The W300 is a mostly pointless iteration that offers virtually no improvements over its predecessor, with equally disappointing performance and a few new problems of its own.
It was only a little over a year ago that Samsung released its W200 rugged pocket camcorder, a device we believed had some strengths that were ultimately outweighed by its shortcomings. Now, Samsung has released its successor, the HMX-W300, which is dustproof, shockproof up to 6.5 feet, and waterproof up to 16.4 feet. As is usually the case with pocket camcorders, it has an affordable MSRP of $159.00 (though you can get it for $139.00 at B&H).
So did Samsung take this opportunity to ameliorate the issues that kept the W200, a promising pocket camcorder, from achieving greatness? Or is this just a redundant iteration that fails to bring any improvements -- or change at all -- to the table? Let's have a look and find out.
Despite the fact that the W300 is ruggedized and a little on the wide side (2.36" x 4.41" x 0.7"), it's still a lightweight camcorder. While it certainly feels tough, isn't particularly heavy, weighing in at only 137 grams (about 0.3 pounds), so it isn't uncomfortable to hold or use. There is a slightly rubberized material that runs around the edges of the device, while the rest is textured plastic, all held together by screws.
The top side is devoid of any features or controls, and the right side is home to just the power button. The bottom of the device is where users will find the tripod mount and a switch-locked door, behind which there is a spring-loaded USB plug that flips out when you open the hatch. The left side of the camcorder features a similar hatch, which conceals the microSD (XC) card slot, a micro HDMI port, and the hard reset button.
The rest of the action takes place on the backside of the device. In the center, there is a four-way directional pad -- used for navigation as well as zooming, toggling underwater shooting mode, and adjusting the amount of information displayed on the screen -- which has a confirm/OK button in its center.
The d-pad, in turn, is surrounded by three buttons on either side. On the left is the toggle for photo/vide, the menu button, and the "My Clip" button (more on this later), and on the right is the playback button, the share/pause button, and the delete button. Below all of these is a very small internal speaker and a charging indicator light.
Ergonomics and Controls
Though the W300 is big enough to have a reasonably-sized screen, it isn't massive. In fact, it's the perfect size for one-handed use, with all of the buttons easily accessible to your thumb on the back of the device; the only button that isn't on the back is the power button.
The semi-rubberized grip material that runs around the edge of the device is an excellent choice, as is the textured surface on the front and part of the back. Grippy material may seem like a given for a waterproof camcorder, but just look at the W200, which was devoid of any rubberized surfaces. Go figure. I'm just glad that Samsung put a little more thought into it this time around, even if I do wish that the rubber material on the edges was a little grippier.
The reviewer of the W200 pointed out a problem with that particular model (and with a fair amount of other pocket camcorders, for that matter), which was that the buttons weren't particularly easy to press. This is once again the case for the W300, but not quite for the same reasons she presented. She bemoaned the fact that the buttons on the W200 had a "mushy depression," but this is not the case here.
The buttons at least emit a click that you can usually feel, which is an improvement, but my issue is that they have an extremely shallow depression; the buttons barely go down before becoming fully depressed. The buttons are always responsive in terms of actually executing their commands, it's just that the presses never feel quite right. After what we saw with the W200, this is a small step in the right direction, but there's still some work to be done.
As far as pocket camcorders go, the W300 has a pretty roomy 2.3-inch LCD display, which I love. This is made possible thanks to the wide body of the device and it helps keep things from feeling claustrophobic, even when pulling up menus. I do wish, however, that Samsung had opted to leave out the "widescreen effect" black bars that run along the top and bottom of the display.
The quality of the display may leave some users wanting, as well. The viewing angle is extremely poor, and even on its highest setting, the screen isn't all that bright and can be difficult to see in bright lighting. The W300's QVGA resolution may won't blow you away either, but on the other hand, it really isn't all that important to have a stunningly high-resolution display on a pocket camcorder.
Menus and Modes
With pocket camcorders from other manufacturers, the menus are usually set up in such a way so that you're taken to another screen entirely. And in many cases, selecting a menu choice will take you to yet another separate page so, before you know it, you're four or five pages deep in the menus and navigation becomes a hassle. Thankfully, this isn't the case with the W300.
I'm a big fan of the way the menus are set up on the W300, because Samsung eschews the idea of having each page of menu options take up the whole screen so users have to suffer through menu diving. Instead, the menu is simply a semi-transparent overlay that pops up on top of the standby video feed.
Each of the menu options (represented as little icons) are on a bar that runs across the top of the screen and it's as simple as clicking left or right to sift through all the options and find what you're looking for. As you move through each category, a small pull-down menu pops up that only takes up a portion of the screen. Once you're in the right category, it's just a matter of pressing up or down to go through the options and select the one you need. All the while, the video feed is still visible in the background and not a single screen-covering page is ever pulled up. It's a much more user-friendly interface than I usually come across with pocket camcorders, and that's a welcome change.
The options in the settings menu are pretty standard for a pocket camcorder and include storage info, date/time set, date/time display (on/off), LCD brightness, Auto LCD off, beep sound toggle, shutter sound toggle, auto power off, PC software, video out (NTSC/PAL), format, restore default settings, and language.
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