Pros: Cool timestamp feature; Good audio and video quality
Cons: Awkward design for switching between video and photo; Larger than your average pen; Slow at capturing photos
Verdict: The $99.99 Swann HD PenCam spy-pen records photos and videos on the sly--but it's not going to fool anyone.
Unless you're an international spy or an amateur sleuth, you'd be forgiven if you didn't know where to turn in picking out the perfect spy cam. Security-themed accessories maker Swann has a new device to assist you in those undercover missions: the $99.99 HD PenCam. In addition to its function as a writing tool, this USB-rechargeable gadget records video in 720p and holds up to 16GB of footage and still photos via microSD. We were impressed with the video and audio quality, but is the HD PenCam stealthy enough for your next covert op?
The Swann HD PenCam looks like...a pen, albeit one of the thickest pens we've ever seen. Though it's not the sleekest, its gold accents and dark-blue textured surface effectively disguise the PenCam as a premium pen. However, the pen's indicator light, which blinks orange in standby and blue when recording, could be enough to blow your cover.
You'll find the power/record button on the top of the pen. The hidden camera sits right above the pocket clip, while the status LED light is located on the flip side. Before you start recording, you'll need to insert a microSD card. To do this, you twist each end of the pen in opposite directions until it separates at the middle to reveal a microSD card slot and USB port.
This is also where you'll find the switch for toggling between photo and video modes. We weren't thrilled with the switch design; it's so tiny that you'll need to use the tip of a fingernail to move it between picture mode (1) and video mode (2).
Photo and Video Quality
We set up the HD PenCam on our desk and let it record about 20 minutes of office happenings. Getting the pen to rest at the appropriate angle for recording our co-workers was a little tricky--it took us about a minute to get it balanced correctly. This gadget is better suited for slipping in your shirt pocket--if you're someone whose shirts have pockets.
We got some pretty good footage out of the PenCam. The 720p video was clear and relatively sharp, though don't expect super-bright colors. We were impressed with how well the PenCam captured audio, even from several feet away. In one video, we could hear a co-worker laughing down the hall. Sleuthing types will appreciate the PenCam's timestamp feature, which displays the date and time on your videos.
The Swann HD PenCam also shoots stills at 1600 x 1200, but we found this to be a less worthwhile feature, as it took a painfully long 3 to 4 seconds to take a photo after pressing the button. That's hardly ideal for anyone trying to snatch a pic on the down low. Image quality was on a par with the videos we took, though some details--such as the dark keyboards and computers in our office--looked washed out.
Swann rates the HD PenCam for 45 minutes of battery life, and recharging the pen via USB takes approximately 90 minutes.
While the Swann HD PenCam does what it promises--and fairly well--it's definitely not the most well-disguised spy gadget. We hope your undercover adventures don't lead you into dangerous territory. This $99 device is simply too bulky--and its status light too apparent--to go unnoticed. However, if you're looking for a novelty gift, the HD PenCam will give you some good material.
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