Tech Guide

This camera may be Google's weirdest product yet

Key Points
  • The Google Clips camera is supposed to take pictures of kids and pets it thinks you want to photograph, without you having to do anything at all.
  • Its small and easy to use, but it doesn't work very well, often capturing empty rooms.
  • It's also expensive at $250.
The Google Clips Camera
Todd Haselton | CNBC

Google thinks we're taking pictures the wrong way, and are missing out on life's most exciting moments when we spend too much time behind our smartphone cameras.

Its solution is a tiny camera called Google Clips, a camera that recognizes faces and pets and then tries to predict the best moments to capture a picture.

It's a fun little device, but it's also overpriced for what it does.

The good

The Google Clips camera is really compact
Todd Haselton | CNBC

Google Clips is a compact camera that's a bit like a smaller GoPro. It easily fits in your pocket and can be set up on a tripod to take random clips throughout the day. The idea is that you're not the one behind the camera: The camera itself is supposed to be smart enough to capture images it thinks you'll like of people and pets it thinks you care about. It's able to gauge those faces by analyzing the images in your Google Photos library -- Google says this processing is all done on the device and is private.

The Google Clips Camera
Todd Haselton | CNBC

Then, it saves those clips (there's room for 1,600 in total, which is plenty), and you can easily transfer them to a smartphone. It worked well on my Galaxy S9+ and I like that connecting to my phone was simple. Anyone can do it, you just download an app and then it walks you through connecting to your smartphone.

The Google Clips app on my Android phone
Todd Haselton | CNBC

You just need to turn the camera on and leave it somewhere to start capturing content, though there's also a manual button in case you want to grab something quick. It has a 130-degree wide angle lens, too, so it's able to capture most of what's in a room, though the subject is supposed to be just 3-6 feet away from the camera for the best results. It's also smart enough to not record if it thinks a hand or other object is blocking the lens.

I got a few fun clips of my dog around my living room, but that's about it.

The bad

The Google Clips Camera
Todd Haselton | CNBC

The Google Clips camera ultimately wasn't very smart. It frequently captured clips of nothing, just an empty room, and seemed to always be recording. My dog was also a little afraid of it, so she didn't walk up to it as much as I had hoped. Instead, I got a few clips of her playing with me on the couch, but that's something my wife could have easily snapped with her smartphone camera.

Clips GIF

While Clips is supposed to give you clips you thought you'd never be able to capture, I didn't find this to be the case. Instead, I think I'd rather just take the pictures and video of my dog or other subjects. Then at least I know what I'm capturing.

I captured some clips of my dog.
Todd Haselton | CNBC

It doesn't record audio, either, so you won't hear someone singing happy birthday while your two-year-old dives face first into a cake. You also still need to think about "framing" your subjects, placing the camera exactly where you think someone will be to capture a moment. This is one of the foundations of photography, and something that's still best done by a human. Again, you're better off just taking pictures yourself, though admittedly you won't be in the photo.

Finally, $250 is a lot for what this does. I think if Google priced it around $100 it might be a little more tempting, given that it isn't perfect.

Finally, it doesn't support a whole lot of phones. It works with the latest iPhones, the recent Galaxy S8, Note 8 and Galaxy S9 devices, and Gogole's Pixel.

Should you buy it?

Recording with the Google Clips camera
Todd Haselton | CNBC

Not now. While I applaud Google's efforts to try to create a smart camera, it's still not very intelligent yet. Also its $250 price tag seems a bit steep for what you get: A portable camera that takes pictures of your kids and pets. Most people should just focus more on framing their shot in unique positions with a smartphone. I think Google will work on software updates that improves the camera, and perhaps it'll get a price drop in the future. Until then, it's a pass.