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Samsung head cam: Good idea, needs improvement

A spy cam is something we all want, but it needs a few improvements.

A movie camera that attaches to your head. It's an idea that's intrigued me since I was about six.

Unfortunately, all of the bugs have yet to be worked out.

Head case with hat cam James Martin, CNET Networks

For the past two weeks, I've tried out the Samsung Sports Camcorder SC-X300L, a small video camera with a lens that straps onto your head. It also comes with a voice recorder and an MP3 player. It came out last year and now sells for $449. Since I had to review an electric motorcycle, I figured it was a good time to check it out.

The good parts:

First, it's a fairly cool-looking piece of hardware. The camera itself, in flat black, is about the size of a deck of cards, so it will slide into any pocket. You can film directly with the lens built into the camera or with the strap-on lens for your head for hands-free cinematography. It stores video to an SD card--a 2GB card holds about 22 minutes of video.

The audio and video quality are fairly good, particularly the audio. Most of the time, the camera was shoved into my pocket, but the sound remained fairly clean. The integrated MP3 player sounds good.

Positioning the lens takes practice. The first few movies I took were of the sky--the camera was set too far back on my head. Subsequently, I got some good shots of the ground five feet ahead of me. You can check what the head cam is seeing through the camera's built-in LCD, but when you're biking or running, that's not practical. Still, after about six tries I got the hang of it.

And when you do, it's a lot of fun. I used it to film my trip on an electric motorcycle and first-person account of a game of tag with my daughter. Additionally, I now have a documentary of my wife putting away groceries from Trader Joe's. An attempt to strap it to the cat failed, but it was worth the effort.

The small size of the camera (minus the head lens) means you can film fairly candidly. It takes the social stigma out of being the buffoon with a video camera.

Finally, it's quite stylish. See photo.

The bad:

One word, buttons. The device has nine--count 'em, nine--control buttons. That includes three buttons that can play video, a miniature joystick, and a menu button that doesn't seem to do a lot. This is a common problem with Samsung products. I use one of their MP3 players as a video voice recorder--it took about two months to get used to it. People who borrow it at the office have recorded themselves eating lunch (by accident) and inadvertently deleted interviews.

With the Sports Camcorder, I missed a few shots because I had it on play rather than record. I also inadvertently shut it off once.

With a Samsung device, do not leave the house until you have these functions committed to memory.

Second, the format. The video is recorded in some crazy Samsung format. You need to load their software to play it. It also makes file sharing a pain.

Third, resolution. It films in 720x480. Thus, the clips look OK on a PC, but it's not for every screen.

Fourth, no still camera. How am I supposed to take undercover shots at Michael Vick's dog -ighting camp?

But still a fun camera. Someday soon in the future, this category might take off.