The simplicity of a pocket camcorder is one of its most well-known and attractive attributes, but the Bloggie Live tries to add some spice to the simplicity by making the device easy to use while introducing one new key feature: built-in Wi-Fi. The Bloggie Live from Sony is one of two new models added the Sony's famed line of pocket camcorders (the other being the Bloggie Sport, to be released next month) and sports the unique ability to shoot live streaming video over a Wi-Fi network via the online video service, Qik. At $250, it's much more expensive than most of the pocket camcorders out there, so it's obvious that you're paying a premium for this one standout feature. The question is, is there really any need for it?
BUILD & DESIGN
The Bloggie Live is on the slightly larger side compared to other pocket camcorders, but it's nothing unmanageable. Though it's a little heavier at 4.8 ounces, it can still fit as comfortably in your pocket as a smartphone, with measurements of 2.25" x 4.5" x .625".
The whole unit looks pretty slick too, with little on the front save for the lens (and the built-in flash), Sony's branding, and a nice silver paintjob. Unfortunately, the Bloggie Live is also literally quite slick, with no sort of textured or grippy surfaces for users to grasp firmly. Sony isn't clueless, though; one side of the camcorder is actually flared out subtly so when holding it sideways with your right hand, you have a slightly thicker, curved end to hold on to. But ultimately, I still never feel 100% confident that the camera isn't going to slip out of my grip, especially when holding it with one hand. I personally would have just preferred a textured surface, but I can still appreciate what Sony tried to do by gradually making one end thicker and curved on the front.
The rest of the Bloggie Live's design is very minimalist, with only a mini HDMI port and wrist strap loop on the left side, the 3-inch touchscreen, speaker, and video record button on the back, and nothing on the top. The right side of the device probably has the most going on, as it has the on/off switch, the microphone, an indicator light, and a nice big button for snapping photos.
The bottom of the device is host to a quarter-inch tripod mount and a spring-loaded, snap-out USB plug. At first, I really appreciated this design choice and enjoyed how well- built it was; the plug itself is very securely attached to the device and barely wiggles around it all. It snaps in and out of the unit seamlessly, tucking neatly back into the device with a click when pushed back in.
But then my editor made an excellent point: when dealing with a design like this, where it's just the plug and no cable, it isn't very practical for actually plugging into USB ports. Once plugged in, you'll just have an entire camera sticking out of your computer, precariously attached by an inflexible plug that's just waiting to get snapped off. And even if it doesn't get broken off, having the weight of the camcorder being supported only by a USB plug is going to put strain on whatever connects it to the internals of the device, so it's probably not very good in the long run, either.
The good news, though, is that Sony threw in a short male/female USB extension cable to help address that issue. So no harm, no foul, but the compact nature of the snappy hidden USB plug is kind of canceled out by the fact that you're better off attaching the included cable.
Ergonomics and Controls
Though there are only a few, the buttons on the Bloggie Live are very well placed and make it easy to control the camcorder, even when performing the precarious act of wielding it one-handed. The video recording button on the back is nice and big and perfect for pressing with your thumb, while the photo snapping button on the outside edge (which has a two-stage press for focusing) is also very prominent and easy to press with your other fingers.
The on-screen controls (though there aren't many of these, either) are equally simplistic and easy to use. You can adjust the zoom on-screen with a slider or by tapping the "W" or "T" buttons for more precise control, and there are also buttons for playback mode, the main menu, and turning on the LED light that's located on the front of the camera.
The menus are relatively easy to navigate, though it did take me a second or two to figure out that the video record button doubles as a "back" button, essentially. And the set up for live streaming is a little cumbersome the first time you launch it, as you have to not only set up all of your network information, but also your Qik account info, since the live streaming is handled exclusively through that particular online video service.
Making things even more complicated is that these two processes are handled in two different menus, and you can only access the Qik login menu after attempting to connect to Wi-Fi. In other words, rather than having all of these options available from the main menu, it's set up in a one- way, clunky fashion in which you can only access them under certain conditions after first selecting "Live Streaming" from the main menu. But once you have everything set up and all of your settings saved, you're able to switch from regular to streaming video pretty seamlessly via the main menu.
