Still trying to use the Gnarbox as a professional tool

In short: no. But here’s the long story.

I’ve written about the Gnarbox Kickstarter campaign as a backer. It was the first time for me to support such a campaign. I don’t want to delve into all the drama (really the word “drama” is the appropriate noun to use), but after continual delays, broken promises, and constantly updated delivery schedules, it was delivered 14 months late, and instead of 4Gb RAM, we got 2Gb. I got it as a travel back up storage device. The chief problem I have with it is that there is no security installed other than your wifi access password. I don’t even know if the connection is encrypted. However, most people won’t need that review, but what they will need is this review.

Using the Gnarbox for the first time in a cafe in Nagoya Japan.

The main selling point of the Gnarbox is the in-field back, editing, and preparation for immediate posting to social networks. There have been some big name vloggers like Peter Mckinnon and Lok Cheung who have “reviewed” the Gnarbox, and have said wonderful things about it. They are vloggers, they make a portion of their income from YouTube videos, so they have their vested interests. I’ve now seen them in a whole other light, and now I do not trust these promoted “reviews”, and probably will always be skeptical and untrusting of such “reviewers”. Their reviews say essentially the same thing, but both are from the video maker’s point of view.

Both McKinnon and Lok tout the Gnarbox for all the key sales points the Gnarbox company have carefully crafted. However, some serious short comings slip through. The Gnarbox was tested mostly in the winter in the snow resorts in California. Which means, serious issues like the super hot top surface is missed in the field trials, and perhaps the significance is overlooked in the design studio. How hot does it get? Literally: untouchable.

Battery life is also an issue. The Gnarbox tauts a 4-6 hour battery, but it seems mine will struggle to make it to 3 hours. The image below shows both my iPad Mini and Gnarbox battery levels, but both started equally at 100% (though my iPad was taken off charge 8 hours earlier, but not used until this test). As you can see, the iPad used not only wifi, but also had to power the large, energy hungry, touch screen, and be monitoring updates for messages, Twitter, Instagram, and other apps. At the same time, the Gnarbox only had to power the processor and wifi. The iPad used only 6% of it’s total battery capacity, whilst the Gnarbox chewed through 31%. I’ll let you judge the in-field practicality of this.

 

Both my iPad and Gnarbox started with 100% battery, and in the same period of time the battery remaining are quite different.

Both my iPad and Gnarbox started with 100% battery, and in the same period of time the battery remaining are quite different.

 

The other key point is the ability to edit raw files in the field without a laptop, just use your smartphone instead. I’ll admit that I use my iPad Mini instead, as I’d rather see the details, or rather, as much as I can. I’m editing full sized 24mb Sony Alpha files from a Sony a99, which are billboard sized images if printed fully. However, there’s no way to zoom in to see the details. Secondly, if it’s for posting to social media, then why is there no means to save smaler low-resolution versions of the images. There’s no means to add meta data like captions, titles, keywords, copyright info, etc. In fact, against EU laws, the metadata created in camera, is stripped from the exported image. Yes, it is illegal in the EU to strip metadata from digital files.

Comparing preview and editing views of the Gnarbox app. The lower images are unedited previews, whilst the upper images are also unedited, but moved to the editing module of the Gnarbox app. As you a red tint / hue is added to the image prior to editing.

 

However, here is the biggest concern and worry. Here is what makes the Gnarbox useless for the job the makers intended. It cannot successfully edit files; it especially cannot be used for portraits even if they’re intended for social media publishing. The raw file looks nice out of the camera in the preview module. However, the astute photographer knows that a photo always needs some tweaks. Typically I add a little contrast, vibrance, a touch of saturation, and some nudges on the tone curve. Also, I do colour calibration where possible with a Spyder Colour Checker 24. Enter the Edit module and immediately the image goes from nice to a weird red tint or hue. The skin colour changes badly, and something terrible happens to the gamma channels. I never needed to do anything about gamma, and so I know very little about it. However, as you can see, the transition from the skin tones to highlights is simply appalling. Consequently, photos require work on especially the colour temperature first, then tint, then whites, midpoint, and then blacks. However, it seems no amount of work can ever rescue the poor transition from the poor skin colourisation to highlights. Additionally, I don’t know of any means to perform colour calibration with the Gnarbox app. It seems the Gnarbox app cannot handle these key points at all.

Below are different images processed differently. As you can see, the best thing is to import the image direct from the Gnarbox onto your device, and then edit with the Adobe PhotoShop Express app.

Image copied off Gnarbox onto iPad Mini.

Image copied off Gnarbox onto iPad Mini.

Image edited on the Gnarbox app. Note the problems with the transitions from skin tones to highlights.

Image edited on the Gnarbox app. Note the problems with the transitions from skin tones to highlights.

It is possible to just copy images direct from the Gnarbox onto your device, via "Share".

It is possible to just copy images direct from the Gnarbox onto your device, via “Share”.

Image processed with Adobe PhotoShop Express on iPad Mini.

Image processed with Adobe PhotoShop Express on iPad Mini.

 

This is the final selected image processed through Adobe LightRoom on a real computer. The colours below are actually truer to real life.


I tried to share the images with the model via Gnarbox. As we were walking back to the train station, she downloaded the Gnarbox app on to her Android phone, I gave her the password to access my Gnarbox, and she did so successfully. However, the connection kept dropping. She gave up and I shared a handful of images by another means.

 

The Toshiba Wifi SD Card is a good subsitute for in the field work; however, there would be no backup options.

Which should you get? Toshiba offers a wifi capable SD card. The wifi SD card works when you leave the camera on (to supply electricity), connect your smartphone to it (via wifi), then download the photos you want onto your device. After that, edit with a purpose made app like Adobe PhotoShop Express. Of course, this only works with jpegs, but you will get better results. Consequently, I strongly recommend that you download images direct onto your device (from either your wifi SD card, or Gnarbox) and edit outside of the Gnarbox app.

Some people will want to know about video editing with the device. I’ll admit this skill is something I’m weak on. I’ve tried it, but I couldn’t do it. Perhaps I need better training, or the app is problematic; I don’t know. I’ll stick to VSDC on my laptop for now. However, TJ Davidson, a famous vlogger, has done his review of the Gnarbox from a vloggers perspective. His conclusion is about the same as mine: negative and saying the Gnarbox is problematic. I really appreciate his skepticism and honesty; however, I can’t help but feel that he didn’t learn more of how to use the Gnarbox first.

The Gnarbox is meant to be an in-field device that lets you do things without a laptop. It costs about USD$300. However, there’s the $100 Raspberry Pi, and now this tiny Ockel computer too, for USD$200. If I had to choose again, I’d look at how I could have a small touch screen on the Ockel.

Should you invest in the Gnarbox? I don’t know. What do you need it for? Will I use mine again in the future? I’ve already invested in it, so… some times. It probably will never be a part of my workflow: either full file or for social media. I think it will always be as I intended it be, as an in-field backup device.

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