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With the success of the Flip Video Ultra, a lot more companies are taking a hard look at the straight-to-Web mini camcorder market. Enter Creative, jumping into the fray with its superslim $99 Vado Pocket Video Cam. The Vado, which includes 2GB of internal memory and a removable rechargeable battery, offers features and specs that are very similar to competing models from Flip Video and RCA. While it's stylistically on par with Flip Video's higher-end Mino, it's significantly less expensive.
Like its mini camcorder brethren, the Vado doesn't use tapes, instead recording MPEG-4 AVI video to the device's 2GB internal flash memory--and it's designed to be very easy to use. The memory fits 60 minutes of video at the best setting, HQ, and 2 hours at the lower quality SP setting (the rechargeable battery gives you about 2 hours of shooting). Because the video isn't all that great to begin with--the resolution is 640x480 pixels, like most of its competitors--you should probably stick with the HQ setting. But if you've got to shoot a longer event and don't have a computer nearby to transfer your videos to, we can see where the lower setting might come in handy.
Overall, we liked the design of the Vado, which currently comes in silver and pink; Creative plans to add additional colors in the future. At a little over a half an inch thick and about 4 inches tall, the Vado is about the same size as a folded-up Motorola Razr cell phone and truly pocket-friendly. There's a threaded tripod mount on the bottom and an ample-size 2-inch antiglare LCD (for recording and playback) on the back that delivers a fairly sharp picture and doesn't wash out completely in direct sunlight. The rubberized finish of the camera 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. For instance, we accidentally touched the Vado with the tip of a pen, and it left a small mark that was difficult to completely remove.
Like the Flip Video and RCA's Small Wonder camcorders, the Vado has a built-in USB connector so you can plug it into your Windows or Mac system as if it were a thumbdrive. The unit recharges through USB.
Under Windows, when you connect to your PC, the Vado automatically launches the built-in Vado Central software, which lets you easily copy the video to your computer, or, by tapping an onscreen button, to quickly find your way to YouTube or Photobucket to post your videos online. Alternatively, you can drag-and-copy the videos to your hard drive using Windows File Explorer. Creative also counts Box.net, another online video-sharing service, as a partner for storing and distributing your videos to friends and family.
Unfortunately, the Vado Central software is Windows only--Mac users must manually drag-and-copy files and there are no quick links to video-sharing services. On Macs, videos play back in QuickTime so long as you install the Xvid decoder plug-in.
Some will appreciate how simple and rudimentary Vado Central is, but we think it's a bit too basic compared with what you get with the Flip Video camcorders. The biggest hole is the absence of any sort of editing software that lets you string several video clips together or single out a still image from a clip. In contrast, Flip Video models include these features along with a stripped-down version of the Muvee program, which automatically edits a set of clips into a "movie," complete with background music (if you so choose). Flip Video also has more sharing options, including video greeting card-style e-mail options. They can be a little cheesy, but it's nice to have a somewhat more robust software package on board, especially if you're the type of novice user some of these cameras are marketed toward. Perhaps, however, Creative is going for a younger, more tech-savvy audience who's used to using its own inexpensive--or free--video-editing programs. Be warned, though, that if you do want to edit the video from the Vado, as with video from its competing models, you'll have to troll the Web for appropriate transcoding software in order to get software like iMovie to import the files.
One other small gripe: The Vado doesn't come with any accessories. Excluding an audiovisual cable (yes, there's an AV output) for connecting your camera to a TV is forgivable. But not including some sort of protective case, even a cheap one, isn't. A little felt pouch, such as the ones that come with the Flip or RCA Small Wonder, isn't too much to ask for, is it? An optional protective pouch will run you $14.99, a spare battery $14.99, a charging station $29.99, and an AV cable $9.99. Considering we've seen the Vado selling for less than $90, we understand the corner-cutting measures, but understand you're getting just the camera and nothing but the camera.
Missing frills and features aside, the real question is whether the Vado matches up to the Flip Video models in terms of video quality. The answer is: not quite. The Vado performs well enough--the video certainly meets our minimum criteria for Web-only video--but the Flip Video Ultra's footage looks sharper, the exposures brighter, and the colors more vibrant. Also, low-light performance on the Flip is significantly better. Finally, the mic on the Flip seems a little more sensitive.
In the final analysis, Creative has done a nice job with its first entry into the straight-to-Web mini camcorder market. The small chassis and inclusion of a rechargeable battery are big pluses, and the ultralow price tag keeps it from competing with decent point-and-shoot cameras. But if you want better video quality and more robust software features in the box, so to speak, the Flip Ultra or Mino are better choices for your straight-to-Web video.