The Ion Air Pro is a newcomer to the rugged sports cam market, and it intrigues critics: It's tough and waterproof like the top-rated GoPro HD Hero2 (*Est. $300), but with a sleek body and easy-to-use mounts (to attach it to your helmet, surfboard, etc.) like the Contour sports cams. Still, the Ion can't quite match the photo and video quality of the tough GoPro in tests.
Easy to mount and stop/start -- but to change settings, you'll need a computer. In many ways, testers find the Ion Air Pro easy to use. It's a lightweight little cylinder (just over 4 ounces) with two big buttons -- record and power/photo snap. To change other settings, though, you have to hook it up to a computer, which critics say is a pain. The Contour cameras are the same way, but the GoPro cameras let you change settings on the fly, right on the camera.
The Ion is extremely easy to mount onto your equipment, though. Unlike the GoPro's mounts, which use screws, the Ion uses a sturdy ball-and-socket, so you can swap mounts at will and swivel the camera on its mount with ease. However, "it's hard to crank it down hard enough so that it doesn't wobble when bumped or shaken," says Brent Rose at Gizmodo.com -- and Bonnie Cha at AllThingsD.com never can quite get hers to stop jiggling on its mount.
On the back of the Ion, you can attach extra-cost Podz that add various features. Testers' favorite is the Wi-Fi pod, which allows you to share your videos through certain smartphones. "I downloaded the Ion Camera app to my iPhone (an Android version is coming) and connected to the camera," Cha says. "All my photos and videos appeared in the album section. You can share directly to Facebook, and you also get eight gigabytes of free cloud-based storage." Both GoPro and Contour offer similar features.
The top-level Ion Air Pro WiFi includes the Wi-Fi pod, plus bike and helmet mounts. The Ion Air Pro Plus includes the mounts but no Wi-Fi. The entry-level Ion Air Pro (*Est. $230) omits the mounts and Wi-Fi.
Video, photos and audio all trail behind GoPro's in tests. Compared to the Ion Air Pro, "the GoPro is the better choice", AllThingsD.com's Bonnie Cha says, "because when it comes to the most important feature -- video quality -- it's the hands-down winner."
Other testers agree. The Ion Air Pro's video and photos look shakier, darker, fuzzier and less detailed than the GoPro HD Hero2 in tests at AllThingsD.com, Gizmodo.com and Pocket-Lint.com. Wind noise is a problem, too: It "makes the entire audio track from the Ion virtually unusable," Hunter Skipworth says in his test for Pocket-Lint.com.
PCMag.com junior analyst Eugene Kim agrees that the "audio quality isn't very good," but he still likes the Ion a bit better than other critics do. He gets better color and contrast with the Ion than with the revered GoPro HD Hero2, although the GoPro's footage still looks clearer and sharper, without the jelly-like rolling shutter effect Kim gets with the Ion.
Unlike the GoPro, the Ion can't shoot its full 170-degree frame in 1080p HD -- you have to step down to 960p if you want to capture as much of the scene as possible.
Both the Ion and GoPro deliver the same battery life in Cha's test -- two hours and 40 minutes of continuous 1080p video. Use the Wi-Fi pod, though, and CNET's Antuan Goodwin says the Ion Air Pro's battery will last just one hour.
Waterproof to 30 feet. Straight out of the box, with no protective housing (there's none available), the Ion Air Pro is waterproof to 30 feet. That can't match the GoPro cameras -- they're waterproof to 197 feet in their included clear case -- but it "should suffice for most non-scuba aquatic activities," says Rose at Gizmodo.com. None of our sources takes the Ion Air Pro 30 feet deep, but Cha submerges it in a bathtub in her test for AllThingsD.com, and it works just fine.
The Ion's lens (like the GoPro's) is covered with dome-shaped glass. Ion says this helps it shed water, but "I'm convinced that the protruding glass dome will be easier to scratch than the Contour's (which is mostly protected by a raised metal bezel)," says Goodwin at CNET. "A ring of six small screws around the Ion Air Pro's lens seems to indicate that it may be possible to replace the glass if it does get damaged." Pocket-Lint.com's tester drops the Ion off the back of a bike and it survives without a scratch.
Slim, discreet shape. With its cylindrical shape and brushed-aluminum body, the Ion Air Pro looks a lot like a Contour camera -- and critics say that's a good thing. The Ion "looks a lot sleeker than the boxy [GoPro] Hero2," says Kim at PCMag.com.
In fact, the Ion looks sleeker than a Contour camera -- because it needs no waterproof case (it's already waterproof to 30 feet).
However, the Ion lacks the Contour's rotating lens, so you can't just mount it flush to your equipment (however that may be) and then rotate the lens to get your footage right-side-up. "Getting properly oriented video from, for example, a goggle strap mount, requires a weird L-shaped bracket where the Contour could just mount flush," says Goodwin at CNET.
The Ion Air Pro offers some appealing features, but it still loses to the GoPro HD Hero2 in head-to-head tests at Gizmodo.com, AllThingsD.com (an affiliate of The Wall Street Journal) and Pocket-Lint.com.
The Ion Air Pro places third in this four-sports-cam shootout. It's got a sleek form and built-in waterproofing to 30 feet, but the image quality isn't as good as the first-place GoPro HD Hero2's.
Review: The Best Action Camera, Brent Rose, June 20, 2012
Veteran electronics critic Bonnie Cha prefers the GoPro HD Hero2 to the Ion Air Pro WiFi. After testing both while biking and skateboarding (and dunking both in a bathtub), she likes the Ion's design, but she says the GoPro shoots better video.
Review: Action Cameras That Capture Your Thrills and Spills, Bonnie Cha, July 26, 2012
Thanks to its high-quality footage, choice of video modes and external microphone jack, the GoPro HD Hero2 beats the Ion Air Pro in this test -- barely. The Ion boasts a much better design, Hunter Skipworth says.
Review: GoPro HD Hero2 vs. Ion Air Pro: Who Is Action Cam King?, Hunter Skipworth, April 12, 2012
Antuan Goodwin calls the Ion Air Pro a worthy contender. It's almost as tough and waterproof as a GoPro camera, but it's sleek and user-friendly like a Contour camera.
Review: Ion Air Pro Review, Antuan Goodwin, May 23, 2012
Like other critics, Eugene Kim finds the Ion Air Pro "a solid entry" in the sports-cam market. It's waterproof and easy to use, but its videos -- although good -- don't look quite as good as the GoPro HD Hero2's.
Review: Ion Air Pro WiFi , Eugene Kim, May 25, 2012