Last year, Kodak was first out the gate with an HD minicamcorder, the Zi6. That model was pretty good and won some fans for its decent video quality and relatively large LCD display. This year, Kodak's sticking with much the same as far as the guts of the camcorder, but it's evolved to a more rugged design that's geared toward consumers with "action and adventure in mind."
As we say about all these minicamcorders, while they may billed as HD models (the Zx1 also takes still images), they really can't be compared with a true HD camcorder that costs hundreds of dollars more. Like the Zi6, this model records video in 720p resolution at up to 60 frames per second, which may qualify it as an HD camcorder, but a lot of factors go into creating an image, not just a CMOS sensor capable of capturing an image at a certain resolution.
The Zx1 incorporates the same 1/4.5-inch 1.6-megapixel sensor as the Zi6. However, according to Kodak, it has upgraded the processor in this model, which appears to make the camcorder zippier than its predecessor. It's also shrunk the LCD from 2.4 inches to 2 inches. But the Zx1 is still bigger than most of its competitors, particularly the Flip Video MinoHD. Even so, it's pretty compact and fits in most pockets.
It also weighs more, 5.3 ounces, which is partially because it uses standard AA batteries instead of a slim lithium ion battery; it includes a set of NiMH batteries and charger. Using AAs means that in a pinch you can use readily available standard AA alkaline batteries to power the unit. On the downside, you can't just charge the battery off the built-in USB connector like you can with some models, such as the Mino and Creative Vado HD. Kodak does offer an optional slim lithium ion battery, the KLIC-8000.
All in all, we like the look and feel of the Zx1. In addition to the black-with-red-highlights model we tested, Kodak offers the Zx1 in blue, pink, red, and yellow. The camcorder has some heft to it, which make it feel more substantial. Nice touches include brushed stainless steel on the back and the rubberized finish on the front, which helps you maintain a good grip on the device. Kodak bundles a wrist strap along with a lightweight carrying pouch.
The Zx1 is NEMA (National Electrical Manufacturers Association) rated IP43, which makes it dust, water, and ice resistant, but not waterproof or designed to operate in extreme cold. It is tough, but not supertough. Rubberized doors seal all the ports and we had no trouble shooting with the Zx1 in a light rain. Kodak gave us an optional rubber case (it was a little thicker than your typical iPhone case) to slip over our review sample that definitely made it much more drop resistant.
Like the Zi6, this model comes with no useful internal memory; of the 128MB built in, 30MB is ostensibly available for video and stills. But at roughly 1.5 megabytes per second for 60fps video, or 11 minutes of video per gigabyte of storage, internally it can only accommodate about 20 seconds. Nor does Kodak include an SD card in the box. The Zx1 accepts SDHC cards up to 32GB.
While the omission of a bundled memory card is somewhat forgivable, considering Kodak's kept the list price of the Zx1 down to $149.99, we're more critical of Kodak's failure to include a better USB connectivity solution. Like most of the competition, the Zi6 included a flip-out connector built into the device. However, this model requires a separate USB cable to connect the Zx1 to a computer, with a proprietary Micro-USB variant. The problem with this scheme is that you have the connector around to get your videos off the camcorder. Alternatively, you could pull the SD card out and slip it into a card reader, but you need that on hand to make the transfer.
As with all these minicamcorders, the Zx1 is designed to be easy to use--and for the most part, it is. That said, the button arrangement--and operation of the camcorder--takes a little getting used to. Ironically, that's because the way the buttons appear, operation looks more complicated than it really is. However, once you figure out which buttons do what, everything gets more intuitive. For instance, when you're in shooting mode, clicking either the right or left arrow button changes the recording mode from HD60 or HD (30fps) to VGA (640x480) to still image capture. In playback mode, those buttons correspond to fast forward/reverse.