We’re Almost Ready to Flip for Kodak’s Zx1

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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