Earlier in the year, I reviewed the Kodak PlayFull pocket camcorder and gave it a decent rating. For the past couple of weeks, I have had the new Kodak PlayFull Waterproof pocket camcorder in my possession and while there are plenty of things I like about it, I was disappointed to see that many of the flaws from the original PlayFull that marred its quality have been carried over to this model as well.
So do the PlayFull Waterproof's strengths manage to outweigh these flaws? Or, even at a bargain price of $69.95 MSRP, is this a camcorder that you should still pass on? Let's find out.
BUILD AND DESIGN
The build of the PlayFull is excellent. It's compact, measuring 2.2 x 3.7 x 0.5 inches, and very lightweight, weighing in at a mere 85 grams with a memory card. While very slim, it's squat and wide, creating a more comfortable amount of room for a larger (relatively speaking) 2-inch display. And perhaps my favorite part about the PlayFull's construction is that it has two doors -- behind which various ports are concealed -- that are attached to the frame not by a flexible dongle or weak plastic hinge, but rather by sturdy, thick metal hinges. The metal hinges and the locking switches that keep the doors closed ensure that the ports stay protected and that the doors stay sturdy and won't break off when opened. Plus, they just look a lot nicer when they actually swing open rather than just hang limply off the camcorder.
The front of the device is very minimalist, sporting a slick silver-white paintjob and nothing more than the lens and microphone. When viewed from the back, the left side is devoid of any features, while the right side has one of the hinged doors, behind which is a full-sized SD card slot and a micro HDMI port. The other door is found on the bottom edge of the device, behind which is an AV jack and the full-sized USB dongle.
The back of the device is as sleek as the front, with the five buttons (video/photo toggle, settings, playback, delete, and share) all flush with the surface of the device. None of them are raised, keeping things flat and smooth on the back, where the display and speakers are also found.
Ergonomics and Controls
The one problem I have with the PlayFull's design -- and this is something that has unfortunately been carried over from previous Kodak pocket camcorder models -- is the woeful d-pad. I don't know why Kodak continues to do this, but the d-pad is this squishy little thing that does not have much surface area to press and does not click when pressed down. As such, it's hard to tell when your presses are registering (and in what direction), as the whole thing just kind of squishes down. Thankfully, the OK/confirm button that is in the center of it clicks when pressed, so at least that's less of a hassle to use.
Other than that, though, the PlayFull is very easy to use, just like any pocket camcorder. Just hit the power button on the top, select whether you're shooting video or photos, hit the large confirm button in the center of the d-pad, and you're off to the races. Playback is simple too, requiring only a single press of the playback button, at which point you can cycle through your library and hit the confirm button to watch your video of choice. While watching videos, you can adjust the volume, play, pause, and rewind -- all using the d-pad -- but the fast-forward function only appears to work when you pause the video first, which I found odd. You can also zoom in on still photos while in playback mode.
Menus and Modes
-Format Memory Card
I really appreciate the decision that Kodak made regarding the display on the PlayFull. The last PlayFull I reviewed was too small for its own good; it made for a painfully small screen that made it hard to get an accurate idea of what my video looked like, and navigating menus was a nightmare. With this PlayFull, however, Kodak made the camcorder wider while still maintaining a very slim profile. This way, users are afforded much more screen real estate while the camcorder on the whole remains very compact and still much smaller than your average-sized smartphone.
But while I appreciate the larger display, its actual quality is not very good. It's a 112.3k TFT color LCD display, but it's insanely blurry and, like the other PlayFull, isn't good for much else beyond framing your shot. Forget about trying to make out finer details (though unlike its predecessor, you can at least make out how the auto focus and lighting look); you'll have to wait until you're able to view it on a better screen for that. I do, however, appreciate that the camcorder has a glare shield option and, in general, the screen is pretty visible in outdoor situations.
As usual, the PlayFull, as a pocket camcorder, is very easy to use: you can be recording video with two button presses. Turn it on with the power button and hit the button in the middle of the d-pad and you're off to the races. In terms of what shooting modes you have, they're very limited. Video resolution options are either 720p HD (30 fps) or WVGA. Photos only have one setting, which is a pitiful 1-megapixel shot. There are also a few video effects at your disposal, like black and white, sepia, high saturation, and '70s film. And for what it's worth, what little options you do have for shooting are easily accessible through the PlayFull's single menu system. Everything is arranged in a single list that you can browse through with the crummy d-pad and it's all very easy to navigate.
The PlayFull does have a very slight zoom capability, but it's only 2x and it's digital, so it's really kind of negligible. I suppose the only plus is that since the zoom is so minimal, it's not as easy to see the pixilation and graininess that usually accompanies a digital zoom.
And storage is equally minimal, at least in terms of what's onboard. The PlayFull only sports 32MB of storage on the device itself, which is only good for a few seconds' worth of video on the 720p shooting mode. The upside is that the PlayFull supports full-sized SD cards (which I find to be much more convenient and cheaper than microSD cards) up to 32GB capacities, giving you tons of room to work with. So assuming you have an SD card -- which you probably do if you're reading this site -- you should be all set regardless of the small amount of onboard storage.
The waterproof aspect of the PlayFull actually worked very well. I dunked it on a number of occasions (probably my favorite part of doing this review) in about a foot of water and, thankfully, it had no problems at all. If anything, I probably wasn't even close to giving it any issues, as the PlayFull is supposedly waterproof up to 3 meters. And the thing is dustproof and drop-proof (5 feet onto plywood), so it can actually withstand quite a bit of abuse.
