When it get things right, Samsung is capable of producing
some uniquely attractive electronic devices, and the SMX-C20 is precisely one
of those products. Small, ovoid and available in various colour accents (ours
was red), the SMX-C20 camcorder may not have the high-definition video capabilities of
some of its rivals, but it certainly knows how to catch the eye of the more
style-conscious gadget buyer. It also happens to sell for a fraction of the
price of most HD cams -- £140 -- and it's about as complicated to master
as a shoelace.
A different slant
Opting for a fold-out form factor over the increasingly popular candybar designs favoured by other pocket-sized video cams, the SMX-C20 isn't afraid to buck a few trends. It features a most peculiar upward-angled lens that gives the impression someone has sheared off its front end at a 25-degree angle. This, we're told, has been implemented in the name of ergonomics. The slanted lens is supposed to encourage a healthier, more-natural hand position. Just who would be using their camcorder for RSI-inducing periods of time, we're not quite sure. What we can tell you is that holding the device non-horizontally takes a bit of getting used to and doesn't seem to help eliminate camera shake. An electronic image stabiliser is available, but this doesn't particularly help, either.
Welcome features include a 10x optical zoom, SDHC-compatible memory card slot and a one-button direct upload option that sends your clips straight to YouTube, Flickr or Facebook over USB.
The other trend the SMX-C20 happily rejects is the
general move towards high-definition domination. The majority of camcorders
produced these days have some kind of high-definition capability -- even some
mobile phones can record in HD. But the SMX-C20 sticks firmly to its
standard-definition guns, with only 576i and 480p resolution modes available.
In practice, picture quality is about as good as you
might expect from SD. Edges are kind of fuzzy and colours look a little
bleached out. The H.264/MPEG-4 compression format doesn't help matters by introducing
its own digital artefacts -- particularly during fast camera movement. Imagine
the sort of quality you get from the movie mode on a still digital camera and you
get the picture. For the 1.9-megapixel photos, think camera phone circa 2005.
Low resolution isn't this camcorder's only issue,
however. We found that footage shot in the 576i mode looked pretty dreadful
when transferred to a PC. This is partly due to the unpleasant combing effect
you get on computer monitors when video deinterlacing occurs. It's also partly
because the clips we shot in 16:9 widescreen simply refused to play back in the
right ratio, making everything look squashed and thin. The solution? If you're
going to watch footage on a computer or transfer it to the Web, make sure
you've shot it in the lower-resolution 4:3 progressive mode instead.
We've explained the limitations of the SMX-C20's
performance and pointed out how unusual it is to look at, but what we should
also say about this camcorder is that it's fantastically easy to use. Whip it
out, switch it on, press 'smart auto' and start filming. Even if you fancy
dabbling with the manual options, Samsung makes it as straightforward as
possible by providing a simple menu-navigation system and quick access to many
of the most important settings with a
click of the five-way mini joystick.
So, what's the verdict? Well, whether or not you like the SMX-C20's unconventional design will come down to personal taste. Whether you're put off by its lack of high-definition capabilities will depend on whether you actually need HD or not. There are many alternative products available for roughly the same price as -- even less than -- Samsung's shiny-egg cam that are capable of recording up to 1080p-resolution video in addition to standard-definition modes. Have a look at the Kodak PlaySport, for example. We'd recommend considering something like this instead, if only to future-proof your purchase to some extent.
Edited by Emma Bayly