The Kodak Zx1 is a pocketable HD camcorder for the snowboarder set, with a slick, durable design to go along with its decent performance.
One of the hits of this year’s CES (the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas), the Kodak Zx1 is a welcome new “weather-resistant” addition to the HD pocket camcorder realm. It offers a lot of what we like about Kodak’s Zi6 pocket camcorder in a slicker, more durable frame.
Like the Zi6, the Zx1 has the ability to shoot 720p high-def video at either 30 or 60 frames per second and carries the very reasonable price of $150 (as of 4/13/2009). It also shares some other nice features with the Zi6, such as the ability to shoot 3-megapixel stills (they look better than your standard cell-phone camera’s shots, but not by much); expandable storage via a covered SDHC card slot on the side (alas, there’s no on-board storage; you must use an SDHC card); the ability to flip between those 30-fps and 60-fps rates; recording standard-def VGA video, as well; and recording all three video modes as H.264-encoded .mov files.
But the Kodak Zx1 isn’t just the Zi6’s guts in a smaller, ruggedized frame. First off, gone is the flip-out USB connector, which makes sense because it would probably snap off during your first snowboarding wipe-out. Instead, you must attach an included USB cable to the Zx1 to offload videos onto your computer.
Lessening the sting for flip-out-USB fans is the addition of an HDMI-out port and cable; the Zx1 is the only HD pocket camcorder we’ve tested other than the Creative Vado HD that has HDMI-out, so it earns a couple of brownie points there.
Also gone from the Zi6’s bag of tricks is the landscape/macro mode toggle. As such, the Zx1 doesn’t handle extreme close-ups as well as the Zi6 does, but video quality in other areas has actually improved when compared with its pocketable HD sibling.
For one, white balance has improved a bit. In our test shots, the Zi6 sometimes cast a bluish hue over white backgrounds, but the Zx1 shot brighter, whiter video when we put it through the same paces. Kodak also seems to have fixed the color-oversaturation problems we sometimes saw in the Zi6, but video wasn’t as sharp as the footage you’ll see with our current video-quality favorite, the Creative Vado HD. Video also looks a bit darker than most other pocket HD camcorders, even in bright indoor lighting.
Note: For each of these embedded clips, please click the “HD” icon in the bottom right corner to see the best representation of the high-quality source video.
The Zx1 also performed better in low light than the Zi6; that said, footage wasn’t as smooth, and a bit choppier than our best low-light performer, Pure Digital’s Flip MinoHD.
When its 2X digital zoom is zoomed out to its widest potential, the Zx1 is also in line with most other pocket camcorders. It offers the same wide-angle lens as the Zi6 and rivals such as the Flip MinoHD, but falls well short of the comparatively super-wide-angle Creative Vado HD.
Perhaps the most noticeable difference when compared with the Zi6–and with every other pocket camcorder–is the Zx1’s weak microphone. The Kodak Zi6 has a great on-board microphone–the best we’ve heard in terms of volume and clarity–but the Zx1’s microphone is at the bottom of the pack. It had trouble picking up softer sounds in our standardized audio testing, perhaps because the mic is now on the top of the Zx1, rather than on the front of the device.
The Zx1 looks great and feels great in the hand; it kind of resembles a Nokia candy-bar phone on human growth hormones. It’s far less bulky than the Zi6, with a hard plastic front and a slick, brushed-metal back. Under its 2-inch LCD screen, which handled all lighting conditions well, are control buttons cut out of the metal: a record button in the center, a four-way directional pad to control its 2X digital zoom and frame-rate options, and four dedicated buttons for deleting clips, starting and stopping playback, and jumping back into recording mode. Helping its looks are its various color schemes: You can buy the Zx1 in red, blue, pink, yellow, or black.
What’s more, you can also swap out the Zx1’s faceplate with a second “designer” battery cover included with the camcorder. Also in the box are a nice offering of accessories: an HDMI cable, a USB cable for offloading your clips to a computer, a plug-in battery charger (with two rechargeable AA Ni-MH batteries), a wrist strap, and a soft carrying pouch.
At $150, the Zx1 is a worthy sub-$200 competitor to HD pocket camcorders such as the Sony Webbie HD MHS-PM1 and Kodak’s own Zi6, and it offers great frame-rate control and expandable-memory options for the price. If you’re a snowboarder, an active YouTuber, or just a videographer with a really bad case of the drops, it’s a nice option for your pocket-camcorder needs. However, if you’re after the best video quality we’ve seen in a device like this, we’d pick the Creative Vado HD or the Flip MinoHD–but both of those devices cost nearly $100 more.