Creative Vado HD 3rd gen camcorder review

3.5 out of 5
$179

For

External mic option, compact, HDMI cable included, noisy low light performance

Against

Video quality not fantastic, design not that exciting, no macro mode

The Creative Vado has offered a viable alternative to the Flip line-up of pocket camcorders since they first started hitting the shelves a few years back. We have here the third generation device, the Creative Vado HD, taking the same name as its predecessor.

The Vado HD has the common form factor that the majority of these devices possess: a rear display sits above the controls, and a forward facing camera sits on the front of the device. It measures 8.8 x 57.6 x 15.8mm and weighs just under 100g, so is easily pocketable.

The design has been changed from the previous edition and we don't think it looks as slick. The plastic body comes in a range of colours, but doesn’t have the solid build of the latest Flip Mino HD, it's closest competitor.

The Vado features a flip-out USB connection in the bottom of the device. In the past this had a tab on it, which we criticised, as it meant you couldn't stand the Vado up to film. The tab is gone, but the design still doesn't give you a stable platform for filming, unless you opt for a tripod. Shooting with a tripod will give you the best results, as these small format camcorders do suffer from image wobble which is very noticeable when hand-holding, especially if you are moving.

One thing in the favour of the Vado is that it features a removable battery. Creative point out that the current accessory battery charger and battery won't work with the new Vado, but we'd expect to see them in the future so you can extend your time away from your PC and the normal USB charging.

The top sees a power button, which also doubles as a key lock, which we found irritating and impractical: it will stop you recording by accident, but the icon is so small you'll probably be hitting the button and wondering why it isn't responding, and turning the thing on an off is hardly a problem.

The right-hand side gives you a mode switcher (video/still), a delete button and mini-HDMI covered by a flap. Creative have the decency to bundle the right type of cable in the box, so you'll be able to plug straight into your HD TV to play back your movies if you choose.

The rear control panel offers touch-sensitive controls which are pretty easy to determine, offering the main central record button and play/pause, skip back and forward and up and down. These controls are used to navigate the basic menus, which will let you make a few minor changes to the settings.

The screen on the back is a 2-inch 640 x 240 pixel resolution display. It's nice to see these screens getting a little larger, but with the move into HD video on mobile phones, these pocket camcorders can't really compete on screen size: it is still a little too small to determine whether you've captured anything of decent quality and the screen doesn't give you cleanest image it could – at times it looks a little milky, especially when looking at a bright subject.

The lens has a max aperture of F/2.0, suggesting it slightly better suited to low light work. In low light it is reasonable, but noise comes in very quickly, normal for this type of camcorder. In an average lit room in the evening, you'll find that noise blights detail and you lose the advantage of the headline high definition recording very quickly.

In terms of video quality, the Vado offers three settings: HD+, HD and VGA. The first two are both at 1280 x 720 at 30fps, but have different bit rates, so HD+ gives you marginally better quality, but larger file sizes. The final VGA setting (640 x 480) is ok, but in this age of YouTube HD, you'll probably want to stick to HD, which gives better results overall, especially if you are looking to playback on a large screen TV or monitor.

In daylight the Creative Vado has a reasonable go at HD. Being a fixed focus device, you'll find that anything too close to the lens, say under about 60cm, is out of focus. Beyond that detail drops out quickly, making the Vado HD only really effective in the middle distance. This is a shortcoming of fixed focus devices, although some come with a macro mode, such as the Kodak Zi8, ominously missing on the Vado. The lens is fairly wide angle though, which fits with the optimal focal point, so filming groups of people fits well with the Vado HD's capabilities.

The video quality in daylight is pretty good, although as we've mentioned detail drops out at distance, looking rather mottled in places. We did find some strange colour casts (pink) in some videos as the Vado adjusted to the light conditions. Reds come across over-saturated too, so the colour balance isn't quite right, and the results didn't look as good as those from the latest Flip Mino HD.

The Vado HD also offers still photos, but these are captured at a rather low 1280 x 720 resolution and without being able to focus independently, they lack any real sharpness. They look like mobile phone camera pictures, not great, but at a push they'll do for sharing online.

Sitting on the top of top of the Vado HD is a 3.5mm jack. This will let you use headphones or plug in an accessory stereo mic or AV out. This is something that makes the Vado HD a little more unique, as there is the potential to improve the sound quality over the default, a common complaint with pocket camcorders. We tested it with a mono mic, which gave much clearer voice audio in an interview situation, but a stereo mic would be preferred for added ambience. The in-built mic is subject to environmental noise, but we found it recorded with adequate volume.

Sharing online is essentially what this type of pocket camcorder is all about. Supporting both PC and Mac, the onboard Vado Central software offers basic editing and playback options (although we found the sound levels made everything sound really noisy). It also offers a host of sharing options, letting you upload direct to YouTube, Facebook, Box.net, Kinkast, Motionbox, Picasa, Twitter and Photobucket - all you have to do is log in. Simple as it is, it only operates when the Vado is connected and you might just prefer to use the default software on your PC or Mac to view and upload files.

The third-gen Vado HD has a 4GB capacity, which will give you around 1 hour of recording at the highest settings. Video is output as H.264 MPEG4 with AAC audio. The battery will give you 2 hours of recording.

Verdict

Creative at launch claimed that "The design looks so cool people will stop you on the street and ask you where you got it". They obviously haven't seen the new metal-bodied Flip Mino HD, which beats this hands down in the looks department.

The Creative Vado HD doesn't offer much that you won't find elsewhere in the pocket camcorder world, except in the option of adding an external microphone, something that a lot of people have been crying out for.

The Vado is simple to use and works out of the box without a hitch and we are grateful for the inclusion of the HDMI cable. There are a few things to complain about, like the lack of a macro mode and we weren't wowed by the video quality compared to its rivals.

A few tweaks have been made, but the new Creative Vado HD doesn't really advance the pocket camcorder world by any great measure.

We're waiting to find out what the UK price will be, but at $179 it looks to be competitively priced.