Sony has the touch! The Bloggie Touch, that is.
The compact Bloggie Touch is the third pocket camcorder from Sony carrying the Bloggie moniker. Gone are the swivel-lens-sporting PM5 and the bulkier pistol-grip-style CM5 ? just like the Sony Webbie before them. Sony's latest pocket camcorder offering features a 3.0-inch, touch-enabled display, and a form factor that looks more like a cell phone than it does a camcorder.
It's certainly sleek, but looks aren't everything. In the face of competition from Kodak, Panasonic, Cisco and Samsung, does Sony have the stuff to stack up?
BUILD AND DESIGN
The Sony Bloggie Touch shoots 1920x1080 MP4 video at 30 fps via its Exmor CMOS sensor. It also shoots 720/60p and 720/30p and takes 12.8 megapixel stills through its f/2.8 wide angle lens.
The Sony Bloggie Touch comes in two models, one with 4GB of internal memory (good for about two hours of 720/30p video), which costs $180 at launch, and an 8GB model for $200, which can capture approximately four hours of the lowest resolution video.
I can't state enough how closely the Bloggie Touch resembles an Android smartphone, even if it's a bit smaller than the current crop of handsets. The front of the candy-bar shaped camcorder is slightly rounded and features a high quality brushed casing. The lens is situated at the top end, surrounded by a smooth silver plastic tip. I suppose the smooth area surrounding the lens is designed to warn users of any pending finger creep over the lens, and it works in that regard.
The large 3.0-inch display sits on the back of the Bloggie Touch, just above the record button.
The HDMI out, hidden in a small notch, and wrist-strap slot are on one side of the pocket camcorder, while the on/off button, stills-mode toggle button, and on-board mic are on the other side. The mic placement is a little perplexing though. It's very easy to hold your finger over the mic without realizing it, which happened to me more than once. Sony should have at least added a little notch so users could identify the area by touch.
Two on-board speakers are located on the top of the Bloggie Touch, while the tripod receptacle and pop-out USB are on the bottom.
If there is any cause for complaint, it's that both the touch screen and lens are very exposed and are almost begging for scratches. If you lay the Bloggie down on either the front or back, you'll be resting the device on one of the two. Also, both the body and screen are fingerprint magnets. Expect much smudge build-up with prolonged use.
Ergonomics and Controls
Everything is nicely spaced and the minimalistic controls definitely meet the ?stupid simple? standard. Of course, most of the controls are hidden in the touch screen, and even considering those, the Bloggie Touch is easy to pick up and operate out of the box.
The Bloggie Touch also has a decent weight and balance, as well as a solid feel, making it easy and comfortable for long shoots. The built-in accelerometer is also a nice touch, as it allows users to horizontally or vertically shoot with the Bloggie. However, it will not automatically adjust mid-shot.
Menus and Modes
There are no picture controls available to the Sony Bloggie Touch user, just a handful of shooting modes. For MP4 movies, users can select 1080/30p, 720/60p, and 720/30p. For stills, there are options for 12 megapixels (4:3 aspect ratio), 8 megapixels (16:9), and 2 megapixels (16:9).
There are a handful of device settings:
There is also a self-timer that when 'on', turns the Bloggie Touch off after either two minutes or ten minutes. Finally, there are standard playback features to shuffle through stills and footage and trash unwanted clips. There is also a ?Share it Later? feature that allows you to tag photos and clips for upload and sharing via social media later.
The Bloggie Touch display has a pixel density of 720x400, which is more than enough for the 3.0-inch LCD. It's bright, and compared to other camcorder displays, it's big. In fact, most mid-range and entry-level camcorders have a 2.7-inch display, which I've long complained is too small, especially for touch controls.
Unfortunately, there are no picture or brightness controls. That could be a problem, especially when shooting in sunny situations, as the sun's glare could make things difficult to see in the reflective LCD screen.
As stated, the Bloggie meets the main criteria for pocket camcorders: it's stupid simple to use. Simply turn it on, hit record, and watch the action unfold through the 3.0-inch LCD. It's a case of what-you-see-is-what-you-get in terms of framing as there is no image clipping. There is a 4x digital zoom which is controlled by either dragging an icon across the display or tapping the tele or wide indicators represented by a T or W, respectively.
The zoom is clunky and not very smooth, and, as a digital zoom, it predictably destroys image quality. This is because digital zooms simply digitally enlarge the pictures instead of zooming in optically.