And the underwater video was not bad at all. If you think about it, if you're planning on shooting underwater video, you're not too concerned with the way colors look or how the sound turns out, so the fact that colors were washed out and the sound was obviously muffled is a bit of a non-issue. It's to be expected when shooting underwater video. So with that in mind, the PlayFull handled underwater shooting very well in that it delivers relatively clear video quality -- yes, its video quality in general may be a little rough but it's good enough to get the job done for you active types that aren't looking for anything professional-quality -- and the camera protects well from water damage.
The one aspect that I was a little puzzled about is that the camcorder includes an "underwater correction" function, but I don't understand what its purpose is. I shot underwater video with and without it and they looked exactly the same.
The auto focus on the PlayFull definitely does a good enough job of keeping things as sharp (as they can be, considering the poor quality in general), but it often shifts the color focus towards cooler tones, an issue that I ran into with the other PlayFull model. Unlike the previous model, however, this PlayFull seems to handle closer shots a bit better, even though it's still lacking macro mode. I could get within a few inches of a subject before the autofocus could no longer keep up. You'll see in the last picture of our sample gallery where I took a shot just as the subjects closest to the lens started to get out of focus, and that was only about 4 or 5 inches away.
And one particular element about the PlayFull's shooting performance that really impressed me was its ability to rapidly adjust from low-light to high-light situations, and vice versa. Usually with pocket camcorders -- and even some full-sized camcorders -- it takes a couple of seconds for the picture to adjust, but surprisingly the shift and exposure adjustment with the PlayFull was almost instantaneous.
Unfortunately, the PlayFull does not sport any type of image stabilization. This is especially problematic with a pocket camcorder, which is small and light and therefore very susceptible to shaking when shooting video. Even if it were just digital image stabilization (like what was found on the last PlayFull model I reviewed), it would still be better than going with none at all.
Same goes for facial detection, which this PlayFull also lacks; even it were some sub-par version of it, I would have liked to see Kodak at least make an attempt to include the feature. Taking out features that previous models had just seems like a pretty obvious step back to me.
The battery life on the PlayFull is exceptional. Even through a good three to four hours of use (granted, not all of this was recording time; some of it was spent in standby, menus, or playback) I still had about a quarter of a charge left according to the battery meter. The fact that said battery meter does not stay on screen at all times though -- a flaw also present in the last PlayFull unit I reviewed -- is frustrating, as I have to switch modes or turn it on and off just to see how much battery I have left.
Video, Still, Audio Performance
The video quality of the PlayFull is exactly what you would expect of a pocket camcorder: not very good at all, but serviceable for quick, spur-of-the-moment videos. Nobody buying a pocket camcorder is expecting professional-grade video, so I can't knock it too much for that. That being said, I have definitely seen slightly better quality from other pocket camcorders and the video from this PlayFull looks akin to that taken by a webcam. The picture is dark and blurry, colors are extremely bland, and all of the whites have serious bluish tinge. If it makes a difference to you to get C-minus-grade video as opposed to D-grade video from your pocket camcorder, perhaps you should look elsewhere.
Stills are also pretty rough on the PlayFull, unfortunately. I kind of expect mediocre-at-best video quality from pocket camcorders, but pictures from them should not look as bad as the PlayFull's. They are extremely grainy, which is especially noticeable since the awful 1-megapixel shots are blown up at a 1280 x 720 resolution. Long distance shots don't work well either, as objects any further than a dozen feet away or so start to look pretty blurry and grainy.
Color saturation is also very poor, with most colors looking somewhat muted, and light tends to wash out the whites very easily as they get overexposed. Combine that with the fact that the white balance is off -- making those whites that actually show up properly look very cool and sort of bluish-grey -- and you always get images that are very bland, dark, and generally just look like they were taken on an overcast day.
The mic on the PlayFull is a little on the weak side, so you may have trouble picking up sounds from long distance. However, there wasn't too much white noise or hissing during the videos that I shot, which is a plus. And the onboard speaker is definitely serviceable for playback, pumping out audio at a pretty powerful volume.
Operation and Extras
The PlayFull unfortunately doesn't really ship with any extras; besides the camera itself, all you get is a lousy wrist strap and the user guide. The last Kodak pocket camcorder I dealt with was the same way, except it at least shipped with a longer USB cable. The PlayFull relies only on the dongle for both file transfer and charging. It's also a disappointment that it doesn't ship with HDMI or AV cables, seeing as it has ports for both.
The Kodak ArcSoft MediaImpression Software comes preloaded on the camera -- just plug it in to start the install process -- and like most prepackaged editing software with pocket camcorders, it's nothing special. Granted, it's not the worst that I've come across, but you're never going to use this for much more than file transfer, conversion, or extremely basic editing (if you really need to).
There's also a share button on the PlayFull, a common feature on Kodak's pocket camcorders which allows you to tag photos or videos in your collection on the camera for upload. After you hit the share button, a menu comes up asking you to which outlets you would like to upload, including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc. The next time you plug your camera into your computer, the media is automatically uploaded to your social network of choice.
The Kodak PlayFull Waterproof, in terms of its video quality, is a slight step below other pocket camcorders. But in the grand scheme of things, it doesn't make that much of a difference because people don't buy pocket camcorders for super-slick, high-quality video. They want something compact and easy to use, features that the PlayFull has in spades. It features an excellent build, it's very user-friendly, and its waterproofness is solid, allowing for great underwater shooting performance.
And while it does have some serious weaknesses, like abysmal 1-megapixel stills, it's a perfectly reasonable deal for a mere $69.95. If you're the active type looking for a pocket camcorder that is waterproof, can withstand some rough and tumble, and you're on a budget, the PlayFull Waterproof is a good choice.