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Excels in some ways, but some fundamental flaws make this a sub-optimal solution to portable video
on October 21, 2009
This is Creative's latest entry in the pocketable portable solid state video camera market. This is a hot segment of the market right now, with hot selling competitive models from Flip (who broke open the segment), Kodak and Creative, among others. This is Creative's higher end product, with more memory (8GB) and capable of taking "HD" high(er) resolution video.
In truth these pocketable video cameras are competing not only with each other, but also with other multi-purpose devices that can also take video, particularly digital cameras and portable phones.
Before proceeding, it's worth stating one absolute about all of these ultra portable video cameras: The selling point is portability. They are very small and light, and therefore you can slip one in your purse or jacket pocket and forget it's even there. That makes these video cameras great for impulse pictures.
If the portability is not a big selling point for you, then stop reading right now and get yourself a standard video camera. Even the lowest end standard video camera is capable of MUCH better video than any of these ultra portables. (And the higher end HD standard video cameras simply wipe the floor in terms of quality and extensibility).
Alrighty, you're still reading. So you the portability must be a selling point. So now the competition becomes a ultra slim digital camera that can also take pictures. There are dozens of such cameras now on the market. For the review that follows, I'll take as comparison the video that can be taken on a Sony DSC-W220, a ~$160 digital camera that sits in the middle of Sony's line and features 4x optical zoom, 640x480 30fps video, and image stabilization.
This particular video camera is being marketed as a "new version" of the Creative Vado video line. Let's make it clear what that means, because it means very little. This VADO differs from the previous " version" in only two ways, one insignificant, the other possibly important to you. The first version of the second generation Vado came in only one color (black) and did not come with Macintosh compatible software. This "version" comes in two new color schemes (White/Green, Black/Maroon, in addition to all black) and now comes bundled with Macintosh compatible software.
That's it. End of differences. If you already have the previous second generation Vado and if you were wondering whether it's worth upgrading...it's not.
So what are the good, bad and ugly?
The good: Very small, easily pocketable, very light. Comes with a rechargeable battery that can easily be replaced by the user, and which can easily power the camera long enough to fill up the memory (2 hours in HD mode). Very simple and minimalistic controls mean a very modest learning curve. Charges via any standard USB cable. Image stabilization built in (works OK). HDMI connection (easy attachment and viewing through modern TVs). Ample 8Gb memory included. Ability to switch between HD (2 hours) and VGA video (8 hours). Built in speaker for reviewing videos (low quality, but better than nothing). Good video possible in good light.
The bad: Low light performance is subpar. No optical zoom (only 2x digital zoom). Built in microphone is extremely weak and not well suited to picking up unamplified sounds at a distance. The USB connector is at the bottom of the video recorder, and includes a pull tab that extends outside the bottom of the case and that makes it very difficult to place the camera on a surface and not have it result in tilted video. (I can't believe they didn't fix this in this new "version"). No way to add additional memory.
The ugly: The included software. The software is installed and accessed when you attach the camera via the USB plug to your PC. This brings up a Vado control center that allows you, in principal, to view and edit the videos on your camera. On two Windows computers, one running XP Pro, one running XP Media Center, I have NEVER been able to successfully edit a video using the included software. Any attempt to edit the video eventually results in the program crashing. Freezes and crashes also occur sometimes when just viewing the video through this utility. Fortunately, you can copy the videos from the camera (the camera looks like a standard USB storage device to your PC) and edit/view them with stable software from other manufacturers (Adobe Premier Elements, etc.) But the fact that the software is so buggy, even after multiple updates, reflects very poorly on Creative.
So there are pluses and minuses. But how does it compare to the Sony digital camera, which is only slightly bigger?
In a nutshell, for video quality alone, the Vado loses handily: The Sony camera takes comparably good video in good light, and SUBSTANTIALLY better video in low light. The Sony has a MUCH better built in microphone. The Sony uses user-supplied flash memory which can be expanded. The Sony has a 4x optical zoom, compared to the 2x digital zoom on the Vado. (Though on the Sony the zoom cannot be modified once video capture is started).
The two places where the Vado clearly beats the Sony are video compression (the Vado can store a lot more in the same amount of storage) and (somewhat) better resolution. One more arguable advantage of the Vado is that the controls are much simpler (and more limited). If you are technologically impaired, or if the camera is going to be used by those who won't have time to become familiar with it (kids, friends at parties, whatever), then the simpler control scheme on the Vado is a definite plus.
Obviously, there are MANY MANY other digital cameras available that also take video. I chose the Sony DSC-W220 for comparison 1) because I have one on hand; 2) because it is almost the same size; and 3) because it is competitively priced to this Vado.
As someone with no technological phobias, I would have to say that the Sony would be my go-to choice in many circumstances. I think the only reason I'd opt for the Vado would be if I needed two hours of video (8 hours in VGA mode, but I can't imagine using that mode), and a battery that would support extended recording (the Sony battery is inferior). It should be added that that's not necessarily a trivial difference. The peace of mind that comes from not having to worry your camera is going to go dark or run out of space while you're recording a special even shouldn't be underestimated.
In the end, this is a decent product, really good in some circumstances (good light, audio not critical, long recording times essential), and bettered by a good comparably priced digital camera in others.
Whether it's worth adding to your own arsenal of digital toys will be a personal choice.