Though the Pictar OnePlus Mark II Smartphone Grip brings lots of compact camera capabilities to your smartphone. But poor design, bugs and a clunky interface turn photography into a chore rather than a pleasant pastime. The experience is more like an alternative to iPhone's camera app than an improvement, and the Android version actually offers fewer features than the default camera. At $130, it’s an overpriced toy that doesn’t present a compelling reason to stop taking smartphone snaps with the touchscreen.
Modern smartphone cameras are incredibly capable, so introducing a grip, tools and menu system similar to an actual camera seems like a natural progression. After all, they often lack the more advanced controls you'd find in manual mode, not to mention physical buttons instead of the pesky touchscreen.
This is more or less the goal of Pictar's OnePlus Mark II Smartphone Grip and the associated camera app. Available for iOS and Android, the grip adds control wheels and a shutter button, while the app introduces tools you'd find on a mid to high-end compact camera.
How does it work?
The OnePlus grip clamps onto your phone and connects via some proprietary wireless wizardry – as it doesn't use Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. You can mount most small or large phones but you will need to remove any case on your phone, unless its particularly thin. It's battery powered so you don't have to worry about plugging it into your phones charging port.
Meanwhile, Pictar's app (called Pictar) handles the camera controls. It's available for free, but you need to scan the grip's barcode in order to unlock it. It adds a unique interface and extra controls, but it piggybacks onto your phone, which means you're still bound by the actual camera components.
For example, the OnePlus II won't be able to use massive amounts of zoom or take macro photos if your phone's camera doesn't support these lenses by default. The OnePlus grip and Pictar app can't magically improve your phone's camera quality or take better pictures, so to speak.
The app is designed to replicate a camera menu.
The grip controls include a shutter and autofocus button, tripod mount and three wheels – zoom, exposure adjustment and one to cycle through photography modes such as action, macro or manual. The app includes most of the options you'd find in a compact camera like pre-set shooting modes and manual adjustments like shutter speed, white balance and ISO. There are also three lens modes – wide, zoom and macro.
Can it replace a camera?
The Android version is far less feature-rich than the iOS app, so much so that Pictar actually has fewer functions than the default camera (at least on our Google Pixel 4a 5G). Yes, it works on an Android phone but you only get a fraction of the product for the same price as the iOS release. We suggest Android users stay away from the OnePlus grip and Pictar app and this review will only be covering the iOS version from here on.
We suggest Android users stay away from the OnePlus grip and Pictar app
The problem is that the OnePlus grip and Pictar app don't make things better, they only offer a different experience. Sure, there are additional functions and the grip is nice to hold especially if you're shooting on the go, but they're not far enough removed to feel entirely unique while bugs and poor design choices mar the overall experience.
Starting with the grip, there's some slight input lag when using the wheels, so you often overshoot zoom and exposure. Also, the zoom wheel jumps forward in increments of 1.5 so you need to use pinch and pull on the touch screen if you want anything smaller or larger, such as 0.9 times. This negates the point of attaching the grip in the first place.
With the grip attached, the app and your phone are designed to function like a compact camera.
The Pictar app is also a bit of a chore. Live mode is always active which shoves most menus off to the sides and it too often relies on touch screen controls making the grip feel even less useful. Navigation is inconsistent, sometimes you can tap to select while other menus force you to scroll. Other settings only use a slidebar and some standard photography tools, such as white balance, are in completely different locations to things like shutter speed and ISO. Plus, there's no way to adjust the aperture even though the app displays it.
The only thing it really brings to the table is a set of image filters which are a novelty at best.
Then there are some blatant bugs. "Wide angle mode" actually crops the lens to 1.2x zoom even if the phone has a dedicated wide lens. Telephoto mode doesn't appear to do anything and the mount completely stops responding on an iPhone if you try to view recent photos in the app .
So, between the laggy, imprecise physical controls, inconsistent navigation and bugs, using the camera on anything other than auto mode is quite slow and imprecise. The only thing it really brings to the table is a set of image filters which are a novelty at best.
Though the grip is nice to hold, the buttons and wheels are laggy and imprecise.
Cost vs quality
For $130 you'd think Pictar would have added a few more features to the grip and fine-tuned the app. The mount brings so little to the table that it feels like you're really just paying over $100 for smartphone photography software. That's a bold prospect given that there's no shortage of camera apps out there that offer the same, or more, features for a much lower price.
Technically the grip and app achieve what they set out to do. But they're so underwhelming and clunky to use that you won't feel any motivation to leave the default camera app behind. The lesson here is to spend a bit more time delving into the features and functions your smartphone already has – you may be surprised with what you find.
Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.