Samsung HMX-U10 camcorder review

The pocket camcorder segment has caught the eye of Samsung, offering up their HMX-U10. It brings with it high-definition recording capabilities and plenty of other options.

The U10 is similar in size to Creative's Vado HD and the Flip Mino HD, measuring 56 x 103 x 15.5mm. The compact dimensions are helped by the use of an internal battery over the removable battery, or AA batteries, you'll find in some rivals. This means you get the choice of charging from a power socket or USB. It only weighs 95g.

The most distinctive element to the design of the U10 is a 7-degree bend to the body. In practice this makes little difference to the actual use, but it looks neat enough. The back features a 2-inch LCD display set into the brushed aluminium back panel. The bottom of this back panel gives you touch controls, which mostly deal with menu navigation and selection options.

The main control buttons - record video, playback, stills capture - sit in a band across the middle. If you've used a Flip or similar camera in the past, it will take you a while to hit the video capture button, rather than the "OK" button that sits in the centre of the panel at the back.

On the front you'll find an F/3.0 lens, which isn't particularly fast as we'll see when we get the results of the low light tests. That lens sits atop a CMOS sensor that is capable of high-definition video capture, or a still capture up to a 10-megapixel resolution.

Unlike many of the alternatives, the U10 comes with a wealth of options accessed through the menu button on the back. You get device settings that run down as far as giving you a guide to attaching the Component connections to your TV set, setting date/time, formatting the SD card and so on.

Then you get a whole world of options: a choice of Auto, Sports or Beach/Snow scene modes; you get to choose the resolution from Slow Motion (320 x 240), 480/60p (854 x 480, 60fps), 720/60p (1280 x 720, 60fps), 720/30p (1280 x 720, 30fps) and finally 1080/30p (1920 x 1080, 30fps); you then get the option of fine or super fine quality, a whole bunch of effects, backlighting, and user-definable time lapse recording (check our our boring test video here).

So the U10 offers you (potentially confusing) choices that you won't find elsewhere. The body offers up a surprising mixture of unconventional connections too. Samsung have gone with a bespoke DC input for charging the device which is separate from the AV connections. Under the AV flap you'll find a Mini-USB (which also charges) and another AV output, which connects to a bundled Component cable. We would have preferred a straight HDMI connection on the side, but using Component does mean that you can use Composite video for older TVs. The thing to remember is that whatever screen you are connecting to, you'll need to use Samsung's cable.

Operation is simple enough, simply power on and press the video button and off it goes. Startup is a little slow and it will be about 7 seconds before you are actually recording video footage. The main buttons have a fairly crisp action to them, but the sensitivity of the touch controls mean you can easily find yourself in the menu from an unintentional passing touch.

The different settings bring with them bags of novelty, especially the time lapse and slow motion options. The various effects mean you can opt for black and white, sepia or something more extreme, but you don't quite get the range that Apple's iPod nano now offers. But the real meat is in the HD video, which is probably why you are interested in this camera. 

(Watch in HD on YouTube)

It is fixed focus with no "macro" option, so close range subjects (under 1m) won't be in very sharp. If you plan on filming yourself, you need to get the camera more than your arm's length away to make it sharp, but too far, and you run the same risk. The overall result is that only subjects within about 3 metres or so of the lens look sharp and on wider scenes it looks soft overall, which isn't a great result.

The various HD options essentially give you the option of cramming more onto your card, with 720/30p offering the most conservative results in terms of storage for HD footage. The 720/60p is a smoothest result overall whilst 1080/30p contains the most detail, but not necessarily the smoothest action.

All the HD settings work rather well in good light giving respectable colour representations, but suffer in low light and shadow areas, throwing up a lot of noise as the light drop thanks to that slow lens on the front. Indoor footage suffers as a result unless you have decent lighting, with better performance in lower light coming from the Flip Ultra HD and Kodak rivals.

There is a zoom option, but it is digital, so works by cropping the sensor so you don't get digital zoom at the 1080 setting, only in lower resolutions. It's not worth using anyhow, as it is very limited, slow and lessens the quality overall.

The wealth of options may be confusing, but some of them are actually effective, particularly the backlighting option, which will lighten up the foreground. Time lapse is a real novelty and can get some good creative results, but you need to be connected to the power to use it, as the camera screen remains on at all times, so you'll run down the battery with only a few seconds of captured footage.

There are some in-camera editing options too, allowing you to split clips, so you can limit a clip to the part you actually want, which plays to the U10's other headline feature: automatic YouTube uploading.

Before you get too excited, it works by using Samsung's Intelli-Studio that comes on the camera. Simply connecting the camera to a PC will let you launch the software and manage your content. There is a button on the back of the U10 that will let you mark files for upload to YouTube. Once you've entered the necessary account details on your PC, it will happily upload your video.

The software is a little rough and ready, but it will upload HD content to appear as "HD" on YouTube, but you don't get to enter any details, so you'll have to remember to go in and add all the tags, change the title and so on. Unfortunately the software is only for PC users, so Mac users lose this "auto" upload feature, but in truth, it saves little time over navigating to the file and doing it manually. Files are captured in MPEG4 H.264.

Sound is something of an issue in pocket camcorders and the U10 doesn't do anything to advance this. The mic is very exposed and on a windy day the audio is very poor. In a sheltered environment the microphone offers much better performance, indoors at a presentation it wasn't the cleanest audio, but clear enough to use, see the low light presentation video from the First ELSE launch below.

(Watch in HD on YouTube)

The U10 also boasts about giving you 10-megapixel stills, but these are more akin to mobile phone camera shots than something you'll get from a dedicated compact camera, suffering from the same low light noise as video, but also displaying plenty of fringing, an overall lack of detail and the same issues from being fixed focus.

Battery life gives you about 2 hours for the camera and of course the amount you can record depends on the size of the card you choose and the settings you select. The on-screen information tells you the amount of remaining space for your current settings and gives you a battery indicator.

There is a tripod mounting thread on the side of the camera and an attachment in the box lets you convert this over to bottom mounting to use with any accessories you might have.

Verdict

Overall the Samsung HMX-U10 is an attractive looking device which offers more options than many of its rivals. Unfortunately what it brings in superficial novelty it lacks in core strength. The HD footage is let down by focal range and the low light performance is poor. The power options might concern some as you won't be able to swap out batteries if you are filming on a day out.

Overall we found the Samsung HMX-U10 didn't offer the simplicity of the likes of the Flip Ultra HD or the performance offered by Kodak's Zi8, but it does win on novelty factors.