Creative Vado Pocket Video Cam
Wednesday, June 11, 2008; 4:19 PM
In name recognition and sales,Pure Digital's Flip Video devicesare as dominant in the YouTube-friendly pocket-camcorder world as the iPod is among audio players. But on paper, Creative's Vado Pocket Video Cam trumps the Flip models on several counts: It's thinner and cheaper, and it holds more footage.
In the real world, while the $100 Vado has features comparable to those of the $180, 60-minuteFlip Mino, and a bigger display, the Creative device's video quality clearly isn't as good. That might not be a deal-breaker for price-savvyYouTube moviemakers, however, because the Vado has a lot of other things going for it.
Just like the Flip models, the Vado is a tiny, bare-bones camcorder with a flip-out USB connector; you use it to upload your clips to YouTube or Photobucket, with one click. High-def fanatics, check your 1080p dreams at the door: This iPod-size device is built for sticking in your pocket or purse, shooting video on the go, and then easily uploading your low-quality footage. On that front, mission accomplished.
The Vado's 2-inch screen is a bit bigger than that of the Flip Mino. Contrast is sharp, colors are bright, and the display is vibrant enough for you to see what you're shooting and to play back videos in bright sunlight. But that impressive LCD is both a blessing and a curse, as videos look much better on the device than they do after you upload them to YouTube. After upload, I noticed much more pixelation and murkiness than I expected. The Flip series remains a better option in terms of video quality.
Operating the Vado is pure simplicity. The four-way directional pad below the device's display lets you zoom in or out by pressing up or down, and the left and right directional buttons scroll through video clips during playback. A button in the middle of the D-pad starts and stops recording. One side button switches between the recording and playback modes, and another button below it deletes clips. Holding down both of those buttons takes you to the menu screen, which offers options that the Flips don't have (I'll get to that in a second).
To connect the Vado to a PC, you just flip out the camera's built-in USB connector. Plugging the Vado into any Windows computer's USB port (the device's on-board media-management software doesn't work on a Mac) launches the simple Vado Central app, which lets you upload clips to YouTube or Photobucket in a matter of clicks. In my testing, the Vado was a bit quicker in converting and uploading clips to YouTube than older Flip models were. (Plugging the Vado into a PC also charges the unit.)
The Vado's 640-by-480-resolution video quality isn't exactly terrible, but the Flips still outshine it. Though the Vado is certainly good for quick-and-dirty clips, make sure to keep the lights on wherever you shoot. Lacking white balance and additional lighting, the Vado won't work well in a dark room.
Not all of the Vado's extra features are as impressive as they seem on paper. Like the new Flip Mino, the Vado can zoom in on subjects, but its 2X digital-only zoom is choppier than the Mino's.
You can also toggle between two antiflicker modes on the Vado, one at a 50-Hz refresh rate and the other at a 60-Hz refresh rate. The latter is especially good for capturing footage of a monitor screen or television; you can match the refresh rate of the monitor you're shooting to avoid producing the scrolling lines that sometimes result when you videotape content on a TV or monitor.
The Creative camera has the ability to toggle between standard-quality and higher-quality (HQ) video modes; in standard-quality (SP) mode, the Vado stores up to 2 hours of video on its 2GB flash drive, while in high-quality mode, the device holds 1 hour of footage. But here's the thing: I didn't see much of a difference in the quality of my YouTube clips recorded in each mode. You may as well use SP mode at all times and capture 2 hours' worth of mediocre-looking clips.
The Vado also doesn't feel as sturdy as the Flip models. Its plastic body and buttons, though lightweight, suggest that it might not be able to withstand a year or so of punishment. In addition, you can charge the device only via a USB connection to your computer, not with a standard electrical plug.
Not everyone will love the flip-out design of the Vado's USB connector, either; though the rubberized connector's flexibility will delight some users, plugging the very short connector into a desktop's USB ports makes the Vado dangle awkwardly in midair. The connector was clearly built with a laptop in mind, and it works great in that capacity.
I have another beef with the A/V-out jack on the top of the Vado. Though it's a nice touch, Creative doesn't include the required cable with the device. The cable is sold separately, of course, but information about it was hard to find on the company's Web site. A headphone jack would have been much more useful; the audio recorded on the device is decent, but gauging how well the camcorder is picking up audio is difficult without listening to it through headphones.
Despite the Vado's drawbacks, it's a really well-priced device that's good for capturing off-the-cuff video clips. If video quality is important to you, opt for the Flip Mino. If you want to save $80, Creative's pocket camcorder is a serviceable alternative.