We'll start with the dock, which is where most of Swivl's magic happens. It's a plastic pod that can intuitively fold flat, yet also houses a crevice where any device less than 11mm can be securely fastened. That variance in space is reduced or enlarged by an adjustable wheel and then locked into place with the clickable lime-green piece. Other than a cable with an iPod dock connector, a micro USB port and a tray for AAs, the only other things on the unit are a pair of buttons: one for power and another to pair the marker. Thus, after strapping in your capture device of choice and turning on (or pairing) the included marker, Swivl will track you as long as you're within its 50-degree field of view and less than 10 meters (30 ft) away. It'll also charge your iPhone if you attach the dock cable, but be forewarned that when tethered it'll lose its 360-degree turning ability -- instead intelligently stopping to avoid tangling.
Speaking of the marker, it's powered by two AAA batteries coupled with the same two buttons found on the base. Holding the secondary button allows you to tilt the dock, which is achieved by pressing and holding the button while moving the marker upwards or downwards. It's a spiffy trick we didn't expect -- certainly not in a 1.0 product. And finally, if you've plugged in an iPhone with Swivl's accompanying app installed, you can start and stop recording by pressing a button on the marker.
So how does the base "know" where the marker is? While its creators played coy as to the actual tech employed behind the scenes, we were told Swivl uses a combination of infrared plus a proprietary 2.4GHz protocol to figure out its location in your surroundings. Having a multitude of sensors mean that even if one is becomes obscured it can still continue tracking, albeit with less precision.
Our only gripe concerns fast panning which wasn't as smooth as we'd like. When moving slowly, the unit kept up just fine, but don't expect buttery smooth cinematographic pans for a fast acts en-scene. Oh and while we're on the subject of panning, noise emitted while moving side to side was virtually nonexistent, yet adjusting tilt did produce audible noise. You'd clearly want to futz with the vertical axes before hitting record.
That leaves us with a pretty compelling and novel solution to panning video hands-free -- at least for those of us toting iPhones and iPod touches. Yes, Swivl is certainly capable of mounting devices sans-dock connector -- Flip camera's included -- but we're not entirely convinced on the value proposition of having to manually start and stop recording on non-Cupertino hardware. It's not all doom and gloom though, as solutions for those of you rocking green robots are supposedly in the pipeline. If you're rocking an iPhone and are a lone cinematographer, we'd consider Swivl worthy of your shortlist. That, or hang tight for our full review.
Myriam Joire contributed to this report.