Arriving on the coat-tails of Flip Video's devices and Kodak's own Zi8, the PlaySport is one of the most pocketable mini-camcorders we've seen. It's roughly the same size as a BlackBerry phone and has one major defining feature: it's waterproof down to 3m. It's available now for around £115.
Sink or swim?
The idea is that, if you're the outdoors type, you can take the PlaySport with you and film yourself and your friends enjoying macho pursuits, safe in the knowledge that a random tidal wave or -- more likely in the UK -- a sudden unseasonal downpour isn't suddenly going to kill your camcorder. Images of canoeists and dirt bikes splashing through puddles on the front of the box help to emphasise the device's target market, as does the cheerful, yet durable design. Its back cover comes in four colours -- purple, blue, black and orange -- while its face is white.
Unpacking the PlaySport, you'll find that Kodak has included a generous selection of accessories, including a UK/EU power adaptor, and USB, analogue video and HDMI cables. This is fairly unusual for such a device, particularly given its low price point.
Kodak even provides 128MB of internal memory to get you started, although this will only give you enough storage space for a few seconds of footage. A high-capacity SD/SDHC card should be the first item on your shopping list after buying the PlaySport. Kodak's soon-to-be-released Adventure Mount, which secures your PlaySport to handlebars or a helmet for hands-free filming, could well be your second.
As noted earlier, the PlaySport itself is very small and has a rugged appearance. Shockproofing isn't among the product's listed features, but it certainly looks like it could withstand a knock or two. All the device's ports (HDMI, USB and analogue AV out) and slots (SD/SDHC card and battery) are safely covered by waterproof hatches.
We've read some anecdotal reports of users who've found their PlaySports to be less than waterproof in practice, but this could be due to misuse or defective units. All we can say is that the review unit we were given happily survived our own aquatic tests without any problems. The camcorder also has a special 'H20' mode that helps to improve the picture while filming underwater by filtering out some of the blue tint.
It's worth pointing out, though, that the device doesn't float. Let it slip out of your hands while you're at sea, for example, and your PlaySport could find itself on a one-way ticket to Davy Jones' locker.
The bigger picture
We were pleasantly surprised by the PlaySport's image quality. After having excused many other pocket camcorders' picture flaws in light of their low cost, it was refreshing to discover that not all budget camcorders make so many compromises when it comes to video and photo images.
The PlaySport offers three video resolutions: 1080p, 720p and WVGA (standard definition at 848x480 pixels). All these shoot video at 30 frames per second, although a fourth option is available that allows you to film 720p high-definition video at an increased rate of 60fps. The 1080p setting provides visibly more detail, but many users may find themselves switching to the 720p/60fps mode, simply because it's much better for filming fast-moving targets.
Outdoors in the daytime, the PlaySport delivers a comparatively sharp, colourful picture that's free from much of the noise and compression artefacts that plague many pocket camcorders. It's still a fixed-lens device with a small image sensor, though, so don't expect its high-definition performance to be on a par with that of standard-sized AVCHD devices. Also, due to its candybar form factor and light weight, the PlaySport's handheld footage can look pretty wobbly, even with the electronic image stabiliser engaged.
In terms of photos, the PlaySport's 5-megapixel resolution is certainly respectable. It's worth noting that the PlaySport records all its photos in the same 16:9 widescreen mode as its video. While this is fine for landscape shots, it can make for some strangely long and thin portrait pics if you hold the device horizontally. This is a minor quibble and the photo quality really isn't bad at all for this kind of device, especially if you're outdoors. Interior snaps are also very commendable given that there's no flash or lamp.
Controlling the PlaySport doesn't require a huge amount of ingenuity. A grand total of five buttons and a five-way direction pad is all you need to master the device. The menu options are pretty sparse too. It's slightly annoying that all the menu settings are labelled with icons, some of which aren't always as easy to decipher as they might be. But, again, this is a relatively trivial criticism.
On the whole, the Kodak PlaySport is very easy to use. It's also very affordable and records better-looking images than many of its rivals. Add in the fact that you can film underwater and all you really need to ask yourself is: "Which colour do I want it in?"
Edited by Charles Kloet