Aside from that one particular gripe, the rest of the on- screen interface is pretty user-friendly. Whenever you take a picture or stop shooting video, for example, a still is held on the screen for a couple of seconds with a button that you can tap to mark it for automatic sharing via the social network of your choice the next time you plug in the camera or thanks to its built-in Wi-Fi the next time it has internet access. In playback mode, you can play, pause, rewind, fast forward, and adjust the volume while viewing videos, and there is also a button present here for tagging the media for sharing in the event that you forgot to do so immediately after shooting. And, in this day and age where everything has a touchscreen, it felt very natural and intuitive to be able to use the touch controls to swipe through my photo/video gallery.
Menus and Modes
The Bloggie Live doesn't have a ton of different shooting modes or options, but the menu breakdown, which is a little unconventional, is as follows:
-Post and Share
-Facebook, Youtube, Picasa, Flickr, Dailymotion
-Save to PlayMemories Online (Sony's cloud service)
-View on smartphone (allows you to view your photos and video on smartphones or tablets that have the Sony PlayMemories Mobile application)
-Photo Size (12 megapixel 4:3, 8 megapixel 16.9, 2 megapixel 16:9)
-Movie Size (Full 1080 30p HD, 720 60p HD, 720 30p HD)
- Flicker Reduction (On/Off)
- Self-Timer (Off/10 seconds)
-HDMI Output (60 Hz/50 Hz)
-LUN Settings (USB) (Multi/Single)
-Date and Time setting
The primary benefit of the Bloggie Live's relatively large size is the extremely roomy 3-inch touchscreen on the back. The (mostly) simple menu setup is even easier to navigate thanks to how big the screen is; buttons are plenty large and I never accidentally pressed the wrong button during my time with the camcorder (this can also be attributed to the fact that the sensitivity of the touchscreen is also excellent).
The benefit of a large display is also great for looking at your pictures and videos and actually getting an accurate idea of how they turned out. Usually with pocket camcorders, the display is so small and cramped that you have trouble making out minor, or even major, details. Oftentimes it's used to frame the subject of a shot and that's about it. But with the Bloggie Live, between the size and the quality of the display (at a resolution of 720 x 400, it was quite sharp and the colors were vibrant) you get a very accurate idea of what your pictures and video will look like once you transfer them elsewhere. I do wish you could adjust its brightness if anything, just to save battery life when running low but the fixed setting is definitely bright enough to view comfortably and doesn't seem to be too hard on the battery.
I also enjoy the information that is displayed on screen for a second or two after turning on the camera or tapping the screen. The screen isn't completely cluttered with info, but you're giving all the important stuff like what resolution video and photo you're shooting at, how much battery life you have remaining, and how many more pictures/minutes of video you can take with your remaining memory.
The one thing I absolutely despise about the display, however, is that when you change orientation (when you flip the camera from portrait to landscape mode or vice versa) the screen blacks out before reappearing in the new orientation. I can understand having the HUD with all the buttons and information flicking off and on to reorient itself (in fact, that's how pocket camcorders usually handle the shift in orientation, if at all), but it seems unnecessary to switch the entire display off and on.
As I mentioned at the start of this review, despite the Wi-Fi twist that the Bloggie Live sports, it's still ultimately a simplistic pocket camcorder that's easy to use by pointing and shooting. You've got a 4x digital zoom to work with, so it isn't much but it looks a little better to me than some of the awful digital zooms that I've seen on other pocket camcorders (which really don't serve to do much more than pixelate the image). And in terms of shooting settings, you've got 1080/30p full HD, 720/60p HD, and 720/30p to choose from for video, and 12, 8, or 2 megapixels for images.
The battery life on the Bloggie Live is one of the best that I've seen in a pocket camcorder. Granted, part of that could be due to the fact that it's a larger model and can therefore house a larger battery, but I'm okay with that if it means that I can use the camera for a little under two hours (a combination of shooting photos, regular video, and streaming video, and navigating menus) and lose only one of four bars on the battery meter. I was at least expecting the battery to take a bigger hit when doing live streaming video because of the use of Wi-Fi, but it held up. The fact that I never had to charge the Bloggie Live during my time with it for this review should give you a good idea of how good the battery life is.
The Bloggie Live comes with 8 GB of built-in storage, but unfortunately, it does not have expandable memory. The 8 GB of storage is good for an hour and 15 minutes worth of full- HD video or 1298 photos at a resolution of 12.8 megapixels. I suppose that's not bad for a pocket camcorder with which you probably won't be doing too much serious shooting, but I still would have liked to see an expandability option, seeing as so many pocket camcorders (even ones of much lower quality than the Bloggie Live) have that these days.
