At first glance, the Kodak Playsport stands out from other pocket camcorders because it’s waterproof (immersible to up to 10 feet), but what makes this affordable $149 device a winner is everything else: its good image quality, high resolution and frame rate options, and inventive software. With that kind of value, the pocket cam’s durability becomes just another pleasant perk.
The Playsport is one of the lightest, most compact pocket camcorders we’ve yet seen from Kodak. Indeed, at 5.1 ounces, it feels significantly lighter than the Flip SlideHD, which weighs 6.1 ounces. The Playsport is a departure from the company’s other camcorders, as Kodak had to re-tool its old design to make it waterproof. Gone is the soft satin finish; in its place is a matte plastic back, available in black, blue, and purple. Regardless of which hue you choose, the Playsport has glossy black accents.
Aside from the harder, more matte finish, what makes the Playsport look more rugged are the four small exposed screws on the front side, as well as the tightly sealed port covers. Accessing the combined battery door/SDHC Card slot and the HDMI and USB ports takes some effort, and Kodak did this on purpose. The bottom of the camcorder also houses a tripod port. One trade-off you’ll make by choosing the Playsport over one of Kodak’s non-rugged models is that, due to its sealed design, it has no flip-out USB connector; you’ll have to connect it to your PC using the included USB cable.
On the matte white front of the Playsport you’ll find small black buttons for accessing the settings, playing back and deleting photos, and returning to recording mode once you want to exit playback mode. There’s also a five-way D-pad. As with other Kodak models, you have to press the left or right side to select either video or still recording, or change the resolution.
The Playsport’s 2-inch LCD display (640 x 240 pixels) is smaller than its siblings’, but it’s also considerably crisper than the larger 3-inch panel on the Flip SlideHD (400 x 240).
d also comes with software that adds some unusual features, such as voice-over recording and fun filters.
We were pleased with the Playsport’s video quality, particularly when we cranked the resolution up to 1080p from 720p. Even though increasing resolution means you can only record at 30 fps (as opposed to 60 fps, a safeguard against motion blur), we were still able to make out more detail in our highest-res clips.
We also found the colors to be more vibrant and saturated than they were when we used the new Flip SlideHD to record the same scenes. However, some of our movies taken with the Playsport looked slightly overcast by comparison; clips taken with the SlideHD had more natural brightness levels. One gripe about the video: when we cranked the 4X digital zoom while shooting, the motion of the picture getting closer looked jerky, which was distracting. And while our 1080p clips were about as sharp as those we took with the Sony Bloggie MHS-PM5, we found that the PM5 did a better job of capturing details in the background.
The Playsport also takes 5-megapixel stills, something other pocket camcorders—namely, any Flip—don’t do. At the same time, this isn’t nearly as useful a feature as video recording. Because there’s no optical zoom and these camcorders don’t have any features such as face recognition, taking photos with a pocket camcorder feels a lot like taking pictures with a cell phone camera: our shots were flatter and less sharp than what we’d get with a dedicated point-and-shoot.
In the past, Kodak’s pocket camcorders shipped with Kodak’s own elegant EasyShare software. The Playsport, though, ships with ArcSoft MediaImpression software, which lets you upload videos to Facebook, Twitter, Vimeo, and YouTube. (It’s worth noting that the same software ships with the Toshiba Camileo S20, although we like that camcorder less.) Although the interface looks somewhat crude, the list of options has expanded as online video has become more pervasive. We also like that when you roll over a video’s thumbnail in the library you’ll automatically see a preview. When you load the software, the installer will direct you to a download page for QuickTime, if you don’t have it, so that you won’t have any playback issues.
As with other pocket camcorder software, MediaImpression lets you make a movie out of your clips. You can cobble together clips, and add music, transitions, and even voice-overs, a less common feature. In addition to trimming the clips, you can tweak the image quality, altering the color balance, adjusting for underwater shooting, and even adding special effects as you would on a video chat. All in all, that’s a more robust package of features than you get with, say, Flip’s FlipShare software.
This time around, Kodak has noticeably improved its camcorder’s battery life, thanks to the inclusion of a longer-lasting rechargeable battery (past models, such as the original Zi6, ran on AA batteries, which died quickly). However, Kodak still doesn’t claim as long a battery life as its competitors. It promises 90 minutes of battery life, assuming you’re recording at 720p resolution and 30 frames per second. The Toshiba Camileo S20, by contrast, promises 2.5 hours.
Even if it weren’t waterproof, Kodak’s Playsport pocket camcorder would still be an excellent value: at $149, you can record either full HD video or 60-fps 720p video, which is perfect for fast-moving situations. Of all the camcorders we’ve tested recently, it’s the easiest to use, an