1080p HD
  • Slo-mo: Yes, at 720p HD
  • Viewing angle: 170 degrees
  • Storage: Up to 32GB
  • Price: US$129

Polaroid is still in business in the digital age, and its sports video cam looks like one of its most convincing new products – replete with image stabilization.

In the box there are a bunch of useful mounts and contraptions, such as for helmets and handlebars.

The cam looks like a flashlight. Because it’s tube-shaped, it comes with auto-rotate so it doesn’t matter which way up you hold it.

Polaroid hasn’t lowered the price during 2015, which makes it a bit less appealing right now.

Here’s a really nice review from GetOutThereGear featuring sample footage from the XS100i. It seems to fare well, apart from struggling in low light conditions compared to the GoPro it’s tested against:

4. Sony HDR-AS20/B

  • Weight: 57g
  • Video: 1080p HD
  • Slo-mo: Yes, at 1080p HD
  • Viewing angle: 170 degrees
  • Storage: Up to 64GB
  • Price: US$149

Sony’s 4K Action Cam is rather pricey, so let’s focus on Sony’s offering in our price range – the US$150 HDR-AS20. There’s image stabilization, which Sony has inevitably branded in its own way – it’s called Steady Shot.

You get an adhesive mount for free along with a waterproof and ruggedized case.

One possible deal-breaker is that Sony’s cheapest sports camera doesn’t have a threaded mount for a standard tripod, so you’ll need to use the case in order to use it with a tripod. It doesn’t add much bulk, but it’s worth remembering that the cam is not much use (except as a handheld) unless you also get that case. The case’s rounded base also means that it can’t be set down on a flat surface.

Also note that buyers suggest Sony’s waterproof case is terrible when underwater because the curved frontage distorts the image.

Aside from quibbles about the case, online reviews suggest that this is a strong alternative to a GoPro.

Here’s a video review of the HDR-AS20/B from a YouTube user; jump ahead to the six-minute mark to see samples from the gadget itself:

5. SJCam SJ5000

  • Weight: 74g
  • Video: 1080p HD
  • Slo-mo: Yes, at 480p SD
  • Viewing angle: 170 degrees
  • Storage: Up to 32GB
  • Price: US$115

If you don’t mind going “FauxPro” with an off-brand gizmo, this one from SJCam (no, not heard of them before either) could be worth a shot. The specs seem strong and the reviews online are mostly positive. Although the price seems high for a company you’ve never heard of, remember that it comes with a bunch of accessories, such as a waterproof housing, handlebar mount, frame mount, tripod adapter, and quite a lot more.

A downside for slo-mo lovers is that the SJCam only does 60fps at a lowly 480p. It’s getting mixed reviews on Amazon, and the GoPro Hero is slightly cheaper, so this is an alternative in only the sense that it’s an option – but it’s hard to see how it’s a good option.

Here are some sample videos from the SJCam SJ5000 courtesy of someone on YouTube:

While some of these are solid alternatives to a GoPro, online reviews suggest that the entry-level GoPro Hero still sets the gold standard. And now it comes in at a reasonable US$129. Its specs – such as 1080p at 30fps and 720p at 60fps – largely match those from Polaroid, Sony, and HTC, and the comments on Amazon show a greater satisfaction rating for the GoPro Hero than for any of the new-comers. You’ll need to stretch to US$199 for the GoPro Hero+ with wifi.

There’s still no easy bargain out there in this sector at the moment, so don’t be fooled by low prices or megapixel boasts.

(UPDATED: This article was originally published March 2015. It’s updated in December 2015 with new prices for the holiday season.)

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