And a quick side note: I was especially annoyed about this non-expandable memory when I realized that shooting live streaming video still caused said video to be stored on the camcorder after I was finished recording. I know that may seem like an obvious function, but if you think about it, whenever you're doing live streaming video, chances are good that you're going to be doing so for a good chunk of time. I would guess not too many people do live streaming video for only a matter of seconds, so my concern is twofold: not only are the streamed videos going to take up tons of room on your camera, but if you don't have much storage left, your Bloggie isn't going to be able to stream video for very long since it won't have anywhere to put it. Those are just another couple of reasons why the Bloggie Live should have expandable memory.
The Bloggie Live's autofocus is generally pretty intuitive and quick to adjust when shooting video and stills, and I appreciate the fact that the photo button is a two-stage press so you can trigger the autofocus. Every now and then the autofocus gets stuck and takes a while to catch up and actually focus properly, but for the most part it works quite well, even when zooming in. You can also use the touchscreen to tap your desire subject and then autofocus will take over from there, a welcome type of functionality that you only occasionally see on pocket camcorders.
Probably the biggest issue with the Bloggie Live's shooting performance is its problems with white balance, though. Videos are often plagued by a reddish tinge, especially when taken indoors (or with any red or orange tones in the shot). Color tones in general aren't too bad in terms of saturation, but the camcorder's tendency to be drawn to the redder colors tends to disrupt some of the shots.
So how does the main attraction of live streaming video work? Exceptionally well. I was surprised at how easy it was to set it all up and get a live video stream going. All I had to do was sign up for a free Qik account, punch in my network settings and Qik account information on the Bloggie Live (using the surprisingly good on-screen keyboard), and I was ready to go live. From there, once I hit the record button on the camcorder, a link came up on my personalized Qik page for my live feed and I was able to click on it and watch almost instantly.
Obviously the quality of the video is extremely rough (I think Sony reps at the press briefing I attended about this said it was half-VGA quality), but that's not the point of streaming video. Rather, all I was hoping for was a consistent stream that didn't cut out with clear sound and little delay. I got all of this, with the video feed never giving out and only about a second (maybe even less) behind in terms of delay. Sound was crystal clear and, in my time with testing the live streaming, never came out garbled.
I was especially impressed with how well that chatting function on Qik worked, too; for those that are not familiar with the service, users watching the live video stream can type messages to the person shooting the video. I tested this out and the messages appeared instantly on the screen of the Bloggie Live. This turned out to be an especially entertaining feature when, at the press briefing, the rep who was on the street shooting live streaming video was instructed to talk to random people, but was also warned to "not get punched."
Now, while all of the features of the live streaming video worked extremely well and made for an experience that was not in the least bit frustrating, it is important to note that I was on my home network, and this brings me to my fundamental issue with the Bloggie Live. Yes, this device is a great idea on paper and works well with a reliable Wi-Fi connection, but that's exactly the issue: Wi-Fi isn't everywhere, and reliable Wi-Fi is in even fewer places. With something like the Bloggie Live, it's not like you can just be walking down the street and think, "Oh, I see something neat, I'm going to shoot a live stream of this." You can't, because you have no network to which you can connect.
So this idea of immediacy and being able to shoot live streaming video from anywhere is kind of undermined by the fact that you usually won't have a network available. One of the key selling points behind pocket camcorders is that of spontaneity, and you won't be able to enjoy that benefit at least not when it comes to live video due to the fact that Wi-Fi is not everywhere. It's a great idea in theory, but in reality there aren't many places you'll be able to use it beyond, say, your home or office where you know the network information and it's reliable enough to not give out.
Some would argue that personal hotspots are the solution to this, and, aside from the fact that that's just another expenditure (and not a very cheap one), I can tell you that this doesn't work all that well, either. Case in point: at the press briefing, when the rep did the demo of the live streaming down on the street while we watched from inside the Sony Club, he experienced some serious connectivity issues. It took him a good 10 minutes just to get the stream up and running, and even when he did, the video would sometimes get scrambled or lag, the audio would occasionally get garbled, and eventually it just cut out altogether.
