Like any decent pocket camcorder, the PlayTouch is extremely easy to use… just press record. Curiously, the video resolution is set to 720/30p out of the box, and not the maximum 1080p. There is only one setting for stills, and that is five megapixels, which is fine by me, as I’ve never thought a camcorder needed to offer more reduced resolutions. Switching between the two modes is intuitive as well, with only a press of the camcorder or camera icon on the display required to toggle.
Though I typically pan digital zooms because they degrade picture quality, I actually used the 4x digital zoom on the PlayTouch, but not as Kodak probably intended. I needed it to double check what I was shooting thanks to the small display window.
The camera only dedicates about 20MB of internal storage to photos and videos with the rest going to software and the operating system, which is good for about 7 seconds of 1080p footage. An 8GB card will net about an hour’s worth of 1080p video or a little more than 4,000 five-megapixel stills. Battery life tops out at roughly two hours of constant shooting moderate action.
Just about everything is automated on the PlayTouch, including the focus, white balance, and exposure. All are capable of keeping up with the shooting situation, which is as it should be with a pocket camcorder. Every so often though, the white balance would take its sweet time, often readjusting ten or so seconds into a shoot. The focus switch and “close up” mode are great additions, and enable the PlayTouch to focus on items as close as approximately three to four inches away.
I had a hard time finding use for the face brackets and digital image stabilization, as neither is effective. I typically avoid DIS on pocket camcorders because the way it often warps the picture is more distracting than the slight shake or bounce it is supposed to combat; while the face brackets seem to do little more than frame faces in a yellow box.
Face recognition features generally identify a human face in the shot and prioritize it in terms of focus and other picture elements. If the PlayTouch face brackets actually do that, it must be extremely subtle, because I couldn’t tell the difference between having them on or off when I reviewed the test footage.
Video and Stills Quality
Evaluating pocket camcorder video quality is akin to judging a hot dog tasting contest. All devices generally output the same quality of HD — which is typically on the low end of the scale — with only small differences between models, just like all hot dogs basically taste the same and are far from filet mignon.
That said, the PlayTouch output is no Nathan’s Famous, to draw a comparison with the more expensive frank at the supermarket. The colors are flat, the details lacking with much too much image grain for high definition video. Try shooting in low light and fidelity takes a major hit, with digital artifacts making unwanted cameos. In fact, looking back at my PlaySport footage from last summer, the Kodak’s waterproof model shot better quality video than the PlayTouch.
Here’s a quick sample of video shot under constant light. Don’t forget to maximize the clip and enable HD for an accurate example of video quality.
The five-megapixel stills are acceptable for a pocket camcorder, if not a step above the expected. I only ask a camcorder offer better-than-cell-phone-level quality, and the PlayTouch delivers on that front.
The main reason I loved the Zi8 is because it had an external mic jack, a feature that should be mandatory on all video capture devices. Think about watching a YouTube video. You are probably more likely to forgive pixilated video so long as you can hear what’s going on. But lousy audio will absolutely ruin any clip, no matter how good it looks.
Thankfully, the PlayTouch has an external mic jack that doubles as the headphone jack. Plug a device in and an on-screen prompt asks if you just inserted headphones or a microphone. It’s simple and it works, and I implore the Flip and Bloggie product managers to copy this feature on the next-generation pocket camcorders.
For the external mic-less, the onboard mic is predictably average at best, and audio sounds close to bad AM radio with the gain ratcheted up as it raises the noise floor considerably, eliminating any benefit in picking up faint or distance voices.
Operation and Extras
The PlayTouch ships with a USB cable, charging adapter, HDMI cable, AV cable, wrist strap, and camera pouch. The HDMI cable is a very nice addition, thank you Kodak. ArcSoft MediaImpression software comes loaded on the device, and installs when you insert the USB dongle. Interestingly, the USB cable doesn’t do much of anything when connected to a laptop or PC. It doesn’t charge the PlayTouch, and footage can only be transfered via the pop-out dongle.
I’m no fan of packaged software in general, and MediaImpression does nothing to sway my opinion. The PlayTouch shoots MP4 video and JPG stills, which can be dragged and dropped from the device, so users can avoid the program all together. In addition, the users can perform simple trim edits to clips within the PlayTouch, which makes use of the entire 3.0-inch display during playback. I also found that preferable to using MediaImpression for the same task.
Finally, the Kodak PlayTouch has a “share” feature in which users can tag videos and stills in the camera for automatic uploads to popular sharing sites like YouTube, Flickr and Facebook. Users can also set up an email address for the camera to send content too as well. Setting it all up is a bit of a hassle, and the feature requires extra software be installed on the PC. But it’s effective, and I found the automatic emails especially useful.