It's reasonable to expect the new version of a product to be better than or at least as good as its predecessor. When it's not, it makes the new version that much more disappointing. That's unfortunately the case with the Kodak PlayTouch, also known by its model number, the Zi10.
The PlayTouch is the update to the Zi8, which was an excellent minicamcorder and one of the only models available with an external mic jack. The PlayTouch has a very similar feature set--including the mic jack--but has a 3-inch touch screen, a wider lens, and a smaller, more attractive body. The thing is, the touch screen apparently comes at the cost of some video quality, because the PlayTouch's movies simply aren't as good as the Zi8's or the waterproof Kodak PlaySport's. The touch screen does have a couple advantages that some users might value enough to overlook its video issues, though.
|Key specs||Kodak PlayTouch|
|Dimensions (HWD)||4.3 x 2.3 x 0.6 inches|
|Weight (with battery and media)||5.1 ounces|
|Storage capacity, type||128MB internal memory (20MB available); SD/SDHC memory cards|
|Resolution, sensor size, type||5 megapixels, 1/3.2-inch type CMOS|
|LCD size, resolution||3-inch touch-screen LCD, 230K dots|
|Lens||Fixed focus, f2.8 44mm at 1080p, 33mm at 720p (35mm equivalent)|
|File format (video, audio)||H.264 video, stereo AAC audio (.MP4)|
|Resolution (highest)||1,920x1,080 at 30fps (16Mbps, progressive)|
|Image stabilization type||Digital|
|Battery type, rated life||Lithium ion rechargeable; 100 minutes (720p @ 30fps)|
The PlayTouch is nice-looking and an improvement over the Zi8 in size and comfort. It feels better built, too, perhaps because of the metal casing. It's small and light enough to fit in a pants or jacket pocket, which is pretty much what you want in a minicamcorder. On top is a switch for moving from normal shooting into macro for close-ups as well as a jack for connecting headphones or an external stereo mic. Because of the jack placement there is a chance you'll end up with your mic's wire in your shot. I'd prefer the jack to be on the side, but it's not a deal breaker and I'd rather have the jack than not.
As typical of minicamcorders, the lens on front is left fairly unprotected, so you'll need to remember to keep it safe and clean. Next to the lens is the mono microphone, an IR receiver for an optional remote, and a record light that blinks red when you're recording. The light as well as all operational sounds can be shut off.
Below the lens is the battery compartment cover. Though having a removable battery is great, the cover makes a horrible creaking sound every time you adjust your grip. If you're not careful while shooting, the mic picks this up as a cracking or popping sound in your movies. The cause is two metal clips that help hold the cover in place when closed. Pushing the clips down into the body of the PlayTouch is enough to stop the noise, but it does make the cover slightly less secure.
Under a cover on the right side of the body below the power button is the SD/SDHC memory card slot; there is almost no internal memory available for storage. The left side has an AV jack as well as a door protecting Mini-HDMI and Micro-USB ports and a flip-out USB connector. Cables are included for each of these.
On back is a single Record/Select button and a 3-inch touch-screen LCD. The screen is bright, but Kodak adds an LCD Glare Shield feature to this model that sounds fancier than it is. It simply improves screen visibility in bright outdoor lighting by changing from a Normal picture to High Saturation or Black & White. The settings have no effect on the actual video, but they can help you see what you're shooting.
|Inputs/Outputs||stereo mic/Mini-HDMI, USB, headphone|
|Focus||3.3 feet to infinity; 6 inches macro (manual switch)|
|Color effects||Black-and-white, Sepia, High saturation, and 1970s film look|
|Lens cover (auto or manual)||None|
Because you hold the PlayTouch vertically for shooting video, you don't get the full 3-inch screen to frame your shot. Instead you're stuck using a section that's relatively small at roughly 2-inches diagonal. It's not bad, just a waste. The touch screen is responsive, though it does take about a second for the interface to react when changing settings. And while I'm on the subject of settings, there aren't a whole lot of things to adjust since these minicamcorders are made for point-and-shoot use. Along with the Glare Shield feature, you get three levels of screen brightness and an auto option for letting the device set it; gain control for the mic or mic jack; on/offs for its electronic image stabilization and face detection; a Safe mode that keeps videos and pictures from being edited, shared, or deleted; and Share for selecting what social networks and e-mail addresses are shown when you press the Share button in Playback mode. Lastly, there are four video recording modes to choose from: 1080p at 30fps, 720p at 60fps or 30fps, and WVGA. You can also shoot 5-megapixel stills.
