Editor's note: Because of changes in the competitive landscape since the Creative Vado was reviewed, we revised the design rating down from a 9 to a 7 and the features rating from an 8 to a 7, resulting in a drop in the overall rating from 8.0 to 7.0.
Things are heating up in the mini camcorder space as Kodak, RCA, Flip Video, and now Creative all have HD models. Flip Video leads the market with its popular Mino HD camcorder, but Creative has done some interesting things with its Vado HD to make your choice that much harder.
For starters, the Vado HD retains many of the appealing design traits of the original Vado, including an ample 2-inch antiglare LCD (for recording and playback) with some small modifications. The Vado HD comes in black and its lens extends out from the body instead of being slightly recessed. The new model is a hair thicker and weighs slightly more (3.5 ounces vs. 3.3 ounces), and the mic has been shifted to the other side of the lens. More importantly, however, the Vado has something that neither the Kodak Zi6 nor the Flip Video MinoHD has: a mini HDMI connector for outputting 1080i video to your HDTV along with a standard composite AV output. Surprisingly, Creative also bundles an HDMI cable, though not a composite cable. Plus, it comes with 8GB of built-in memory vs. the MinoHD's 4GB. That allows you to store 2 hours worth of HD video.
In our review of the Vado, we knocked it a bit for its no-frills implementation, and Creative seems to have taken that to heart. Along with the HDMI cable, the company throws in a protective silicone skin and a more robust software package for tweaking your videos after you shoot them. Like the MinoHD, it captures H.264 encoded videos at 30 frames per second with a 1,280x720 CMOS sensor, but saves them as AVI instead of MPEG-4, and gives you about 2 hours of battery life from its removable rechargeable battery (Creative sells extra batteries in case you want to carry a backup). You can also shoot 640x480 VGA video if you want. It has a threaded tripod mount on the bottom; it helps to use a tripod to keep the camcorder steady and ensure your video isn't too jittery.
As we said with the Vado, the rubberized finish has a nice feel to it, but it's worth noting that it'll absorb stains more easily than a camera with a hard, shiny plastic finish. It's good that this model is black because when we accidentally touched the silver Vado with the tip of a pen, it left a small mark that was difficult to completely remove. One other minor gripe: we would have preferred if the silicone skin was completely clear or a dark color. It's kind of milky off white and doesn't look great on the camcorder; the device looks slicker naked. We hope that Creative will offer some additional color choices in the future.
Like its mini camcorder brethren, the Vado HD has a flip-out USB connector so you can plug it into your Windows or Mac system as if it were a thumbdrive. The unit recharges through USB. When you plug the camcorder into your Windows PC, the software automatically pops up and offers the options of playing videos, uploading them to YouTube (you need to input your account info the first time) or Photobucket, and after installing a plug-in, creating a movie and stringing together several video clips. All in all, we found the software simple to use and the interface elegant. There's not a ton of features--don't expect a full editing package--but there's enough to help you make a little more out of your videos without having to turn to another software package. One nice touch: it doesn't force you to install the software to simply play the video from the camcorder like the Minos do, which is convenient if you're viewing on a friend's system.
While the software is designed for Windows users, Mac users can manually drag and copy their videos from the camcorder to the computer and then upload them to YouTube or import them into iMovie or another editing package. In other words, the camcorder is geared toward Windows users first, but it is compatible with Macs.
Overall, we were pretty impressed with the video quality. To be clear, this is not a true HD video camcorder--you can only expect so much from a low-resolution sensor and a tiny no-zoom lens--but as with the MinoHD, the key is that you can view videos at full screen size on your computer and they remain relatively sharp. Creative seems to bump up the contrast, saturation, and sharpness so the video makes a better first impression, but it doesn't adjust exposure quite as quickly as the Mino HD, the white-balance is slightly off (for example, fluorescent light ends up with a slightly greenish hue), and you'll see more fringing around brightly lit objects. We also noticed the same slight judder as we did with the MinoHD.
Low light performance was pretty decent, though we felt the MinoHD had fewer artifacts and performed better. The audio sounds about the same: relatively clean, and as long as the speaker doesn't mumble, the tiny mic does a creditable job of picking up the sound.
After seeing the results of shooting with each camcorder--and assessing their feature sets--we have to say that it's pretty much a toss-up between the two similarly priced models. The Creative Vado HD has an edge in features, and maybe design, particularly if you want the larger LCD, while the MinoHD has a slight edge in video quality. It's a tough call.