When Toshiba announced this year that it would sell camcorders, it wasn't the first time the company was late to enter a market. After all, it was one of the last major PC manufacturers to jump on the netbook bandwagon. But as we saw with the mini NB205, Toshiba's Editors' Choice-winning first netbook, being late isn't necessarily a bad thing. Indeed, the Camileo (pronounced cuh-mee-lee-oh) S20, the company's debut pocket HD camcorder, corrects many shortcomings of other pocket cams on the market, introducing optical zoom and shipping with a tripod for steadier shooting. And yet, it falters in some ways. Is it worth your $149?
Whereas pretty much every other pocket camcorder on the market has a candy bar shape, the S20 sports a vertical pistol shape, made popular by Sanyo. At 4.4 ounces, the S20 is significantly lighter than the 6.1-ounce Flip SlideHD and a bit lighter than the 4.5-ounce Sony Bloggie MHS-PM5.
Unfortunately, the S20's glossy finish feels slippery beneath the fingers, and the part of the camcorder you hold onto has a narrow, straight-edged shape. It would be much easier to grip if there were rubbery accents or indentations for your fingers. Toshiba did add finely raised dots to the S20's metal underbelly, but they're not bumpy enough to make the camcorder easier to hold. Lefties take note: the fact that these raised bumps are on the left side of the camcorder, where the right thumb would be, suggests the S20 was designed for righties (all of the candy bar models are ambidextrous).
One boon to the S20 is the large, swiveling 3-inch screen, which is easy to see even in sunlight. Most of its ports and buttons are located on the slim edge opposite the one with the lens. These include a dedicated record button; a zoom rocker; a playback button, and two soft keys, marked with left and right arrows, that you'll use to (awkwardly) navigate the on-screen menus. There are also covered A/V, HDMI, and mini-USB ports. The camcorder's clumsy ergonomics aside, one of the things that makes it a good value anyway is that it comes with both an HDMI cable and, uniquely, a tripod.
Also unlike other pocket camcorders, the S20 comes with a mini-USB cord that connects to an AC adapter, although you can also charge it by simply plugging it into your computer's USB port.
While the footage is decent, the S20's video is lacking compared to other full HD pocket camcorders, such as the Kodak Playsport. The colors in our clips were consistently pallid compared to those we took with the Kodak pocket cam, which was also better at capturing shadow details and highlights. Too often, the S20 blew out the background, and made the entire image appear grainy, not unlike a cheap digital camera set to an unnecessarily high ISO setting. Also, the S20, like the Sony Bloggie MHS-PM5, does not let you use the 4X digital zoom when you're shooting at 1080p resolution; you'll have to downgrade to 720p resolution to do that. The Playsport lets you use the zoom at any resolution.
We were also disappointed that while Toshiba enables full HD resolution (table stakes nowadays), it only offers 60 fps shooting at 848 x 480 resolution. Other camcorders, such as the Playsport and PM5, allow for 60-fps shooting at 720p resolution, so that even if you're capturing a fast-moving situation, you can still do it in HD.
The S20 comes with ArcSoft MediaImpression 2 software, the same program that's bundled with the Kodak Playsport. Unfortunately, like, Kodak, Toshiba's software only runs on PCs. Sony, meanwhile, supports both Macs and PCs with its Picture Motion Browser software.
Unlike Kodak, Toshiba ships the software as a CD, as opposed to installation files that live on the camcorder itself. After you install the software from the CD (and restart your computer), you'll find that when you plug in the S20 using the included USB cable and then turn on the camcorder, MediaImpression opens automatically, offering a prompt for importing your photos and videos.
ArcSoft's software is our favorite pocket camcorder program for a couple of reasons. One, it uploads to the most relevant video sharing services, including Facebook, Vimeo, and YouTube (although options for still photos would be nice, too). Second, the editing tools are more robust than what you'll find on competing programs, such as FlipShare, the software that comes bundled with Flip camcorders. ArcSoft lets you add voice-overs and fun filters (think sepia tones) to movies, as well as adjust settings such as the color saturation.
The rechargeable lithium ion battery promises 2.5 hours of video recording time, which is more than Sony's Bloggie MHS-PM5 or the Kodak Playsport.
In designing the Camileo S20, its first pocket camcorder, Toshiba paid close attention to features, but not enough to details. For a reasonable $149, you get not just full HD resolution but optical zoom, an HDMI cable, and tripod. However, the S20 is more difficult to use and hold than it should be, and while the image quality is good it's not the best. Kodak shows the benefits of having a digital imaging background with its superior waterproof $149 Playsport, but the S20 is a pretty good choice because of its included extras.