Waterproof and shockproof camcorders have become so ubiquitous and inexpensive that they are almost standard fare for active videographers, or even active types looking to document their adventures. Samsung joins the fray with the HMX W200 rugged HD camcorder, a $160 device offering full 1080p video that Samsung claims users should take “to the beach, pool, desert, mountain tops, anywhere your adventure takes you.”
Samsung faces stiff competition from the current king of ruggedized pocket camcorders, the second-generation Kodak PlaySport, along with a handful of other devices all up for the task of underwater shooting and absorbing moderate amounts of abuse. Is the W200 a tough and worthy beast, or should this rugged camcorder be roughed up and left behind in the woods/in the ocean/on the mountain?
BUILD AND DESIGN
The W200 is shockproof up to six feet and waterproof in up to 10 feet of water. Measuring 2.4 x 4.45 x .78 inches, it’s still small enough to fit in a pants pocket, though it’s bulkier than other camcorders in its class.
The W200 weighs only .3 pounds and feels lighter than it should, most likely due to its all plastic build. Still, it’s a bruiser and I dropped, kicked, slammed it with confidence that the W200 would successfully absorb the abuse.
From a design perspective, the W200 doesn’t deviate from the candy-bar-style camcorder norm. The front side features textured plastic and the lens is housed in a round protrusion in the upper half. The on-board mike sits just off to the upper left.
The 2.3-inch display dominates the back of the W200, and that sits about the stills/video button, and the record button, which is surrounded by a round d-pad that doubles as a zoom lever, as well as display information icon toggle and aqua mode shortcuts. There are four additional buttons on the back: play, trash, menu, and share. Underneath those, sits the tiny on-board speaker.
Looking straight on at the W200, the power button and charge indicator light sit on the left side, and a microSD card slot and the miniHDMI port hide behind a sturdy panel on the right side.
The rounded top of the W200 is bare and the tripod receptacle and wrist-strap slot sit on the bottom. Also on the bottom is a panel hiding a pop-out USB dongle.
Overall, there is very little to complain about in terms of the design and placement of the elements. Everything is in a logical spot, and the lens is slightly recessed in the protrusion, protecting it slightly from scrapes.
Measuring 2.3 inches, the W200 display is larger than the PlaySport’s by only a third of an inch. However, because screen size is measured diagonally, there is a noticeable difference, and the 230,000 pixels are more than adequate for the size. When recording, black bars at the top and bottom frame the screen, which cuts off about twenty percent of the visible space. Samsung fills the black with info icons, and the viewable area remains large enough to easily monitor any scene.
The W200 has two display brightness settings, normal and bright, and while that is one more than most other pocket camcorders, the bright mode does only little more to cut through the sun’s glare than the normal setting.
Ergonomics and Controls
The W200 is built for one-handed operation and users should have no issues recording clips and navigating the device this way. The all-plastic build might present issues, however, as it gets a bit slippery when wet. Even the textured front or notches on the side won’t stop the W200 from slipping around. Some rubberized grip points would have preferable.
Most of the buttons are also a bit tough to press, or more specifically, it’s hard to tell when they are pressed. They aren’t very crisp and there is no satisfying click, just a mushy depression. The record button has the opposite problem and is especially tricky, as it clicks halfway down and then again when actually pressed.
Menus and Modes
The H200 does not have an incredibly deep or complex menu system, which is as it should be. Pocket camcorders are designed for simplicity’s sake, after all. A tap of the menu buttons brings up the shooting options and settings, all aligned atop the screen with cute little icon representation. Shooting modes include:
The menu items are generally the same for the stills mode, which offers 5.5-, 3-, and 2-megapixel as well as VGA photo resolution.
I’m a bit disappointed the W200 doesn’t offer standard definition or LP video recording, or even the 720/60p setting offered by others in its class. That said, the filters are fun to try out and you can’t beat the menu’s simplicity.
There is very little to control on the W200 outside of resolution, being that the camera “autos” everything from focus to white balance. But seriously, the W200 is built for abuse and underwater excursion, and in three weeks of dousing, dunking and kicking around, the W200 has performed nobly in that it still works as good as it did out of the box. However, a few noticeable drawbacks and shooting features keep it from being all it can be.
The W200 has a special setting called Aqua Mode assigned to the four-way controller for quick access on or off. The pocket camcorder also has a Anti-Fog feature to keep the lens clear and fog free. The Anti-Fog feature definitely works, but I can’t speak to the effectiveness of the Aqua Mode. According to the manual, it adjusts the white balance, focus, and audio for underwater shooting, but after dunking the W200 with it on and again with it off, I’m hard pressed to tell the difference in the resulting clips.
Whatever it does, I have no issues with either Anti-Fog or Aqua Mode. I have an issue with the fact that the W200 has no macro mode for close up shooting. The second-generation Kodak PlaySport has it, and so should the W200. As it stands, the W200 requires at least ten-inches of space between the subject and the lens to retain focus. That means that any curious fish are going to be out of focus, and it will be extremely difficult to shoot anything in murky water.
Video, Stills and Audio Quality
The video W200 video quality compares favorably against other pocket camcorders, which means it isn’t anything special. Colors are nicely balanced, but the picture is not especially sharp, even at 1080p. The camcorder is above average in low light situations and picks up a surprising amount of color, certainly more than other pocket camcorders I’ve tested. Underwater picture quality is dependent on the clarity of the water, but the W200 should be able to pick up something six or seven feet away from the lens in a clear pool.
On the downside, the W200 has horrible audio pickup, which makes sense considering it’s a waterproof camera. The on-board mic is probably sealed up to prevent water from leaking inside. I suppose that’s the tradeoff: horrible audio pickup and muted/muzzled/hollow sound quality for a water tight device.
The stills performance is excellent, in fact, I think the stills output is some of the best I’ve seen on a pocket camcorder. The colors look great and the contrast is excellent. I’d consider using this as my exclusive point and shoot for trips to the beach.
by Valerie Sarnataro
Operation and Extras
The Samsung W200 doesn’t deviate from the “stupid simple” standard set by other pocket camcorders, but it has two maddening features that really set it back from the pack.
The W200 is the first pocket camcorder I’ve seen to record onto microSD cards exclusively. Ever use a microSD card? It’s the tiny memory card that slots into most phones, and it’s extremely unsuitable for camcorder use because they are so small and easy to lose. Also, when was the last time you saw a laptop or PC with a microSD card slot?
It’s frustrating that Samsung would choose microSD when the W200 is large enough to sport a standard SD card slot. In fact, I’ve seen much smaller and older camcorders support full-sized SD.
Also irritating, but only slightly less so, is the W200’s rigid USB dongle. It’s not long enough and I had trouble slotting it into my laptop for charging and uploading footage.
There are two major flaws with the W200: it does not have a macro mode for underwater shooting and it only works with microSD cards. Those two drawbacks are enough that I cannot recommend the W200 over the second-generation Kodak PlaySport, which currently costs approximately the same, depending on where you shop.
Still, if you told me four years ago that underwater HD camcorders would cost less than $200 and fit into a bathing suit pocket, I wouldn’t have believed you. To that end, the Samsung W200 is capable for shooting some very cool video and it sports a good and rugged design—one that absorbed a good amount of abuse on my watch. So it’s not that it is a bad product. It’s just not the best product for the price.