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Toshiba Camileo S20 review: Toshiba Camileo S20

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To both camcorder users and lovers of the double entendre, size matters. Many people just don't want the burden of carrying a thundering great video device around with them while they're out and about, and the Toshiba Camileo S20 is a direct answer to this issue. It's a roughly smart-phone-sized product that can record video in high definition at up to 1080p. Toshiba has also managed to keep the price small -- at just £95, the S20 is one of the cheapest camcorders we've seen.

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6.5

Toshiba Camileo S20

The Good

Small, slimline design;. large 3-inch LCD screen;. good selection of accessories supplied.

The Bad

poor video performance;. awkward menu navigation;. certain settings reset to default when powered down.

The Bottom Line

The Toshiba Camileo S20 is a great piece of design for a very attractive price, but don't let that blind you to that fact this is a budget camcorder with performance limitations that reflect its price tag.

Shoot from the hip

The Toshiba Camileo S20 is a camcorder that likes to have its cake and eat it. It's cheap, but it also offers 1080p recording. It's easy to use and also easy to carry. Build-wise, the S20 manages to keep things small and slim, while retaining the benefits of a pistol-grip design, including a large (3-inch) fold-out LCD screen. Most other pocket camcorders opt for a candybar form factor and, while this has its own benefits, there's no denying the S20's alternative is more appealing to look at. Its body is square yet curved, glossy black with brushed-metal edging (though other colours are available) and houses a discrete, shorn-off lens on the front. The fold-out screen accounts for roughly a third of the device's thickness. Open it out and the S20 looks almost comically thin.

The device comes with a very small amount of its own usable memory (around 100MB), but you can expand this yourself with SD/SDHC cards of up to 32GB. An unexpectedly sizeable smattering of accessories is provided in the box, including a carry case, an international power adaptor with interchangeable plugs, an HDMI cable and even a mini tripod.

Basic control of the device is very straightforward -- point at the subject, press the red button once to start and again to stop. There are a few options and settings to play with, some of which are accessible via the system menus and others which have their own dedicated buttons on the body of the unit. This arrangement is actually a little confusing. A selection of small, fiddly buttons along the back edge includes one that cycles the device from Full HD (1080p) to WVGA (480p). Oddly, the button completely ignores the device's other two resolution settings (720p and VGA), which are only selectable via the menus. Another button switches the front-mounted video lamp on and off, while a three-directional rocker controls the 4x digital zoom.

The buttons along the edge of the S20 are small and fiddly. They also have dual functions, which makes operation even trickier. 

Matters are complicated further by the fact that most of the buttons have to double up their duties when it comes to navigating the menus. The zoom rocker handles up and down navigation. Left and right movement is catered for by the resolution and video light buttons. Presumably there was no room for a dedicated five-way mini joystick, and a touchscreen would have bumped the price up. The S20's compromise certainly isn't ideal, but it's something you'll end up getting used to over time.

A worse crime is the fact that the S20 'forgets' certain settings -- the image stabiliser, for one -- whenever you switch the unit to off or standby. This is a highly irritating trait, forcing you to wrangle your way through the annoying interface with unnecessary frequency.

Quality control

Unfortunately, the S20's flaws don't end there. Toshiba must have crowbarred a very small CMOS image sensor into the S20's svelte casing, and this shows in the image quality. Even in bright daylight and at full-quality settings, the S20 struggles to find the detail required to fill the large number of pixels. What you end up with is a blocky, fuzzy, over-saturated picture with a low frame rate (30fps) that makes detail break down even further when the camera (or the subject) is in motion.

The S20's compact form factor means there's only room for a very small sensor, and this results in poor image quality.

The 720p setting doesn't help matters much. It's more or less a lower-resolution version of what you get at 1080p -- the frame rate remains fixed at 30fps. Only at the wide 480p setting does the frame rate increase to 60fps but, by this point, you have lost high definition altogether. Interior and low-light performance is not good, even with the video lamp switched on. Without copious amounts of sunlight, the S20 records dark, grubby pictures where digital noise vastly overwhelms detail.

Photos aren't exactly brilliant but, at either native 5-megapixel or the interpolated 16-megapixel settings, results are probably decent enough for most casual snappers.

Conclusion

We like the Toshiba Camileo S20 because we like cool-looking gadgets, and this tiny, shiny video cam is nothing if not cool-looking. But make no mistake, despite its classy design, this is a budget product at its heart, and picture quality will reflect this. It's fun to use, easy to carry and highly affordable but the Camileo S20 is a camcorder with strictly limited abilities on the performance side.

Edited by Emma Bayly