Hands on: GoPro Hero5 Session review

The small, but still 4K-capable GoPro

What is a hands on review?
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Our Early Verdict

The Hero5 Session is a major specs boost for GoPro's tiniest action camera. It now shoots stabilized 4K video and has a variety of new field of view modes. It's more expensive, but worth the upgrade if you're okay with no replaceable battery.

For

  • Small, unobtrusive design
  • Captures stabilized 4K video
  • Several new field of view modes

Against

  • No replaceable battery
  • Simple controls can be confusing
  • Can't match Hero5 Black's camera

Update: The GoPro Hero5 Session release date is here and our review has been updated with a new video to show off the Karma drone that launches at the end of the month. Now that the official editing apps have launched, we'll refresh to a full review this week.

The GoPro Hero5 Session is the small, cube-shaped action camera that's now capable of shooting stabilized 4K video and capturing all sorts of new wide angles.

It's the scrappy alternative to the new GoPro Hero5 Black, and surprisingly it shares many of the top-end specs within its more compact camera frame.

This is a big improvement over last year's GoPro Hero4 Session thanks to a more advanced camera sensor and the addition of video stabilization.

Here's our test flight with the GoPro Karma drone equipped with a GoPro Hero5 Black camera in high wind:

Your video will look noticeably better at the 2.7K and 4K resolutions, more field of view choices will fully take in your adventurous lifestyle, and wind noise reduction will make sound clearer this time around.

It's not still the easiest camera to use, with super-simplified controls and no touchscreen. You only get a tiny LCD at the top. You also won't find a swappable battery here, once again.

GoPro Hero5 Session review

But the Hero5 Session remains the ideal choice for anyone who wants a subtler camera mounted to their body, board or wherever, and doesn't want to pay more than $299 (£249, AU$459).

Price and release date

  • Launches on October 2 for $299 (£249, AU$459)
  • Hero4 Session sticks around at $199 (£179, AU$299)
  • Hero5 Session is unquestionably worth the extra money

The GoPro Hero5 Session costs $299 (£249, AU$459), which is more expensive than the GoPro Hero4 Session at $199 (£179, AU$299) – still on sale and now just dubbed the Hero Session.

GoPro Hero5 Session review

It's worth the extra $100 (£70, AU$160) because there's a major sensor quality and specs boost between the old and new versions. That wait isn't long either.

The GoPro Hero5 Session release date was October 2, so it's rolling out to store shelves now, along with the Black version. Its drone companion launches at the end of the month.

Design

  • 1.5in (38mm) cubed design allows obstructive mounting
  • Works with the GoPro Karma drone
  • Waterproof up to 33ft (10m)
  • USB-C charging, but no swappable battery

The Hero5 Session is less conspicuous than the full-sized Hero models, and that's a big advantage to adrenaline junkies and everyday vloggers.

GoPro Hero5 Session review

We've seen people be able to clip it to new and interesting places - there's even a retainer-like mount that allows you to carry it in your mouth for surprisingly solid stabilization. That's not doable with the Black version.

The Session measures 1.5 in (38mm) cubed, and looks exactly like the Hero4 Session. The only way we were able to tell the two apart was by the new matte black finish. The older Session is glossy black.

GoPro Hero5 Session review

It's once again waterproof without housing up to 33 feet (10m), and its frame wraps around the Session body more for mounting rather than protection.

Hero 5 Session is compatible with all of the mounts and even works with the new GoPro Karma drone and Karma Gimbal for steady video in the air and in the hand.

The unchanged design doesn't squeeze in a swappable battery, sticking with a built-in 1,000mAh battery.

GoPro Hero5 Session review

That's a deal breaker for video-capturing marathoners, but the form factor doesn't give it much room for such a feature. You'll have to use a portable charger in between captures, or become very disciplined with your video taking and ability to remember to properly hold in on off button to make sure it's off.

Conveniently, the GoPro Hero5 Session uses the newer USB Type-C port for charging. This means the cable is reversible, so there's no more fumbling around with one-directional micro USB anymore.

Video and photo quality

  • Debuts 4K video capturing on the Session
  • Three new fields of view for a total of five
  • 10MP photo burst shots at 30fps

The Hero5 Session design doesn't change much, but the camera's video and photo capabilities have grown up tremendously. Its 4K video and 10MP burst shots at 30 frames per second are just the tip of the iceberg.

GoPro Hero5 Session review

There are several more field of view modes available: Superview, Linear and Narrow join Wide and Medium. It's amazing that this small camera can record in Superview now for extra-wide video. Linear is also clutch because it goes wide while reducing barrel distortion.

The low-light performance is touted as consumer grade, compared to pro-level Hero5 Black video, and there aren't as many frame rate options among the various resolutions.

That said, the gulf between Black and a Session has narrowed tremendously in the jump from Hero4 to Hero5, and that's great news for everyone who can't decide between the two options.

Interface and apps

  • New GoPro apps for capturing and editing are a plus
  • Promises better connectivity, but that's still under our testing

Here's where GoPro loses most people. It's never had the easiest in-camera menu interface and that goes for editing video off camera, too.

GoPro Hero5 Session review

GoPro's solution is is two-fold. Whenever your camera is charging, it now auto-uploads your videos and photos to the cloud via its new subscription service called GoPro Plus.

There are also new Capture and Quik apps available on phones, making recording and editing easier on mobile. Having to retreat back to a Mac Pro after every outing isn't nearly as feasible for timely video.

It's now incredibly simple to capture footage, but it's still easy to leave the camera on and drain the battery due two it's two button design and sliver of an LED screen at the top. Controlling an advanced camera with so few buttons can a headache.

Early verdict

The GoPro Hero5 Session is a capable 4K action camera with a minimalist design that pushes the specs to the max within its cube-shaped confines.

GoPro Hero5 Session review

It's the more portable GoPro, which may be a fair trade off next to the more capable Black version and its swappable battery.

Now that the final GoPro Hero5 apps launched, we'll have more videos and photos to upload, so expect to see a full GoPro Hero5 Session review in the coming days.

What is a hands on review?

'Hands on reviews' are a journalist's first impressions of a piece of kit based on spending some time with it. It may be just a few moments, or a few hours. The important thing is we have been able to play with it ourselves and can give you some sense of what it's like to use, even if it's only an embryonic view. For more information, see TechRadar's Reviews Guarantee.