The Bloggie Touch has internal storage, either 4GB or 8GB. At the highest resolution (1920x1080 at 30fps), the 4GB holds about 40 minutes of footage, and the 8GB 80 minutes (the pocket camcorder can hold about two hours and four hours of 720/30p footage respectively). Oddly, continuous shooting is limited to approximately 30 minutes.
As for the battery, I filled up my Bloggie Touch with 2 hours of footage and it was still chugging along. The battery indicator in the display was way off, however. It showed four and then three bars for the first 100 minutes before quickly draining down to no bars. Still, the fact that I managed to fill the device to capacity with active footage before it died definitely impressed.
Like most other pocket HD camcorders, all Bloggie Touch picture controls, including focus, white balance, and exposure are automated. For the most part, Sony succeeds at keeping the Bloggie in line with the shooting situation, but the Bloggie Touch can be finicky and fooled. For example, the Bloggie Touch has face detection, and it can throw the focus off if the subject is moving through the frame. Also, the white balance is sensitive to ambient light, which can shift footage colors noticeably.
This is not to suggest the Bloggie Touch is worse than other pocket camcorders in this regard. In fact, the Bloggie Touch was actually quicker to react to changing conditions than rival devices.
In constant light, the Sony Bloggie Touch shoots very clean and smooth video free of digital artifacts and crisp edges. The colors are nicely balanced with very little saturation. At 1080p, the detail level is a little low for an HD camcorder, but that's only apparent when the picture is blown up. The 720/60p option produces some extremely smooth footage thanks to the doubled frame-rate, which makes it ideal for sports action. In low light, noise and artifacts creep in and the color is thrown off, but it's not nearly as severe as with other pocket camcorders.
Provided your finger isn't covering the mic while shooting, the Bloggie Touch produces decent-enough audio. It won't blow you away with fidelity, but it's no worse or better than other on-board mics. For once, I won't complain about the lack of an external mic input as it would compromise the design. Here's an example of the audio pickup:
The Bloggie Touch shoots JPEG stills up to 12 megapixels. Too often, manufacturers haphazardly interpolate extra pixels to bump up the megapixel count, which makes for large and ugly images. While I'm guessing Sony is using interpolation to achieve 12 megapixels, the stills are outstanding for a pocket camcorder. The colors are nicely balanced and the pictures are extremely sharp when compared to smartphone pics, and even some low-end point and shoots. Viewing the stills at full size reveals some image grain, but it's not enough to affect the overall quality when viewed normally.
Operation and Extras
The Sony Bloggie ships with a USB extension cable and wrist strap. It comes preloaded with the new Bloggie software. There are a couple things missing, the most glaring being a carrying case or cloth bag, if for nothing else than to protect the lens and display. A microfiber cloth would have been a nice addition too, considering how quickly the fingerprints and smudges accumulate. Also, Sony has once again excluded the HDMI cable, which is not a surprise but still disappointing.
Sony has replaced its standard Picture Motion Browser software with the new Bloggie Software that focuses more on social media and sharing footage. There are options of instant uploads to Facebook, Flickr, and other social media sites, including Sony Personal Space.
Personal Space is 1GB of cloud storage that users can upload photos and video too through the Bloggie Software. Users can then email links to the content to whomever they choose. It's a great feature and useful for those who want to share photos with only a specified few and not their entire buddy list.
I actually liked the old PMB as it was much slicker and less buggy than other bundled software suites. The new Bloggie Software is hands down a better program and seriously rivals Flip's vaunted FlipShare as one of the best.
Of course, as with all MP4 files, users can simply drag and drop them out of the Bloggie over USB and avoid the Bloggie Software all together.
The Sony Bloggie Touch is my number one pocket HD camcorder on the Technology Holiday Buyer's Guide for a reason. There is currently no better pocket camcorder on the market. With the Bloggie Touch, Sony combines an attractive design, firm build and a large and responsive touch display with great image quality and solid shooting performance. The new and improved Bloggie Touch software and Personal Spaces are icing on the cake.
There is room for improvement, however. The mic placement baffles me, and the Bloggie Touch is missing what I consider necessary accessories (carrying bag, microfiber cloth). Also, the focus and white balance controls are too finicky for my liking, and the video is not as detailed as I would have preferred. But none of these issues are severe enough to cripple the device.
Pocket camcorders should offer a combination of good-enough performance with simple and fun operation. By that standard, the Sony Bloggie exceedingly succeeds.