Sony blamed the technical issues on the hotspot that the rep was using, and I believed them because I have the exact same hotspot that I use for work and it cuts out on me all the time. It's completely hit or miss. So the lesson here is that for the Bloggie Live to work well, it requires a consistently strong, reliable connection, and you're only going to find that in a couple of places, like your home. And at that point, it begs the question: why wouldn't you just use the webcam that's hooked up to your PC? Or the one that's built into your notebook? Or even ones that are built into your tablet? Once that element of "shoot live streaming video from anywhere" portability is eliminated, the Bloggie Live becomes a rather unnecessary, pointless device in practice.
Video, Stills, And Audio Performance
The video quality of the Bloggie Live definitely outshines that of any other pocket camcorder I've ever reviewed, but at the end of the day, it's still a pocket camcorder. Aside from the aforementioned issues with white balance and that reddish tinge, the picture always seems to have a bit of a haze around it, as if I were shooting in a fog.
And as sharp as the video quality is in comparison to other pocket camcorders, it's still a little blurry and grainy in the grand scheme of things; it doesn't look very pretty when you use an HDMI cable to hook it up to your TV (or even when you're watching the videos on a smaller screen, like your computer). You really can't watch the videos at much more than the size it would be on the Bloggie's 3-inch screen without starting to notice the grain. Credit where credit is due, however; one of the Bloggie's more impressive qualities is that it handles low-light situations very well and adjusts easily when shifting quickly from low-light to normal-light shots.
Stills taken with the Bloggie look pretty good in general once again, thanks to the Exmor CMOS and the fact that its resolution can go as high as 12.8 megapixels but what I was really impressed with was its auto-macro mode. Most of the pocket camcorders I come by don't even bother with a macro mode, but the Bloggie Live not only has one, it takes exceptional close-up shots (see one of the sample pictures). Like the video, though, the only real flaw is that shots that have any red in them sometimes get messed up with that noticeable reddish tinge.
The audio quality of the Bloggie Live's videos is very good; voices are picked up especially well. There can be a bit of excess ambient noise, but never to the point that it's really disruptive or drowns out peoples' voices. All in all, its sound is very crisp for a pocket camcorder, and I'm impressed with the power and sensitivity of the Bloggie Live's microphone.
Operation and Extras
The Bloggie Live comes in a rather fancy hard box lined with felt, but there isn't actually much inside. Aside from the camcorder itself, you get a wrist strap, the aforementioned male/female USB cable, a "user guide" which is basically a folded piece of paper only containing information about setting up live streaming, and two ads for hotspots. Not much going on here.
I was a little surprised to see that the Bloggie Live did not include any sort of editing software, be it in the packaging or preloaded on the device, but I didn't really mind. The packaged software with pocket camcorders is generally unimpressive and lacking in features; it's usually there just as a means for pulling the video off the device. But since the Bloggie Live can act as USB mass storage when plugged in and since it shoots video in .MP4 format and therefore requires no sort of conversion there really isn't any need to bother with any cursory attempt at photo/video editing software.
The Bloggie Live is a great pocket camcorder because it does what it's supposed to do and it does it well. It shoots surprisingly high-quality photos and video for what it is, it has a good-looking and responsive touchscreen, it's got killer battery life, and its ability to do direct upload and shoot live streaming video over Wi-Fi is impressive and headache-free?when you're on the right connection.
And therein lies the rub with the Bloggie Live. I'm giving it a good rating because it performs all of its functions very well, but when you consider the fact that its most unique function of live streaming video relies heavily on the external factor of Wi-Fi (which, unfortunately, isn't everywhere), it seems a bit pointless. In fact, even when you do find Wi-Fi somewhere, you probably won't know the sign-in information for the network, you may have to pay, the signal may not be very good, or all of the above. Wi-Fi hotspots can't be relied upon for this device, either.
So, in my experience, whenever the Bloggie Live falters or has an issue with live streaming video, it's not the camera's fault, it's the connection's fault, hence the good rating. It does its job well, but that doesn't mean that you'll always have a connection that's doing its job well. And at that point, when you realize that the only place you can use this thing to shoot live streaming video (reliably, at least) is in your home or maybe your place of work where the connections are strong enough and easy to access, you may find yourself wondering why Sony would even bother putting Wi-Fi in a pocket camcorder at all.