Snappgrip: A smartphone SLR-style grip that could be good, but isn't

A minor hardware issue and several major software failures make the Snappgrip smartphone SLR-style grip extremely disappointing.

Sometimes I get a review product that has problems and, if it's a complicated piece of engineering, I work with the vendor to try to figure out what's the cause in case there's something I've missed about how the product should be set up and configured.

On the other hand, there are the simpler products that have problems that I don't refer back to the vendor, because there's no reason why they shouldn't work, and, moreover, if they are intended as consumer products, the problems I discover will definitely be experienced by fewer experienced users than I. The latter was the case with the Snappgrip sold by BiteMyApple.co.

Now, let's be clear, the Snappgrip is a cool idea: It's a case for the iPhone 4s, 5, 5c, or 5S or Samsung Galaxy S3 or S4. What makes it clever is that the case incorporates a grip you'd find on an SLR camera making it much easier to take photos and videos than the usual juggling of an iPhone involves. Moreover, the market demand for a product such as this was demonstrated when Snappgrip's Kickstarter campaign, looking for £18,000, attracted 557 backers who ponied up £27,632 in pledges when it closed at the end of January, 2013.

Video from Snappgrip's Kickstarter campaign ((source: Kickstarter)

The grip, which links to your smartphone via low-power Bluetooth, a standard tripod mount underneath, and recharges via a USB cable, not only has a shutter button with the standard half press to focus but also provides zoom control, lets you select the shooting mode (single shot, video, continuous, and timed, for night, portrait, and landscape), and can be detached, making it easy to go from camera mode to sticking it in your pocket mode.

So, what the matter with the Snappgrip? First, an annoying fault many portable gadgets have: The hole which the lanyard goes through wasn't clear, by which I mean I stuck the lanyard in and couldn't get it around the bend to pull it through. I tried to clear the hole with a dental pick and a very thin needle file, but after futzing around for 30 minutes or so I only managed to break through the side of the hole so a lanyard could no longer be used. Note to all gadget manufacturers: Test physical things like lanyard connections to make sure that consumers can actually use them.

Second is a minor complaint, but a problem all the same: The unit I received is while and gold and the text next to the controls is in white. White text on a gold background is not very readable, even in the best lighting, let alone in bright sunlight on a beach...a location I'll come back to in a minute.

The third and biggest problem is the software (I used the iOS version; I didn't test the Android release). The free Snappgrip iOS app is, at best, beta release engineering and until the API is released and third-party developers adapt their code to the Snappgrip interface, no other Snappgrip-compatible apps are available.

So, where to start? Well, there's a button onscreen to connect the iPhone to the grip, which almost always requires two or more tries to connect; it looks like either multiple automatic retries or a longer timeout is needed. That issue is annoying, but worse is that although the grip holds the camera in landscape orientation, clicking the settings icon on the screen brings up a menu that is in portrait orientation.

If you go from camera mode to review mode (also only in portrait orientation) you can't swipe left and right to index through your camera roll; you have to click on the odd menu icon at the top left to view the camera roll, then pick from the thumbnails to view the selected shot full size. But wait, there's more! There's no delete function! You have to leave the app and go to another app to get rid of pictures you don't want. Another glaring omission is that the review mode doesn't play videos.

Sharing, available from the review screen (which is, you'll remember, only available in portrait orientation) includes Facebook, Twitter, email, and Instagram, leaving out SMS and iMessage and other social services. On my iPhone, Facebook and Instagram worked, but Twitter crashed the Snappgrip app every time with no warning or explanation. Email did create a message with the photo embedded but the default subject was --and I'm not making this up --  "Share with you" written in Chinese.

Back to the beach location I mentioned above - so on Father's day, I took my iPhone with the Snappgrip along to the beach when we walked the dogs. I tried to take a video, but the Snappgrip app wouldn't work. I fiddled with it for as long as I could, but with a large excited dog connected to my wrist I soon gave up. Back home, I tried to get the app to work but no luck; it would load then immediately exit every time. Weirdly, when I tried the app again this morning as I started writing this review, for no apparent reason it loaded successfully without crashing.

As far as I'm concerned, those are all showstoppers, and yet another concern is that the Snappgrip site provides zero support documentation, implying that nothing has ever gone wrong with the product. Oh, and there's also no FAQ.

Overall, the Snappgrip is a great concept, but if I were a consumer who had just laid out $69.99 for the gadget I'd be pretty annoyed to have a product that is as half-baked as this one is. The Snappgrip could get full marks if the above problems were fixed but for now, the Snappgrip sadly doesn't get a Gearhead rating.

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Tags iPhone accessoriesNetworkingiosAndroidsmartphoneswirelessKickstartersoftwareoperating systemsgalaxyAppleconsumer electronics

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