Like many inexpensive competitors, the Kodak Zi6 is technically an HD camcorder the way a tomato is technically a fruit: it meets the definition, but doesn't deliver the experience. True, the Zi6 records video in 1,280x720-pixel resolution at both 30 frames per second and 60fps--720p resolution--which technically qualifies 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 and frame rate. Still, the 720p video it does capture is a step up from the 640x480-pixel VGA resolution video you typically find on competing sub-$200 direct-to-YouTube camcorders from Flip Video, RCA, and Creative.
That higher resolution comes at a price. To accommodate the larger 1/4.5-inch 1.6-megapixel sensor and generous 2.4-inch LCD, the Zi6 is bigger than most of its competitors, particularly the similarly priced Flip Video Mino. Weighing 5.6 ounces, it's not huge and it fits in most pockets, but if supercompact is what you're after, there are better alternatives.
Instead of a built-in or removable lithium ion rechargeable battery, Kodak opted to include a set of two rechargeable AA nickel metal hydride batteries and a charger. The upside is that in a pinch you can use readily available standard AA alkaline batteries to power the unit. The downside is you can't just charge the battery with the built-in USB connector like you can with some models, such as the Mino and Creative Vado. Also, a smaller lithium ion battery would probably have helped trim the size of Zi6 a bit.
Like other products in this category, the USB connector is of the flip-out variety. Cleverly, the button for the connector also serves as a tiny mirror for recording yourself. Another nice touch: a switch that toggles between standard and macro focus distance. We also appreciate that the Zi6 incorporates an expansion slot for SD cards. However, the onboard memory is a paltry 128MB--only 30MB of which is available for storage. That 30MB only lets you capture 36 seconds of video recorded at the highest quality (HD, 60fps). Extrapolating--since Kodak hasn't published any capacity information--that's about 50MB per minute, or 41 minutes of video on a typical 2GB card. The Zi6 will accept cards up to 32GB, but you must supply your own cards, whatever the capacity. Kodak includes an inexpensive neoprene carrying case, hand strap, video cables for output to a TV, and there's a threaded mount on the bottom of the unit in case you want to use a tripod.
As with all these mini camcorders, the Zi6 is meant to be easy to use--and for the most part, it is. Unfortunately, we have a few problems with the design. First, it takes some effort to get used to the controls. There's a joystick button flanked on either side by a video/playback button and stop/delete button. When the same button performs two functions it can be a little confusing for some people. and I found myself accidentally hitting the play button at times when I should have been clicking the joystick button. Second, the camcorder doesn't turn on when you plug the USB into your computer, the way the rest of the mini camcorders we've tested do. That's just a bit annoying. But the real kicker is there's no way to completely erase and format a memory card--or even delete more than one image/clip at a time--within the Zi6. Kodak expects you to do that when connected to the PC via its bundled software; that's a serious usability problem in general.
When in video recording mode, you can use the joystick to toggle down the setting to HD, VGA (640x480), and finally, still image capture. 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 distribution 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.