Although not meant to replace the Zi6, Kodak’s Editors’ Choice-winning pocket camcorder, the company’s new Zx1 offers several improvements: a more compact design, enhanced onboard software, an HDMI cable, and water-resistance. However, in some ways, this $149 device is a step back: the battery life is still weak compared to the competition, the buttons are on the stiff side, and the zoom is jerkier this time around.
Although the word rugged often connotes bulky, the Zx1 is, at 4.2 x 2.0 x 0.8 inches, lighter and slightly smaller than the Zi6 (4.5 x 2.5 x 0.9 inches). Unlike the Zi6, however, this thinner camcorder lacks a flip-out USB connector. Our Zx1 came in red; you can also buy it in black, blue, yellow, and pink. It also comes with a secondary back cover with a nice graphic that looks like punctuated sunrays.
The buttons on the Zx1 look better than they feel; because they’re a bit stiff, we had to press them forcefully. Even the power button on the side felt stiff compared to the Pure Digital Flip UltraHD’s. The one drawback to the Zx1’s design is that it has a smaller screen than the Zi6 (2 inches versus 2.4). Nonetheless, the LCD looked bright when we shot videos on a sunny day.
Durability and Water Resistance
While the Zx1’s body is mostly made of plastic, the gunmetal-colored façade is steel with a brushed metal look to match. The buttons (a five-way navigational pad, delete, playback, shooting, and stop buttons) have thin, rubber accents, whose color matches the satiny back cover. The rubbery body is not submersible but it can withstand splashes, so you can take it skiing, or to the beach, or on a boat.
Because the Zx1 is designed to be water-resistant, all of the ports are covered. They include an SD Card slot on one side and A/V, USB, HDMI, and power ports on the other. In addition to traditional A/V cables, the camera ships with an HDMI cable, which is a huge plus. Unfortunately, though, the Zx1 does not have a flip-out USB connector, as the Zi6 does. Instead, you must transfer videos using the included USB cable, or a memory card reader.
The Zx1’s interface is pretty easy to pick up. Use the Up and Down buttons on the navigation pad to adjust the zoom; use the Left and Right buttons to switch between VGA, 30 fps, 60 fps, and still photo modes. Included are discrete buttons for recording, deleting, and playing back images and videos.
Pressing the playback button once enters playback mode, but if you press it again you’ll see your clips and photos as thumbnails, which is convenient. Press the button a third time and you’ll see your clips arranged on a timeline, which helps if you have lots of media stored on your memory card. When playing back clips, press the dedicated stop button to stop, and press the center of the navigation pad to pause. To reenter shooting mode, press the shooting button.
Like the Zi6, the Zx1 shoots 720p video at both 30 frames per second (fps) and 60 fps, a spec that continues to set Kodak’s camcorders apart from its competitors. As we said in our Zi6 review, 60 fps comes in handy when you’re shooting action sequences. For everyday shooting, 30 fps is enough, regardless of the brand.
Our video looked bright and colorful, and we could make out lots of detail, such as engravings on a stone fountain. Unfortunately, though, the 2X digital zoom looked very jerky on-screen, so much that it ruined our clips. The zoom doesn’t extend very far anyway, and of course digital zoom means dropping the resolution, so it’s best to avoid using it.
The sound quality offered by the Zx1 was mostly good: it picked up voices off-camera and the squeak of sneakers on a basketball court twenty feet away. But the sound of blowing wind put a damper on some of our clips. We weren’t expecting stellar sound fidelity on a device this inexpensive, but because this is a ruggedized camcorder we paid more attention to the wind interruption since you may well want to use it under less-than-perfect conditions.
The Zx1 also takes 3-megapixel stills. Although these, too, were bright with pleasant colors, the still feature on the Zi6 is more useful and also has a dedicated Macro mode. With the Zx1, the still picture component is about as sophisticated as—if not less than—a cell phone camera’s.
The Zx1 stores the Arcsoft Media Impression software onboard rather than the CD that came with the Zi6. The software is only compatible with PCs, though (although you can plug the Zx1 into a Mac and pull files off it). When you plug the camcorder in for the first time, it will automatically turn on, and you’ll receive a prompt to install the software. During the installation, you have the opportunity to check the file formats that will open in the MediaImpression Photo Viewer. Oddly, the JPEG format isn’t checked by default.
From the home screen you can import photos, open the library, or upload videos to YouTube. However, once you enter the library, the panel of icons lining the bottom of the screens lists more options: you can also open the media player, convert files, e-mail videos, upload to Vimeo, burn a disc (you’ll need to have a disc burner installed elsewhere on your PC), and make a movie.
As with Pure Digital’s FlipShare software, you can add themes, opening and closing credits, and your own music. However, while FlipShare presents these options in the form of a step-by-step wizard, Arcsoft arranges it all as a filmstrip at the bottom of the screen, not unlike Premiere Elements or other popular movie-editing programs. It’s easy enough to figure out, but certainly not the easiest.
The software also offers an enhanced feature set. When you scroll over a thumbnail in the library, you’ll see a pop-up, either an enlarged photo or a preview, depending on whether you scrolled over a still photo or a movie. From a tray of icons on top, you can delete photos, add star ratings or tags, and work in batches, such as rename, resize, or convert images.
Battery Life and Warranty
Like the Zi6, the Zx1 ships with two rechargeable AA batteries. As with the Zi6, we found that 60-fps shooting quickly puts a dent in the battery life. Even after taking just a dozen clips or so, plus some still photos, we were already down to two-thirds battery life. The Flip UltraHD, however, which shoots at 30 frames per second, lasted much longer. The bottom line: reserve 60 fps mode for high-octane situations, and otherwise stick with 30 fps to conserve battery life. The Zx1 has a one-year limited warranty.
Kodak’s weather-resistant Zx1 is the sleekest pocket camcorder we’ve seen lately. And the size, video quality, and $149 price tag will be a good match for some people. However, if budget permits and you don’t mind carrying a larger device, the video clips from the $159 Zi6 were better, as well as on Pure Digital’s $199 Flip UltraHD, which offers 8GB of internal storage to boot. (Spending the $40 on an 8GB card for the Zx1 almost closes the price gap anyway.) If you already own an SD Card, though, the Zx1 makes for an attractive, strong choice.