The Kodak PlayFull is one in a rapidly growing collection of pocket camcorders available on the market today. With an MSRP of $149.95 and a rather standard set of features including 1080p HD video and a dedicated Share button, is there anything about the PlayFull that puts it above the competition?
BUILD AND DESIGN
In terms of its design, the best thing the PlayFull has going for it is how compact it is. Sporting a 1.6" x 3.9" x 0.6" frame, it's smaller than most cell phones and Kodak's other pocket camcorder model, the PlayTouch.
The microphone is located on the front of the device, right on the edge of the lens frame. In a smart move -- that is somehow still occasionally glossed over these days -- the lens itself is slightly recessed, which helps protect against scratches, especially when placed face-down on a surface.
Be careful, though; the material on the front of the device is extremely slick. While a small strip on the left side of it is slightly textured to help with the grip, the PlayFull is still pretty slippery and, combined with its small size, is prone to working its way out of your grip. On more than one occasion my editor asked me why I was throwing my new camera around.
The top edge of the camera is where the USB dongle is located. It's securely tucked away inside a sliding piece of plastic, allowing it to run flush with the edge of the camera. Unless it's actually pulled out and ready to be plugged into your computer, you would never know it was there.
The back is where nearly all of the controls are located, and it's quite a simplistic interface. In the middle is a circular navigation pad with a confirmation button in its center, and it's around this nexus that the remaining buttons are located.
To the left of the d-pad is the button for switching between photo and video modes, as well as the button for playback. To its right are the buttons for settings and deleting. Directly below it is the "Share" button, which users can press to tag certain photos or video for automatic upload to the internet the next time the camera is plugged in. Above all of these controls, taking up roughly a third of the back of the device is the LCD screen.
On the bottom edge of the camera, there is a single speaker as well as a quarter-inch tripod mount and an infrared port. I assume that the IR port is for remote controls (though one does not come packaged with the camera), but I never used it in any capacity.
Finally, PlayFull's various ports are found on the sides of the frame. The micro HDMI out and the SD card slot are located behind a door on the left side, and the charging/AV port and hard reset button are behind a door on the right side. The power button and indicator light (which isn't used for much except to indicate when the camera is on or charging) are also on the right side, placed directly above the charging/AV port door.
Ergonomics and Controls
The Kodak PlayFull fulfills the most basic requirement of any pocket camcorder with ease: it's incredibly simple to operate, making it user-friendly enough for even the most technologically impaired people. To shoot, hit the power button on the side, click the photo/video button to choose your mode, and press the large confirmation button in the middle of the d-pad.
A quick word about the PlayFull's d-pad, though: it's terrible. Though the "OK" button in its center is clickable, the navigation pad itself does not click, which drives me mad. When you press it down in any particular direction, it just sort of…squishes. There is no click to confirm that it is pressed and that your command is registering, which can lead to some frustrating interactions with the interface. When you don't know whether or not your presses are going through, you may end up not pressing hard enough, or you may end up mashing the thing into oblivion just to overcompensate.
Playback on the PlayFull is, for the most part, about as comfortable as it can be between the miniscule screen and minimal controls (including the sub-par d-pad). Sifting through your collection is easy enough, just by either pressing left and right or hitting the playback button a second time to see a zoomed-out view of all of your photos and videos.
You can zoom in on selected photos (though there isn't much point to it on the small screen), and when rewatching videos, you can play, pause, rewind, and adjust the volume just with the navigational pad and the confirmation button. You're supposed to be able to fast-forward too (by pressing right), but that doesn't appear to work. I don't know if it's my particular unit or if the feature is just broken on all models, but be aware that it was not functional for me.
Menus and Modes
-LCD Brightness and Glare Shield
-Glare Shield On/Off
-Sounds and LED
-Format Memory Card
There are two sides to every coin, and while the diminutive size of the Playfull makes it easy to take it everywhere (and have it on hand for shooting spontaneous video and photos), it also means that it sports a painfully small display. When using the 1.5-inch TFT LCD screen to preview your video or stills, don't expect to get an accurate representation of how they will actually turn out; it's not useful for much more than getting a basic idea of how to frame your shot.
