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Kodak Playsport Zx3: Hands on With the Rugged Pocket Camcorder

The Kodak Playsport Zx3
The market is quickly becoming saturated with cheap HD camcorders that easily slip into your pocket or purse. It really all began with Pure Digital's Flip video camera in 2006, but, since then, companies have been bumping up the resolution and increasing storage capacity until they reach the technological limits of the gadgets. Now, manufacturers really have two options if they want to stand out in such a crowded category: be dirt cheap or be gimmicky. The Kodak Playsport Zx3 is essentially both, and is courting a young, active audience.

Kodak PlaySport

Tough Enough

The main selling point of the Playsport is its rugged, water-proof body. The back of the device is covered in a soft-touch plastic that is both easy to grip and easy to dry (as we discovered after we dunked it in the sink). In fact, we were quite impressed with the camera's water-tight seal. Although we never got a chance to test out its depth limit of ten feet, we did leave it sitting in our bathroom sink for over 15 minutes, while recording, and it suffered no ill effects. The Playsport even has a dedicated underwater recording mode, although it does nothing to actually improve the water resistance or quality of the recording. Instead, it simply adds warmth to the image.

With nothing more than cosmetic damage, the Zx3 survived our ruggedness test, which consisted of dropping it from shoulder height to a dirt surface and then to a sidewalk, and stepping (but not stomping) on it. Still, we're concerned about the lens, as it has no protective cover, and could easily sustain damage if used for the sorts of outdoor activities that Kodak seems to be endorsing.

All Things Being Equal

In a perfect world, all HD camcorders would produce the same (great) quality video. Sadly, life is not perfect or even simple. Even though the images produced by the Playsport are high-def, they're not of a particularly stellar quality. At 1080p, videos can often be noisy and lose detail. Additionally, almost any motion will produce a noticeable skew as the lens passes by straight lines. At 720p, these issues are reduced to tolerable levels, but are not completely eliminated. Being a tiny camcorder, the Playsport's videos are extremely susceptible to shakes and jitters. Kodak includes an electronic image stabilization feature, but it did little to cover up how much our over-caffeinated hands were trembling. These are relatively minor complaints, however, and apply to most super affordable camcorders.

Not So Best of the Rest

Considering the price, $149, the Kodak Playsport should be an obvious contender for your camcorder cash. The video quality is not much worse than that of any other $100-to-$150 digital camcorder, and the water-proof gimmick is actually more useful than you'd imagine. Sadly, we were extremely disappointed with the controls, which were squishy to the touch and too unresponsive. We also wish that the menu (or even the manual) more clearly identified some of the features and functions. On the plus side, Kodak was kind enough to include just about every cable you could possibly need, including an HDMI adapter for plugging straight into your HDTV.

If you're on a strict budget and looking for a rugged or waterproof camera, it's hard to argue against the Playsport -- as long as you're prepared for some annoyances in the controls and interface. The Zx3 is a unique entry on the market, but, if you're not particularly concerned with your camera's ability to survive a torrential downpour, it's worth checking out some competitors, which may offer better image quality.

Sample Video

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