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.
We appreciate the four speeds of fast forwarding and rewinding and frame-by-frame advance and rewind. The 2-inch LCD is sharp and the sound plays back loud enough through the Zx1's little speaker as long as we crank up the volume (the mic seemed sensitive enough). No complaints there.
Aside from the flexibility of having an expansion slot for more memory and its durable design, the Zx1's biggest selling point is its video quality. To reiterate, the video isn't in the same league as more expensive, full-size HD camcorders from the likes of Canon, Sony, and Panasonic; but it's quality is pretty decent for this type of minicamcorder. We do think the video is a tad noisier than that of the Flip Video MinoHD, particularly in low-light conditions.
The biggest advantage to the higher resolution is that the image simply looks better when blown up. Typically, you only view these video files in a small window on your computer. However, with the Zx1's footage you can actually scale the video to full screen and it retains a degree of sharpness. Like we said, there's still a fair amount of noise, but it doesn't get badly pixelated, and it helps that Kodak now includes HDMI connectivity (cable included) for the best possible picture when showing off your videos on a TV. For TVs that don't have an HDMI connection, Kodak also throws in a standard composite cable--but that cable won't display HD resolution.
We thought the Zi6 offered reasonably accurate color and did pretty well in low light--though not as well as the Flip MinoHD. It also did a good job adjusting when we went from brightly lit environments to darker scenes and compensated for overly backlit subjects. In going to an upgraded processor, the Zx1 seems to a better job adjusting its exposure and autofocus more quickly. However, for rock-solid video with any of these models, you really have to keep the camera still and it helps to use a tripod (there's a threaded mount on the bottom of the unit).
Our comments regarding video quality refer to the highest video quality setting, which is HD60 (the 60 refers to 60 frames per second). The lower VGA setting is useful if you're low on memory (files sizes are much smaller when you capture in lower resolution) or know you're going to be compressing your video for Web or e-mail distribution. That said, it's always better to capture the best possible image and keep that as your "master" and work down from there.
What do you do after you've captured your video? Well, like most of these types of minicamcorders, Kodak builds some software into the unit that's automatically installed when you plug the Zx1's USB connector into your desktop or laptop PC. Kodak includes ArcSoft MediaImpression, which provides the usual shortcut upload to YouTube, as well as some editing features that let you trim your clips; adjust contrast, color, and brightness; and splice you clips into a cohesive "movie" complete with customized background music and titles. Alas, this software is Windows only. If you own a Mac, you can copy your video and still images to your computer by dragging and dropping the files from the camcorder as you would with any USB storage device (and upload them to YouTube easily enough) and then edit your video using iMovie.
Overall, we like the Zx1, think it represents a decent value at less than $150, and is definitely a better deal than the Zi6. While Kodak hasn't really done anything to improve the video quality, we think the Zx1's design--aside from the USB situation--marks a nice step forward for the company as it tries to distinguish its minicamcorder from the competition.