And you would think that with such a small display, Kodak would at least give it a decent enough resolution to keep the image sharp, but it's really not. On the contrary, it's quite blurry and it's difficult to determine when subjects are in focus. It's just way too small and to top it off, the image on the display is bracketed on the top and bottom by black widescreen bars, which take up even more of the already scarce on-screen real estate.
The widescreen format of the screen is disorienting, as well. For a wide, landscape shot like that, I'm used to holding the camera sideways, but instead I'm holding it vertically. Subsequently, for a vertically-oriented portrait shot, I need to hold the PlayFull sideways. So everything is backwards and generally feels uncomfortable when trying to preview your shots on the bizarre little screen.
It shocked me that despite the room on the widescreen black bars, there wasn't a battery gauge that stayed on screen. A vague meter flashes up briefly when you first turn on the camera, but it's easy to miss (I actually thought that the camera didn't have a battery gauge at all, at first) and it never shows up again until you turn the camera off and back on.
Not that there is a lot to see on it, but the display seems to handle glare and high light situations pretty well, especially with the help of the glare shield setting can be turned on via the settings menu (which basically over-saturates colors to help make them visible in bright light).
It doesn't get much simpler than using a pocket camcorder. Aside from the easy turn-on-and-shoot design, the PlayFull also has a dedicated button for switching between photo and video, which can be done through a single press. And if you want to get a little pickier than just shooting at any old resolution, you can pick from the PlayFull's handful of video resolution options. Only two layers deep in the settings menu, the video resolution can easily be changed to and from 1080p, 720p/60 frames per second, 720p, and WVGA, which is iPad compatible.
A couple features that the PlayFull has that I found to be particularly clever are the ability to trim videos on the camera itself, as well as the option to take still pictures from a particular moment in a video. While pictures taken from video are never as good of quality as actual still photos, it's still an entertaining option that makes sense for a pocket camcorder, which is more about capturing fun and memorable moments than it is about quality and sharpness.
The camera does have a 4x digital zoom, but as is usually the case, you're better off not using it. Things get pixilated pretty quickly, and, at only 4x, it barely offers any benefit in terms of zooming in on your desired subject.
For all intents and purposes, the PlayFull sports no onboard memory. With only 128MB of onboard storage -- which is good for about 10 seconds of 720p video -- you're going to want to invest in an SD card (the PlayFull is expandable up to 32GB).
When shooting video or stills, the PlayFull's auto focus tends to shift more towards cooler tones, but on the whole it does a good enough job. Don't have your subject too close to the fixed focus lens, though; anything closer than a couple of feet just won't produce a clear picture since the device doesn't have a macro mode.
The white balance is a little off, especially in stills; as you can see in our sample images, what should be a white background in our photo of the fruits comes off with a bit of a purple or bluish tinge.
The camera is has automatic Digital Image Stabilization (DIS) and, just like digital zoom versus optical zoom, Optical Image Stabilization is vastly superior to its digital cousin (though admittedly, OIS really can't be found on pocket camcorders in general). The DIS helped steady the shot -- if marginally so -- but videos were still visibly shaky and it wasn't nearly as drastic of a difference as the one that I saw when using OIS (see our sample video in our review of the Panasonic SD-800 HDC to get an idea of how useful it is).
And the PlayFull is supposedly equipped with facial detection abilities -- which would, in theory, prioritize focus to peoples' faces whenever it picked them up -- but I never saw the camera detect anyone's face during my time with it.
Though you'll rarely know how much battery you have remaining since there isn't a consistent battery gauge being displayed, the PlayFull does actually have a very legitimate battery life. After taking a series of stills and about 40 minutes of 1080p video over the course of a week, the PlayFull still had some left in the tank, and that's worth some praise.
Video and Stills Quality
Stills taken with the PlayFull come out looking roughly like cellphone pictures. They'll do if you need to take a spontaneous picture on the fly, but don't leave your point-and-shoot at home for anything more serious than that. Aside from the aforementioned issues with cooler tones, colors also look flat and all of the pictures we took with the PlayFull tend to have a bit of a haze about them; in general, photos are not particularly sharp and edges look a bit fuzzy.
