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Kodak Zx1 HD Pocket Video Camera review: Kodak Zx1 HD Pocket Video Camera

Kodak Zx1 HD Pocket Video Camera

David Carnoy Executive Editor / Reviews
Executive Editor David Carnoy has been a leading member of CNET's Reviews team since 2000. He covers the gamut of gadgets and is a notable reviewer of mobile accessories and portable audio products, including headphones and speakers. He's also an e-reader and e-publishing expert as well as the author of the novels Knife Music, The Big Exit and Lucidity. All the titles are available as Kindle, iBooks, Nook e-books and audiobooks.
Expertise Mobile accessories and portable audio, including headphones, earbuds and speakers Credentials
  • Maggie Award for Best Regularly Featured Web Column/Consumer
David Carnoy
6 min read

Last year, Kodak was first out the gate with an HD minicamcorder, the Zi6. That model was pretty good and won some fans for its decent video quality and relatively large LCD display. This year, Kodak's sticking with much the same as far as the guts of the camcorder, but it's evolved to a more rugged design that's geared toward consumers with "action and adventure in mind."

7.6

Kodak Zx1 HD Pocket Video Camera

The Good

Relatively rugged, attractive design; captures video at 720p HD resolution; decent video; memory-card expansion slot; runs off AA batteries; bundled HDMI cable; zippier performance.

The Bad

No memory card; batteries don't recharge via USB connector; software isn't Mac compatible; poor connectivity.

The Bottom Line

While its video quality doesn't quite match up to that of the Flip Video MinoHD, the Kodak Zx1 does win points for its stylish, rugged design.

As we say about all these minicamcorders, while they may billed as HD models (the Zx1 also takes still images), they really can't be compared with a true HD camcorder that costs hundreds of dollars more. Like the Zi6, this model records video in 720p resolution at up to 60 frames per second, which may qualify 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.

The Zx1 incorporates the same 1/4.5-inch 1.6-megapixel sensor as the Zi6. However, according to Kodak, it has upgraded the processor in this model, which appears to make the camcorder zippier than its predecessor. It's also shrunk the LCD from 2.4 inches to 2 inches. But the Zx1 is still bigger than most of its competitors, particularly the Flip Video MinoHD. Even so, it's pretty compact and fits in most pockets.

It also weighs more, 5.3 ounces, which is partially because it uses standard AA batteries instead of a slim lithium ion battery; it includes a set of NiMH batteries and charger. Using AAs means that in a pinch you can use readily available standard AA alkaline batteries to power the unit. On the downside, you can't just charge the battery off the built-in USB connector like you can with some models, such as the Mino and Creative Vado HD. Kodak does offer an optional slim lithium ion battery, the KLIC-8000.

All in all, we like the look and feel of the Zx1. In addition to the black-with-red-highlights model we tested, Kodak offers the Zx1 in blue, pink, red, and yellow. The camcorder has some heft to it, which make it feel more substantial. Nice touches include brushed stainless steel on the back and the rubberized finish on the front, which helps you maintain a good grip on the device. Kodak bundles a wrist strap along with a lightweight carrying pouch.

The Zx1 is NEMA (National Electrical Manufacturers Association) rated IP43, which makes it dust, water, and ice resistant, but not waterproof or designed to operate in extreme cold. It is tough, but not supertough. Rubberized doors seal all the ports and we had no trouble shooting with the Zx1 in a light rain. Kodak gave us an optional rubber case (it was a little thicker than your typical iPhone case) to slip over our review sample that definitely made it much more drop resistant.

Like the Zi6, this model comes with no useful internal memory; of the 128MB built in, 30MB is ostensibly available for video and stills. But at roughly 1.5 megabytes per second for 60fps video, or 11 minutes of video per gigabyte of storage, internally it can only accommodate about 20 seconds. Nor does Kodak include an SD card in the box. The Zx1 accepts SDHC cards up to 32GB.

While the omission of a bundled memory card is somewhat forgivable, considering Kodak's kept the list price of the Zx1 down to $149.99, we're more critical of Kodak's failure to include a better USB connectivity solution. Like most of the competition, the Zi6 included a flip-out connector built into the device. However, this model requires a separate USB cable to connect the Zx1 to a computer, with a proprietary Micro-USB variant. The problem with this scheme is that you have the connector around to get your videos off the camcorder. Alternatively, you could pull the SD card out and slip it into a card reader, but you need that on hand to make the transfer.

As with all these minicamcorders, the Zx1 is designed to be easy to use--and for the most part, it is. That said, the button arrangement--and operation of the camcorder--takes a little getting used to. Ironically, that's because the way the buttons appear, operation looks more complicated than it really is. However, once you figure out which buttons do what, everything gets more intuitive. For instance, when you're in shooting mode, clicking either the right or left arrow button changes the recording mode from HD60 or HD (30fps) to VGA (640x480) to still image capture. In playback mode, those buttons correspond to fast forward/reverse.

We appreciate the four speeds of fast forwarding and rewinding and frame-by-frame advance and rewind. The 2-inch LCD is sharp and the sound plays back loud enough through the Zx1's little speaker as long as we crank up the volume (the mic seemed sensitive enough). No complaints there.

Aside from the flexibility of having an expansion slot for more memory and its durable design, the Zx1's biggest selling point is its video quality. To reiterate, the video isn't in the same league as more expensive, full-size HD camcorders from the likes of Canon, Sony, and Panasonic; but it's quality is pretty decent for this type of minicamcorder. We do think the video is a tad noisier than that of the Flip Video MinoHD, particularly in low-light conditions.

The biggest advantage to the higher resolution is that the image simply looks better when blown up. Typically, you only view these video files in a small window on your computer. However, with the Zx1's footage you can actually scale the video to full screen and it retains a degree of sharpness. Like we said, there's still a fair amount of noise, but it doesn't get badly pixelated, and it helps that Kodak now includes HDMI connectivity (cable included) for the best possible picture when showing off your videos on a TV. For TVs that don't have an HDMI connection, Kodak also throws in a standard composite cable--but that cable won't display HD resolution.

We thought the Zi6 offered reasonably accurate color and did pretty well in low light--though not as well as the Flip MinoHD. It also did a good job adjusting when we went from brightly lit environments to darker scenes and compensated for overly backlit subjects. In going to an upgraded processor, the Zx1 seems to a better job adjusting its exposure and autofocus more quickly. However, for rock-solid video with any of these models, you really have to keep the camera still and it helps to use a tripod (there's a threaded mount on the bottom of the unit).

Our comments regarding video quality refer to the highest video quality setting, which is HD60 (the 60 refers to 60 frames per second). 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 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.

What do you do after you've captured your video? Well, like most of these types of minicamcorders, Kodak builds some software into the unit that's automatically installed when you plug the Zx1's USB connector into your desktop or laptop PC. Kodak includes ArcSoft MediaImpression, which provides the usual shortcut upload to YouTube, as well as some editing features that let you trim your clips; adjust contrast, color, and brightness; and splice you clips into a cohesive "movie" complete with customized background music and titles. Alas, this software is Windows only. If you own a Mac, 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 upload them to YouTube easily enough) and then edit your video using iMovie.

Overall, we like the Zx1, think it represents a decent value at less than $150, and is definitely a better deal than the Zi6. While Kodak hasn't really done anything to improve the video quality, we think the Zx1's design--aside from the USB situation--marks a nice step forward for the company as it tries to distinguish its minicamcorder from the competition.

7.6

Kodak Zx1 HD Pocket Video Camera

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 7Performance 8Image quality 7