RCA Small Wonder EZ210
Of all the budget minicamcorders released in 2008, RCA's Small Wonder Traveler EZ210 may be the oddest duck of the bunch. It has some things going for it: SD card support up to 8GB; a large, sharp 2.5-inch LCD display; and a "rugged" exterior that can presumably help the Traveler--now made by Audiovox--survive some short falls. It's also fairly affordable, with a street price of less than $100. However, it's somewhat bulky, rather ungainly looking, and suffers from a couple of other design issues.
Like other Small Wonder camcorders, this model uses two standard AA batteries instead of a slim lithium ion rechargeable battery found in the Creative Vado or Flip Video Mino. The 6.5-ounce Traveler EZ210 is also bigger because it houses the 2.5-inch LCD on its backside. Unlike that of other Small Wonder models, the Traveler's screen doesn't flip out. It's also worth mentioning that the operational buttons on this model are slightly bigger than those found on other minicamcorders. A button for snapping low-resolution still images (think cameraphone quality) has been added to the mix.
Perhaps the strangest design choice is the inclusion of a mysterious piece of detachable plastic at the top of the unit. Could it be to protect the lens if the camera should fall? Or is it sort of a modified lens hood that helps you avoid lens flare? Apparently, neither answer is correct. Rather, the manual refers to the piece as a "carrying handle." You can then attach a "neckstrap" to the handle but only a handstrap is included in the box. The company also includes a lens cover, which is thoughtful, but also a little odd. While we suppose the lens cap adds a degree of ruggedization that other minicamcorders don't have, chances are it will get in the way while you're shooting since it dangles from a cord you attach to the bottom of the camera. Of course, you can simply not use the cap.
That carrying handle poses another design problem. With the Small Wonder EZ200 and EZ205, the USB connector is cleverly hidden underneath the LCD. However, with this model, you have to take off the carrying handle to extend the USB connector arm. That's just annoying.
On a more positive note, the camcorder ships with a 2GB SD card that slips into a slot in the battery compartment--you have to remove the camcorder's front cover to get to both the batteries and memory card. You can buy an additional memory card to have on hand in case you fill up the camera with video on a longer vacation--or you can simply buy a much higher capacity card (up to 8GB) if you want to be able to store several hours of video. As it stands, 2GB stores about 60 minutes of video at the HQ high-quality setting. You can record at the lower quality Web Sharing setting, but we recommend sticking to HQ.
As with previous models, you can delete undesirable clips right away, and the EZ210 provides a video output and bundled cable, so you can view clips on any TV with a composite-video input. As noted, two AA batteries power the unit and it comes with an inexpensive felt protective carrying case, as well as a USB extender cable.
The camera's internal software, called RCA Memory Manager, only works on Windows 2000/XP or later-based computers. Sorry, Mac OS X users. Flip out the USB connector, plug it into the USB port--a viewer automatically pops up. The interface may not look superslick but it is straightforward and most users will have no problem figuring it out without opening a manual. You can choose to view your videos, edit, or share them. As for editing, you can do basic edits to your clips, setting start and end points, and string several clips together to make a "movie," which can then be shared or stored on your computer. Clips or movies saved to your computer can also be burned to DVD via your PC.
If you click on the Share tab, you can choose among uploading your video to YouTube, Box.net (another online video and photo sharing service), or e-mailing it to someone. If you decide to e-mail a clip, the program automatically compresses the video to reduce the file size. Recipients simply click on the attachment and play it back using Windows Media Player. It's worth noting that previously, it could take a minute or more to compress even a short 30-second clip. However, the process is much quicker now.
To upload your videos to YouTube or Box.net, you have to first sign up for a free account with a username and password. As part of the upload process, your video file is compressed even further compared to the file created for an e-mail attachment, so the quality isn't quite as good. However, viewing a streamed file online in a viewing box is arguably more convenient than opening a large e-mail attachment.
We weren't particularly impressed with the video quality of the Small Wonder EZ205 or EZ200; the Traveler EZ210 performed better. The step-down models had trouble with brightly lit outdoor scenes, but the EZ210 was able to compensate and adjust the lighting for a more correct exposure. Low-light performance was also decent and the video image--for a low-resolution (640 x 480) video anyway--appeared adequately sharp in most conditions.
In the end, the Traveler EZ210's fortune rises and falls with its design. We're tempted to write it off as a gaffe, but there are some redeeming qualities here, especially for older folks with shaky eyesight who appreciate a larger LCD, larger buttons, and a more rugged design, so you don't have to worry about the camcorder slipping out of your hands. We're not sure Audiovox plans to market this one toward senior citizens. But that's what we'd do.