Last year, Pure Digital Technologies put out a simple plug-and-play video camera called the Point & Shoot Video Camcorder that featured a hideaway USB connector and built-in software that made viewing and sharing your videos incredibly easy. At the same time, RCA licensed the technology from Pure Digital and released its own version of the camera, marketing it under the name RCA Small Wonder EZ101 for the same price ($130). Both versions had similar flaws, and while they didn't score terribly well in our tests, they did show promise.
For 2007, both companies are shipping new models. Pure Digital is serving up the Flip and RCA has the Small Wonder EZ201. The two share much in common, but RCA has gone out of its way to differentiate its Small Wonder, giving it a white case, a more flexible and sharper LCD monitor, and an expansion slot for SD/MMC cards, allowing you to shoot and store much more video if you buy an optional memory card (out of the box, the cameras stores as much as 30 minutes of VGA-quality video (the manual calls it HQ or "best") on 512MB of internal flash memory. You can also opt to toggle down the video setting to LP or "good" quality and store as much as 60 minutes in the internal memory.
Like the earlier EZ101, the EZ201 is very lightweight (5 ounces) and compact enough to fit in a pocket. The 1.5-inch LCD screen flips completely out, making it easy to shoot yourself while watching yourself in the small screen. You can delete any undesirable clips right away, and the EZ201 has a video output, so you can view clips on any TV with a composite-video input (cable included). The unit is powered by two AA batteries and comes with a protective felt carrying case.
Currently, there are several inexpensive cameras on the market with the sole purpose of capturing MPEG-4 video, which is more compressed--and, thus, lower in quality--than the MPEG-2 video recorded by MiniDV camcorders. Video quality is steadily improving with these types of cameras, but it's really designed to be viewed in small windows (read: not at full screen) or on portable devices with small screens. Though the video is generally smooth, it's usually a little grainy and sometimes pixilated. In other words, it's a step up from the video quality of a camera phone, but it's on a par with what you'd record on a basic digital camera's Movie mode.
What sets this model apart from its competitors is the camera's internal software. Extend the USB connector and plug it into the USB port on your Windows PC (Windows 2000/XP or newer)--a viewer automatically pops up. The EZ101 worked with Macs (you had to manually install the software the first time you used it), but alas, this model does not ship with Mac software, which is disappointing. That said, if you do have a Windows PC, RCA's Memory Manager software is more robust than the software that shipped with last year's model. You can do basic edits to your clips, setting start and end points, and string several clips together to make a "movie." The EZ Grab option even lets you make a still image out of one of the frames from a video.
If you decide to e-mail a clip, the program automatically compresses the video to reduce the file size. Even short clips (from 20 to 30 seconds) result in nearly 1MB e-mail attachments, but the beauty of the software is that you can shoot a video and send it off in less than 5 minutes by pressing just a few buttons. Recipients simply click on the attachment and play it back using Windows Media Player.