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Summary:

Pocket-sized HD camcorders are becoming increasingly popular, but that doesn’t mean each new model improves upon previous iterations. Take, for example, Kodak’s Zx1, the company’s latest inexpensive high-def camcorder. It offers some very good features, including impressive video quality. Still, I’m not sure I’d pick this model […]

zx1Pocket-sized HD camcorders are becoming increasingly popular, but that doesn’t mean each new model improves upon previous iterations. Take, for example, Kodak’s Zx1, the company’s latest inexpensive high-def camcorder. It offers some very good features, including impressive video quality. Still, I’m not sure I’d pick this model over its competition, namely the Flip MinoHD and Kodak’s own Zi6.

The Zx1 is basically a ruggedized version of the Zi6; it adds a rubberized finish and is designed to be resistant to dust, water and ice. This is an especially nice touch, since I found that the Zx1 captured its best video outdoors. Colors were rich and accurate, and the overall video looked crisp and clear. Videos I captured indoors were not as appealing; colors looked slightly more washed out, and noise was noticeable in many of the clips.

You can capture video in three resolutions: HD60 (720p at 60 frames per second), HD (720p at 30 frames per second), and VGA. I found the Zx1’s controls slightly intimidating at first — there are lots of buttons below the LCD — but I quickly got used to them. Still, I think Kodak could lose some of the buttons on the back and go with more streamlined controls, like those on the Flip cameras.

A far bigger problem than learning the controls is how well they work. The zoom mechanism was the most problematic for me; it made a noticeable clicking sound that was audible when I played back the video. Zooming in and out was not smooth either; it was noticeably jerky on playback.

Other than its rugged exterior, the Zx1 is physically very similar to the Zi6, though there are some slight changes. The LCD now measures 2 inches diagonally, down from 2.4 on the Zi6. It’s larger than the 1.5-inch screen on the Flip MinoHD, but it still feels slightly cramped. I also found it hard to see in bright sunlight, which is a shame, given that the Zx1 does its best work outside. This model also lacks the flip-out USB connector that’s become a defining feature of these pocket camcorders (it’s how the Flip line of camcorders got their name).

When I first used a Flip camcorder, I hated the flip-out USB connector. It didn’t work with the angled USB port on the front of my Dell desktop, and when I tried to connect it to the back of the tower, it left the video camera dangling oddly amidst the computer’s cables. Then I switched to a laptop, and the Flip camcorder connected neatly to the side USB port. I was hooked, literally. That’s what makes it hard to go back to a camera that requires you to find and connect the USB cable every time you want to transfer the videos to your PC. It’s not a terrible sacrifice, but it’s not as easy as it could be.

Like the Zi6, Kodak’s Zx1 lacks any real internal storage. It does have 128MB of built-in storage, but you’ll need to supply your own SD card to capture anything more than seconds of HD video. And you do have to supply your own as Kodak doesn’t include one. The Flip MinoHD, meanwhile, includes a 4GB drive that will store approximately 60 minutes of HD video. While the Zx1’s approach lets you add more storage (it supports cards up to 32GB), it also requires a bit more hassle.

You can take the SD card and pop it into a card reader to avoid connecting via a USB cable, but you’ll probably want to connect via USB at least the first time so you can install the included ArcSoft MediaImpression for Kodak software suite, which helps you import and organize your videos. (The software is Windows-only, so Mac users will have to skip it anyway.) The software provides some basic editing tools, and helps you upload your videos to various online destinations like YouTube. But it’s nothing you can’t do on your own.

All in all, I like the Kodak Zx1, especially for use outdoors. I do wish its zoom mechanism was smoother, but you really can’t beat the price: It’s only $150. That’s less than the $230 Flip MinoHD and the $160 Zi6. Of course, you’ll have provide your own SD card. But if you can handle that — and the lack of a flip-out USB connector — this budget-priced camcorder will help you capture some very good-looking videos. Personally, though, I’d opt for the Flip MinoHD.

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  1. You really should include warranty info in a review of an item. The flip has 90 days and the Kodak has 1 year. That 90 days would definitely turn me to the Kodak unless the flip was like 50 dollars. I mean 90 days that tells you how much the company stands behind their product.

  2. Seeing comparisons of what the Flip Mino hd and Zx1 do in both bright and low light, I think they are pretty much the same.

    That is to say it’s what you would expect from a $150-$200 pocket size HD camera. I don’t think anyone is going to be buying any of these cam’s expecting to replace the lens of a true camcorder.

    I’m a fan of both the Flip and Zx1 but I’m leaning more towards the Zx1. Here is why:

    The Flip has a proprietary battery which can only be replaced by the manufacture. Also, on each connection to the computer, the Flip will ALWAYS be charging it’s battery. Even when its not necessary.

    Zx1 does not use a flip out USB arm which, like the review mentions, can be a bit cumbersome. On the other hand, Kodak uses a proprietary USB cable, which is very annoying, but not a dealbreaker.

    Flip has 4GB of internal memory, Zx1 has next to nothing out of the box. This is true however, it’s not difficult for the internet savvy to find a deal on some SDHC cards (as of this review ($20-$30) for 16gb. So add that together with the Zx1 MSRP and you still come out to about $40 less than the Flip with 4x the space to record.

    Just from what I’ve seen of it, I believe the Flip has a simpler menu system than the Zx1 out of the box. But in the end, they both do the same thing.

    Last, the Zx1 has the option of outputting your 720p video through HDMI where Flip only outputs through composite. Couple that fact with the removable SDHC cards and you can use the Zx1 as an HD media player to play virtually any, properly encoded, movie file.

    Just my .02

    Carl

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  6. NellieIrrelevant Friday, March 26, 2010

    The Zx1 uses a proprietary cable to connect it to your PC. This might not be a deal-breaker for Carl S but it sure as heck is for me – I just spent an hour turning my house upside down to find mine. I’m sure Kodak is contravening some branding rule by showing the three-pronged USB connection icon on the camera – it’s not a USB connection and they can’t claim it is.

    When you first plug the ZX1 in it installs Arcsoft, which asks you to reboot the PC, THEN the program checks for updates at Kodak – and in my case, downloads a completely new version and demands a re-install and another reboot. Way to annoy the users, Kodak! And what does Arcsoft do that Picasa can’t do faster, anyway?

    The camera? It’s OK. Picked it up cheap. But I shoulda gone for a Mino. That proprietary cable thing is a giant leap backwards.

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