A New Degree For Your Smartphone - Jan 15, 2015

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I remember a time without smartphones, before the attention-virus Internet seeped into nearly every aspect of our lives. Then the camera was integrated ushering in a brand new apps and abilities. Soon enough it was only time until we saw this camera be utilized to further potential with add-ons and mountable devices. I have to consider any mobile device accessory to be as durable as your smartphone; capable of handling the same environment as the mobile it's attached to. If common sense tells you that your phone will be able to survive then an attached accessory should as well. That said take note of your investment; if you're uncomfortable bringing it into adverse conditions yet have to... perhaps try to not drop it?

We have a digital camera already in our hands, and photos and videos are commonplace. What can be done to transcend this optic's technology? With a specialized attachment, you can now get working thermal and night vision in your hands. Opgal Optronic developed the Therm-App as such, I was sent the standard version however further upgrades are available. Therm-App needs Jelly Bean to run. Sadly my personal phone doesn't meet this requirement so I borrowed a Motorola Razr HD with the appropriate Andorid version. Note: This isn't my thoughts on the application of thermal or night vision, nor am I explaining the science behind the two.

First impressions

Upon using the Therm-App at night and catching my reflection in the window, I came to a rather interesting thought regarding the user's "tactical" safety. Traditional goggles or monocles are close to the face, limiting the screen's glow and keeping an officer's position as covert as possible. You are using a smartphone. While you can turn down the brightness as much as possible, there will be a glow - your face will be illuminated.

You'll be attempted to do exactly as I: unbox and try to figure out the mouting. There's a pistol grip included the package (you'll appreciate this later) and with two USB OTG cables of different lengths. To my folly I didn't realize the different lengths at first and blindedly I grabbed one. The box also contains a "read-me" card with easy to understand instructions. I'll break them down for you: scan QR code for the free app (you can also search Google Play for "Therm-app"); mount device to phone; make sure phone is on (the card suggests this); and then connect the cord. My device asked me if I wanted it to start immediately upon connection. The grip itself is technically optional however it does make operation easier.

The mounting is as easy as that reads. The camera's back has a clamp-like grip where you tighten to hold onto the phone. You are not actually using the phone's optic, but mostly the phone's display capabilities. You're only limited to the length of the USB cord and width of your smartphone. I found mounting it as close to center provided a comfortable balance when holding the screw-in pistol grip on the bottom.

To my inital amazement and confusion the screen shown everything upside-down. I soon discovered I had installed the phone into the mount upside down. My phone might be different than yours, but I'm currently unaware of an image invertion setting. If you make the same mistake as I - disconnect and flip your device over, this is 100% user error. 

While the name is "Therm-App," there's a night vision imaging mode as well. In the thermal mode, the standard version comes with rainbow, gray, and an iron color setting. Convienently you can change between these by swiping. You can access night vision through the menu. There you can also change the thermal color palate.

Opgal lists a few key specifications:

  • Tracking of people up to 500 meters
  • 384 x 288 pixel resolution
  • Generation 3 night vision
  • Photo and video capture

One feature I found interesting was a sharing feature where media can be uploaded to either contacts, social media or other messaging applciation. I'm guessing posting any photography or videos for an investigation to your personal or departments Facebook would be frowned upon, so check the settings to confirm. However, there may be a benefit to sharing with the commanding officer for evidenciary purposes, redundant storage, etc.

Can you take normal photos or videos with the Therm-App? Use your phone's camera instead. Think about this before setting out, if there might be a reason to take a photo of how the situation actually appears in real-life perhaps get the camera app running in the background for quick access.

A run-test

Figuring a common use of the Therm-App would be a search of immediate surroundings for tracks, hiding suspects or recently ran vehicles, I didn't dunk this underwater or take this to the local gun range. With the sharing feature in mind, I connected the Razr to my personal Wi-Fi network and left it connected to the running Verizon service. This to simulate an officer having this phone connected to a department's communications. I set it so that no other apps were running and turned off the screen time-out (an option in the Therm-App settings). I then propped it in my house watching a highly trafficked area so the app actually "did" something other than displaying the same still image.

From a full charge, the phone finally gave out after roughly 2.5 hours. However, I feel a great deal of power drain was from having it connected to the Internet and not turning the app off. After speaking with the company, they said that the app uses "less than a half a Watt." They then explained that when displayed for tradeshows and unplugged when not on demo, they say it lasts the entire day without issue. This might be where allowing the app to turn on automatically once you plug it in comes in handy. And before you ask, the camera utilizes the same port as the charger.

While moving around I found I had to move smoothly. There's a slight fraction-of-a-second lag. You can overcome this with a bit of paitence - the learning curve here is extremely quick. It gets a bit awkward when going too fast when using the app as the sole way to get around. That said the resolution of the Therm-App's camera was sharp; you can easily discern objects in your environment no matter the setting. It didn't display blurry or misshappen "blobs."

There are situations where switching the thermal color settings revealed a different view on the same information. Certain colors allow different color contrasts allowing some objects to stand out better than others. One day after returning from lunch, I went back out to brave the Wisconsin cold and found the very vehicle that brought me back to work. The remainder of cars were cold; my subject stood out immediately. The spectrum dynamically adapts to the temperature range regardless of color choice.

Opgal emulated the Android interface for capturing photos or video. A simple touch of the shutter button and it takes two photos. One the image and just the image alone. A second photo is an exact copy of the GUI: everything from the shutter button, application's logo, targeted temperature, range, and more. I took photos of various objects in the various thermal color options as well as in night vision. All worked well. 

The Therm-App has obvious applications outside of the tactical realm, uses in which traditional monoculars and helmet-mounted systems would not be practical. Opgal has figured out a way to put such high-end technology right in the palm of your hand, all-the-while keeping it simple to use and easy to learn.

For the review on officer.com website   - click here

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