Review: Kodak Playfull Ze1

Our score: 3/5
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September 14, 2011 3:53 PM
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Published: September 13, 2011 11:00 PM
By Edouard Maire
Translated by: Sam McGeever
The Kodak Playfull Ze1 is the smallest pocket camcorder on the market, measuring just 4 cm across.  That advantage has to be weighed up against a real drawback: the tiny 1.5'' screen.

Handling

After spending a few day's using Kodak's latest pocket camcorder, the Playfull, we were left wondering whether the firm had taken miniaturisation too far this time.  If your idea of a pocket camcorder is a camera that can shoot HD video on the go in absolutely any circumstances, then the Playfull, which looks like it's been squashed in every direction, could be perfect for you.  Be careful, though, because a narrow form factor doesn't mean it's slim, and at 1.57 cm from front to back, the Playfull is far from trim, and will make as big a bulge in your pocket as a traditional pocket camcorder.

The small form factor has meant Kodak has had to cut a few corners on the design.  It looks nice enough from the front, with the lens sitting inside a blue circle and a textured surface that helps the user keep hold of the camcorder.  But turn it round, and you'll discover a tiny LCD screen and some very frustrating touch-sensitive controls that reminded us of the very first digital cameras.  The screen has a 4:3 aspect ratio, meaning video is shown with letterboxing.  It measures just 1.5'' with a mediocre resolution of 70 200 pixels.  That really isn't enough to get a good luck at the video that you've just taken on the screen of the device itself, meaning it compares unfavourably with the Sony Bloggie Touch (which does, however, cost a good deal more).

Kodak Playfull test review écran Kodak Playfull test review usb
The tiny 1.5'', 4:3 display
You have to bend the USB cable in two to get it out

Kodak could definitely do more work on the hardware.  The Playfull might cost less than a hundred pounds, but there's no excuse for how hard it is to work the USB cable out of the case.  The same is true of the covers that protect the ports and the SD card slot which hardly inspire confidence.  Disappointingly, the central button feels decidedly wobbly, despite being the most frequently-used part of the interface.

There are a few useful extras to make up for these problems, including both a HDMI cable and a USB cable cable which doubles up as a charger.  Finally, you can choose the colou of your Playfull, with blue and black, purple and silver, blue and silver and all silver versions available.

Video Quality

The Playfull shoots 1920 x 1080 pixel video at a 30p framerate—or to put it another way, in Full HD.  At that quality, the field measures the equivalent of 44 mm when compared to 24 x 36 mm, which is pretty narrow.  Your best bet with a camera like this is to film in 720/60p (1280 x 720 pixels at 60 fps) because not only do you get a wider field of view (33 mm), but you also capture twice as many frames per second, making for much more fluid video.  Of course, the resolution of each frame is less impressive than Full HD, but if your aim is to distribute video online via Facebook or YouTube, then the quality is still excellent.

Kodak Playfull test review exemple Kodak Playfull test review sensibilité
A 720p image with a 33 mm field of view  iIn low light, the subject is still visible despite the presence of a lot of noise.

When we tested the Playfull in the lab, we found that it managed to capture less detail than an AVCHD camcorder but was more or less comparable to other pocket camcorders.  Colours look a little saturated, but don't worry about that too much because the discrepancies are only obvious when you compare videos of the same scene shot on two different camcorders.  You can, however, expect to see a lot of electronic noise when light levels drop, although the subject remains visible at 3 lux, the equivalent of candle light.

There's no optical zoom, but the Playfull has a 4x digital zoom as well as digital image stabilisation.

The Playfull can take 5 Megapixel still photos, and although the quality doesn't stand up to a decent compact camera, they're good enough to use online or even for making a 4 x 6'' print if the lighting is right.  On full-sized camcorders, the still photo mode is often seen as a superfluous extra, but a lot more users take photos using pocket camcorders so having a decent implementation of this feature is a real bonus.

The Playfull records your video as MP4 files on an SD/SDHC/SDXC card, which isn't supplied.  You'll need to provide one, and make sure you go for at least a Class 4 card to keep up with the bitrate of MPEG-4.  You can then upload your files to the Internet using the USB cable and Kodak's favourite feature, the share button, which will send your video straight to Facebook or YouTube once you've set up your account.

One last thing: the Playfull doesn't have a line in for a mic or a line out for headphones.  Budding journalists with a video blog will almost certainly prefer the Kodak PlayTouch instead which costs very little more but which is a lot better!
3/5 Kodak Playfull Ze1 DigitalVersus 2011-09-14 00:00:00

Pros

  • Lightweight and ultra-tiny
  • USB cable supplied with power adaptor
  • HDMI and composite cables also included
  • Takes 5 Megapixel still photos

Cons

  • Small screen with a low resolution
  • Plastic accessories like the USB cable feel rushed
  • No line in for a mic
  • Lots of electronic noise when light levels fall

Conclusion

A smaller camcorder automatically implies a smaller screen, but that doesn't necessarily make it a good idea. The Playfull is definitely smaller than some of its rivals, but that doesn't make it any easier or more comfortable to hold. Overall, we'd be tempted to pay a little more to get something a lot better.

OUR SCORE 3/5
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