On the main screen you get an icon for accessing the setting menu in addition to icons for going from shooting to playback, capturing stills or video, and turning on one of the three color effect modes. Again, the screen is responsive so it doesn't take multiple presses to select things. This comes in particularly handy when you want to show off your videos. For playing content, you get the full 3-inch screen and there's a mono speaker in front or you can connect headphones. Playback is straightforward with the onscreen controls, and a tap of the Share button lets you tag movies or photos for automatic uploading to sharing sites or sent off to selected e-mail addresses when you connect to a computer. The best part of having the touch screen is for editing, though. You can quickly trim clips, so cleaning up a movie before you share it is painless. (If only there were a way to select and join multiple clips into one movie on the device, but there isn't.) You can also slowly navigate through a video and extract individual frames as 2-megapixel photos.
As we've said many times before, pocket video cameras such as the PlayTouch can't compete with a full-fledged HD camcorder costing hundreds of dollars more. There are other factors that go into creating great video beyond high resolution. However, even in the world of minicamcorders, the PlayTouch's 1080/30p video quality is merely average. When played back on an HDTV, you'll notice compression artifacts, color banding, and aliasing. Color is good, but scenes seemed a bit contrasty. On top of that, moving subjects get a healthy amount of ghosting, and panning the camera results in noticeable judder. That's not uncommon to minicamcorders, but it's above average from the PlayTouch. Switching to the 720/60p setting helps some, but not as much as it should, plus the results are much softer than those of the 1080p. Using the digital zoom only makes things worse and it's a bit jumpy, too. Low-light performance is good, all things considered, with just a slight increase in noise, artifacting, and banding. Lastly, the built-in mono mic is decent, but you can always add your own for better results. Also, in quieter scenes you may hear a low-level hiss.
Easily sharing the video is equally as important as shooting it with these devices. Stored on the device's internal memory are ArcSoft's MediaImpression for Kodak software for sharing and the Kodak Share Button app. Connect the PlayTouch to a computer via USB and MediaImpression will start installing. Be careful with your clicking, though, as the software will ask whether you want to use it as your primary application for viewing multiple types of photos and video. Once installed it will allow you to e-mail clips and upload directly to YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and Vimeo (after you've entered your account information, of course). There's a basic editor for trimming and cutting along with adjustments for color, contrast, and brightness, dynamic lighting, and denoise. You can apply a handful of fun effects as well such as Watercolor, Negative, and Sketch. It can capture individual frames and also convert video for use on Apple TV, iPhone, and iPod as well as Sony's PlayStation Portable and PlayStation 3. The Kodak Share Button app is what handles uploading and e-mailing of photos and movies you tagged in the minicamcorder.
Unfortunately, one thing it can't do is work on a Mac: MediaImpression is Windows only. If you own a Mac, you can install the Kodak Share Button app, so you can at least take advantage of that capability of the PlayTouch. For everything else you can copy your video and still images to your computer by dragging and dropping the files from the camcorder as you would with any USB storage device and then edit your video using iMovie.
Honestly, the Kodak PlayTouch isn't a bad minicamcorder; it's just not a very good one. That's especially clear in comparison to past Kodak models. It seems like Kodak sacrificed video quality in the move to make a fun touch-screen minicamcorder. That's a shame, because the PlayTouch is a fun device (you know, minus the design irritations) with some features you can't get on other pocket video cameras.
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