Why does the GoPro hate you?

January 21, 2015 Originally published on SFGate

Let me just say it right off: Never in my recent, tech-happy life have I seen a popular gizmo that was also so antagonistic, so absurdly over-packaged, so sadistically incompatible with its own immediate enjoyment, than the GoPro Hero 3+, Black Edition.

Do not misunderstand. I was thoroughly tantalized by the prospects. The amazing GF went ahead and got me everyone’s favorite fisheye “adventure” videocam for my birthday – because I’m totally impossible to buy for, and because she has a vivid, delicious imagination – and sure enough, the idea of using a GoPro, from all the hotshot clips I’ve seen, can be enticing indeed.

Or is it? Problem is, I’m don’t really do adventure sports. I don’t own a snowboard, surfboard, racing bike, climbing gear fishing pole kayak. I don’t run OCR. Camping is infrequent. Yoga gear? Meditation cushions? Straps and blocks and incense and 108 ways to work your way into a handstand on the beach? Hikes? Travel? Bourbon and Rick Owens and tattoos? I got you covered. But bashing through the world, on film? Not my preferred mode.

Not particularly into spy drones, either. The landlord still, for some reason, disallows me to have a dog, which means I have no way to make adorable, heartbreaking viral videos like this one. We don’t yet have a kid, so I can’t yet track his first leaps into an active volcano or first time flying a military helicopter, or whatever it is kids do these days.

Sex, yoga and Burning Man. Those were my first thoughts about what I could film when I saw the GoPro logo. Then again, I think of those things all the time anyway. And I have plenty of other cameras that can perform those roles, and do. So, you know, hmm.

But it might not matter. Because all those tantalizing ideas soon vanished as I worked my way through the GoPro’s inexplicable, multi-ringed inferno of design and packaging hell.

Do you love packaging? Lots and lots of it, baggies and boxes and hard, plastic, unrecyclable shells full of unlabelled accessories? You're in luck!

Do you love packaging? Lots and lots of it, baggies and boxes and hard, plastic, unrecyclable shells full of unlabelled accessories? You’re in luck!

I can’t quite understand why, but the GoPro’s designers, engineers and creative marketers must really hate human beings. Hate them.

Like I said, never have I seen a bestselling gizmo so openly hostile to playing with it, right out of the box. Never have I seen such a nightmare of lousy product, packaging and manual design. It’s hard to imagine a successful tech company exists today that hasn’t learned a single thing from Apple regarding elegant, user-friendly product functionality, but here you go.

What’s your displeasure, consumer? Do you hate with a white-hot intensity those stiff, vacuum-sealed, finger-slicing hard plastic shells? GoPro has a bunch of ‘em, all completely pointless. Here’s one that must be six inches across; sealed in the center, a single battery, about an inch across. I had to use a razor-sharp Henckells paring knife to get the motherf—ker out.

Do you love it when your “fun” tech toys are somehow bolted/glued to a hard plastic display base, which is then surrounded by a thick, clear plastic box, like something you’d see around a cheap cubic zirconia in the mall? You’re in luck: GoPro has that, too.

Watch as you can’t tell which is the camera and which is the stupid plastic base as you try to pry them apart with a screwdriver! Squeal with glee once you get the camera free of its pointless (unrecyclable?) display box, only to realize the camera is still sealed inside its waterproof housing, with no easy explanation how to get it out! Joy.

Wait, before you hurl the thing against the wall, there’s more! Notice the floor around you, which now looks like a murder scene in a Lego factory. It is strewn with boxes, plastic shells and baggies galore, all containing various attachments, clips, mounts, cords, chargers and rings and hooks.

The best part? Almost nothing is labeled. There is no way to know what much of it does, or how it relates to the functions of the camera – which, but the way, is still inside its waterproof case. All you can do is shove it all into a grisly pile, and search for the manual.

The manual! Surely it will clear things right up. Surely it’s going to be a small masterpiece of lucid, friendly instruction, lots of large graphics and easy setup steps, written with a clever, witty verve to match the GoPro’s sassy vibe, right?

The hell it is. Behold, the worst manual since whatever came with the 1997 Betamax. Despite the enormous cardboard box the GoPro ships in, the manual itself is a mouse-sized joke, a hunk of torture just over 3×3 inches square that will quickly make your eyes hurt, as soon as you stop laughing.

Which is exactly what I did. I laughed out loud when I saw that the manual is not only made for Barbie-doll hands, but is crammed to the edges with what looks to be 2-point type. As for verve and humor, you’d have better luck reading Wikipedia. In Klingon.

But, so what? The GoPro isn’t about the packaging, or the awful manual. It’s about the kickass camera itself, which should be all sorts of nearly indestructible fun, right? Great!

Fully 15 minutes of hacking, knifing, scissoring later, and after gleaning just enough data from the micromanual to get the camera free of its case, I finally held the actual GoPro in my hand.

White dudes LOVE the GoPro. Why couldn't I?

White dudes LOVE the GoPro. Why couldn’t I?

And, well, it ain’t much. It’s an underwhelming thing, smaller than half a pack of cigarettes, with a terrible, Chicklet-sized screen swiped straight from a 1985 Casio wristwatch. There are two large buttons, one for Power and one for Mode. And, well, that’s about it.

Open the back, and there’s a whole lot of nothing. Turns out that 2/3rds of the GoPro is taken up by the enormous battery, the door of which pops all the way off and, being exactly the size of an SD card, will instantly disappear into your mountain of plastic if you put it down for a second. Careful.

Right about now is when you will be thinking: “$350 for this? Seriously?” And you might be right. My iPhone 6 Plus cost only a little more and has roughly 1,000 times the functionality. Sure, it can’t yet go underwater. I can’t easily strap it to farm animals to film them eating tree bark. It’s terrible in low light for filming sex. Dinner parties. I mean dinner parties.

And to be fair, I haven’t actually tried filming all that much yet – be it sex, or yoga, or Burning Man – with the GoPro, to see the qualitative difference, which might be enormous. But the little I have tried, well, underwhelm remains. Maybe it will be totally worth the frustration, the wasteful packaging, the useless manual, once I try something more grand?


Stay classy, sorority-bred brides

But I might not make it that far. The thing is just that inhospitable to use, and I don’t have a half-dozen hours to get the basic hang of it.

Which is really too bad. I truly wanted to love the GoPro. I wanted to join the army of chest-thumping extreme-sport bros who film themselves leaping off stuff for no apparent reason. And to be sure, the thing might be perfect for Burning Man, or for when the GF and I head to Alaska on a badass adventure cruise sometime soon, and nudge the kayak up to some killer whales or something. Then again, so will my Olympus Stylus Tough, and I can use that without any manual at all. Cheaper, too.

Maybe I’m missing something? Maybe someone out there will tell me it’s absolutely worth the effort, and offer suggestions for more creative use? Right now, all I can think, as I pack up the GoPro’s mess of overpriced accessories with the idea of (possibly) returning it to the Costco from whence it came, is that I can’t wait until Apple designs an action cam. Won’t that be all kinds of killer fun to use?

Read more here:: Why does the GoPro hate you so much?

Mark Morford

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