Kodak finds its inner YouTube

It's huge, but it has an attractive design and does HD

The Zi6 comes in black and pink
The Zi6 comes in black and pink. Kodak

Until under-thirtysomethings outgrow them, direct-to-YouTube camcorders will continue to flourish. And everyone wants a piece of the pie that was pretty much baked by Flip Video, with products like its latest Mino. Some efforts seem rather cynical and halfhearted like Samsung's recent attempt to remarket an old design into a market ruled by a different aesthetic. Others, like Kodak's just-announced Zi6, seem promising. But Kodak also misses the point in a few ways.

On one hand, there are a couple of ways in which veteran Kodak outclasses its younger competitors: 720p HD video compared with the typical 640x480-pixel VGA resolution and a 2.4-inch LCD. A nice touch, which shows its heritage, is a switch that toggles between standard and macro focus distances. As seems to define this product category, it has a built-in, flip-out USB connector. Cleverly, the button for the connector also serves as a tiny mirror for shooting yourself in the face. It also accepts SD cards, but that's to supplement its paltry 128MB of storage--only 30MB of which is available for video. I tried it, and that was 36 seconds. It might as well have no internal memory at all. Extrapolating--Kodak has not published any capacity information--that's about 50MB per minute, or 41 minutes of video on a typical 2GB card. Which is optional.

While most models are getting smaller, the Zi6 is relatively huge--approximately the size of the clunky RCA Small Wonder. The size is predictably necessary to accommodate the 1/4.5-inch 1.6-megapixel sensor and large LCD. But the Zi6 also runs off two AA batteries. Though they're rechargeable, and Kodak provides a charger, most camcorders like this charge off the USB connection while downloading.

Kodak plans to charge $179.95 for the Zi6 when it ships in September, and you'll have to tack on at least another $20 for a 2GB card, which brings the price up to $200. People buy these camcorders because they're cute, cheap and easy. They don't seem to care about the poor video quality, so I doubt they'll pay a premium for HD--and I haven't seen the video yet, so it could very well be poor HD. (We'll have a review soon.) And it doesn't do Mac, does the Mac incompletely--the whole direct-to-YouTube upload capability operates through Windows-only software--making it not-so-easy for lots of people in its target market. Furthermore, the extra cost of the card puts it in competition with a whole other class of products, such as the Aiptek Go-HD, which offer features like zoom lenses. It'll be quite interesting to see how the market responds to the Zi6.