Editor's note: Because of changes in the competitive landscape since the Creative Vado was reviewed, we revised the design rating down from a 9 to a 7 and the features rating from an 8 to a 7, resulting in a drop in the overall rating from 8.0 to 7.0.
Things are heating up in the mini camcorder space as Kodak, RCA, Flip Video, and now Creative all have HD models. Flip Video leads the market with its popular Mino HD camcorder, but Creative has done some interesting things with its Vado HD to make your choice that much harder.
For starters, the Vado HD retains many of the appealing design traits of the original Vado, including an ample 2-inch antiglare LCD (for recording and playback) with some small modifications. The Vado HD comes in black and its lens extends out from the body instead of being slightly recessed. The new model is a hair thicker and weighs slightly more (3.5 ounces vs. 3.3 ounces), and the mic has been shifted to the other side of the lens. More importantly, however, the Vado has something that neither the Kodak Zi6 nor the Flip Video MinoHD has: a mini HDMI connector for outputting 1080i video to your HDTV along with a standard composite AV output. Surprisingly, Creative also bundles an HDMI cable, though not a composite cable. Plus, it comes with 8GB of built-in memory vs. the MinoHD's 4GB. That allows you to store 2 hours worth of HD video.
In our review of the Vado, we knocked it a bit for its no-frills implementation, and Creative seems to have taken that to heart. Along with the HDMI cable, the company throws in a protective silicone skin and a more robust software package for tweaking your videos after you shoot them. Like the MinoHD, it captures H.264 encoded videos at 30 frames per second with a 1,280x720 CMOS sensor, but saves them as AVI instead of MPEG-4, and gives you about 2 hours of battery life from its removable rechargeable battery (Creative sells extra batteries in case you want to carry a backup). You can also shoot 640x480 VGA video if you want. It has a threaded tripod mount on the bottom; it helps to use a tripod to keep the camcorder steady and ensure your video isn't too jittery.
As we said with the Vado, the rubberized finish has a nice feel to it, but it's worth noting that it'll absorb stains more easily than a camera with a hard, shiny plastic finish. It's good that this model is black because when we accidentally touched the silver Vado with the tip of a pen, it left a small mark that was difficult to completely remove. One other minor gripe: we would have preferred if the silicone skin was completely clear or a dark color. It's kind of milky off white and doesn't look great on the camcorder; the device looks slicker naked. We hope that Creative will offer some additional color choices in the future.
Like its mini camcorder brethren, the Vado HD has a flip-out USB connector so you can plug it into your Windows or Mac system as if it were a thumbdrive. The unit recharges through USB. When you plug the camcorder into your Windows PC, the software automatically pops up and offers the options of playing videos, uploading them to YouTube (you need to input your account info the first time) or Photobucket, and after installing a plug-in, creating a movie and stringing together several video clips. All in all, we found the software simple to use and the interface elegant. There's not a ton of features--don't expect a full editing package--but there's enough to help you make a little more out of your videos without having to turn to another software package. One nice touch: it doesn't force you to install the software to simply play the video from the camcorder like the Minos do, which is convenient if you're viewing on a friend's system.