The PlayFull shoots relatively well in low-light scenarios, with noticeable graininess but still a low amount for a pocket camcorder. Colors are still distinct, too, but details and edges tend to get lost and blurred together.
In regular light, the video is a little more disappointing, with depth and textures becoming indiscernible at times. And on the whole, the video, like the stills, is a little on the blurry side. And as a heads up, the PlayFull is set to shoot on 720p straight out of the box, so if you're looking for the higher resolution, make sure to change the video settings before you take your videos.
Once you import your videos, the sound is exactly what you would expect from a pocket camcorder: not very good, but serviceable since these things aren't intended for shooting a high-quality motion picture film or anything like that. The sound is a little tinny and flat, and generally sounds like your video is being shot inside of a tin can, but it's stereo and you can hear sounds and peoples' voices just fine, and that's all you really need for a device like this.
As for the sound when viewing videos on the camera itself, it wasn't half bad. The fact that a device as small as the PlayFull even has a speaker on it was a bit unexpected, so imagine my surprise when I discovered that it could actually output a decent level of sound. Obviously it isn't high quality (or even stereo) stuff, but with a pocket camcorder, you just want something that is loud enough so you can hear what sort of audio accompanies your video. And surprisingly, the single little speaker on the PlayFull puts out a high enough level of sound to fulfill those needs.
Operation and Extras
Out of the box, it's a pretty bare bones scene with the PlayFull. The box ships with the camera itself, a wrist strap, a user guide, and a USB charging cable. Unfortunately, it does not include a micro HDMI cable for use with the PlayFull's somewhat uncommon video out, but Kodak does have an offer where users can register their cameras online and receive a free micro HDMI cable. The "free" part of that offer has an asterisk, of course, in that users must still pay for shipping, which comes out to about the same price that you would have paid had you bought it from a reasonable outlet as opposed to Kodak's store (where they charge $30 for it).
Kodak's Media Impression software comes preloaded on the camera itself, so the first time you plug in the camera, you're prompted to go through the installation progress. The software is pretty ho-hum, which is to be expected; it serves its purpose as a means to transfer media to your computer in a quick and convenient matter, and little more.
And finally, the PlayFull features a Share button, which is becoming increasingly common on pocket camcorders and the like. While it's no longer particularly unique, it's a very handy feature that's easy to use. If you see a photo or video you want to tag for upload when sifting through your collection in the camera's playback mode, you just hit the Share button and a menu comes up for you to select the outlets to which you want to upload the media (including but not limited to: Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube).
The first time you plug in your camera, the app that handles the uploading for the Share button automatically launches and you are prompted to confirm your respective accounts for the various online outlets. But that's just a one-time deal and after that, it's just a matter of plugging in your camera to your computer and the upload takes place automatically.
The whole point of a pocket camcorder is to be affordable, easy to use, and compact, and the Kodak PlayFull hits it out of the park in this sense. It retails at $150 (about the same as the competition), it's incredibly simple to operate, and, even for what it is, it's especially compact.
As easy as it is to use, though, there are some aspects that make the PlayFull an uncomfortable choice in pocket camcorders. It may have the benefit of a comparatively tiny size, but this also means it has a painfully small screen that is of poor quality and not particularly useful outside of framing your shots.
Additionally, the widescreen orientation of the display -- while holding the camera vertically -- takes a while to get used to, while the d-pad is horrendous. Micro HDMI is also a rather unorthodox choice for a video out port (and as such, I doubt many users will be equipped with the necessary cable), but I'll give the PlayFull a pass on that one since I'm sure part of that decision had to do with keeping its size to a minimum.
With pocket camcorders, the point is being able to take them on the go and shoot spontaneous video on the fly. If you're looking for something that has more depth and shoots better quality video, then don't bother with the PlayFull, but you also shouldn't be looking at this type of camera in the first place. That being said, as far as pocket camcorders go, this doesn't shoot the best video or pictures, nor does it shoot the worst. You get what you pay for with the PlayFull, which is to say, just enough.