aThe Flip cam is dead. With the originator and leader of the pocket cam movement officially bowing out of the race with a swipe of the red pen from parent company Cisco, Kodak stands to inherit the throne. But is it a crumbling one? The rise of 720p and now 1080p video recording in smartphones and inexpensive point-and-shoot cameras has left pocket video cams a narrowing niche. Kodak will try to capitalize on its new-found status at head of the pack with the Playfull, a pint-sized cam that combines the stylish sensibilities of Flip’s MinoHD with the capabilities of its own popular Zi8, at a reasonable $149.95 price point.
Like the Zi8 before it, the Kodak Playful shoots Full HD 1080p video at 30 frames per second, 720p HD video at 30 or 60 frames per second, and WVGA if you’re really trying to save space. It also accepts SD cards up to 32GB, has a flip-out USB arm, and offers HDMI output for viewing video directly on a TV.
Despite the similarities, its bulky predecessor does retain a few one-ups on Playfull. There’s no microphone jack for using lapel mics, the battery is no longer removeable, and the lens focus has been fixed at 1 meter to infinity — no more macro mode for extreme close-ups. The screen has also shrunken necessarily to a paltry 1.5 inches and 70K pixels, down from 2.5 inches on the Zi8.
In consolation, the Playfull not only gets much more portable (which we’ll get to below), it also gets new in-camera features. The Playfull allows some limited in-camera editing, instant sharing on social networks including Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, and capture effects like black and white, sepia tone and “70’s film.”
Despite outstanding video quality and an arm-long list of features, the Zi8 drew criticism for its size, which looked downright awkward beside the Flips’ svelte MinoHD. In response, Kodak almost directly copies the dimensions and look of the MinoHD with the Playfull, which now measures only 1.6 inches wide, 3.9 inches tall, and 0.6 inches deep. For the record, that’s smaller than the Zi8 in every dimension, and even a bit narrower than the MinoHD. It also weighs just 95 grams, compared to 116 grams on the metal-framed MinoHD.
To match its new emphasis on style, Kodak has ditched its glossy old metal-fleck finishes for a matte grey that look almost like graphite, with an embossed dot-matrix pattern running down the left edge. The rear of the camera sports a glossier version of this grey, but the biggest deviation from the muted colors is actually around the lens. The tiny sensor comes surrounded by a quarter-sized ring of blue, orange and pink, a rather obvious attempt at making the otherwise utilitarian Playfull live up to its name.
The squared-off edges host a power button and indicator light on the right side, along with a flip-open door for a microUSB jack, and a standard ¼-inch tripod mount on the bottom. A second door on the left-hand side hides the SD card slot and a micro HDMI jack, while the entire top edge of the camera slides apart to release a full-size USB arm, hinged smartly on a flexible rubber wire rather than a stiff mechanical hinge.
Using the Ze1 is as simple as any camera in this class: Power it up and hit the center button to record. It also has dedicated buttons to go to review mode, shoot mode, settings, and trash, as well as a share button for tagging which social networks would you like any piece of content to appear on. The ring around the record button serves as a directional button for soft menus. The only part that will gave us any trouble was the left side door, which absolutely requires fingernails to open and requires about three forceful picks before it finally gives way and pops open.
We tested the Kodak Playfull side by side with the Zi8, a highly regarded workhorse we’ve pressed into service at trade shows as our pocket camcorder of choice. To say it had big shoes to fill is an understatement. As it turns out, The Ze1 might actually need a bigger pair.