So Google has nailed the basics. But, what ultimately sets Clips apart is the AI. And this is where it gets a little tricky.
It’s not easy to tell exactly what the AI finds interesting, or why. But after dancing around in front of the camera endlessly trying to figure out what exactly makes Clips tick, I’ve noticed some patterns. You can teach Clips who is important by training it on your Google Photos library or taking a photo of that person or pet using the onboard (or in-app) shutter button. Over time, it’ll also learn who’s important based on how often you hang with them.
When it sees a familiar face, the camera is more likely to snap. But even then, it doesn’t capture everything they do. Movement alone, even with an important face in the frame, won’t trigger the camera. When the face is smiling, though, Clips is more likely to be set off. One of the demos that Google showed us at a briefing was of a laughing child jumping off a stool. I tried to replicate that scene by hopping around in front of my Clips, but couldn’t get it to record me.
I set the camera in front of a group of friends as we played a few rounds of Jackbox. Clips seemed content to only snap when either me or my friend Sam, whom it recognizes from my Google Photos history, moved. It failed to capture a moment of intense laughter when my friend Jill and I made an (awful) joke about Mother Teresa.
Clips was just as unpredictable when it came to capturing one of its intended subjects — adorable doggos. I set the camera on the couch and let it run for an hour. During that time, Hudson, a terrier mix pup, sniffed around the Clips curiously. I immediately thought, “Yes! We got something good.” But I was disappointed to find that it did not capture that moment. In fact, it only snapped about a dozen clips, and Hudson wasn’t doing much in any of them. What’s worse, I had actually focused the camera on Hudson’s face and pressed the shutter to tell Clips I wanted more shots of him, but it still barely recorded his adorable mug. Most of the shots it got were of Hudson’s cute little butt.
Bottom line: Even if you have Clips set up and switched on when a special moment happens, there’s no guarantee the device caught it. At this point, only God and Google know what the AI catches, and you’ll have to live with the unpredictability.
Google says it didn’t design Clips to be “set it and forget it,” but reps said they noticed that some parents left it in a room after playing with their kids and forgot about it. I’ve almost left it behind at meetings and restaurants, and there isn’t an option to set a distance alert in the app, which would solve this issue.
If the AI notices nothing is happening after a while (Google didn’t say how long), it will automatically shut itself off. Clips is not a security camera; it’s not always always-on. Its battery will last about three hours if it’s switched on and actively looking out for something to record. Even if you keep recording for three or four hours straight like I did several times, it’s almost impossible to fill up the device’s 16 GB of storage. After collecting about 70 Clips, I had used only about 8 percent of the space.
That’s in part because once you save a Clip to your phone, it’s removed from the internal memory. This is a minor complaint I had with the whole setup. I wanted to save all my clips to my phone to make sure I didn’t lose them in case I had to reset my camera, but I also wanted them to stay in the app’s stream so I could still tweak them from Clips’ editor.
That’s a relatively small gripe compared to the many things I appreciate about the device. I like its premise, its simplicity, its design and most of its results. I wish the price were a little lower and that the AI was more reliable, but ultimately it lives up to most of its promises.
Most of all, I am intrigued by its potential. Sure, this was designed for parents, but think of all the ways the rest of us could use this. And I don’t just mean for selfies. Athletes could record themselves performing slam dunks or back-to-back 1080s. Chefs could get closeups of their chopping prowess; circus performers could show off their mad juggling skills. Clips is being marketed to a surprisingly limited audience, but with a few tweaks it could be pretty compelling for the rest of us nonparents.