Kodak Playtouch

The Kodak Playtouch takes a twist on the popular trend for pocket camcorders, adding Full HD 1080p video capture and a 3-inch touchscreen into the mix. It’s a move we’ve seen from a number of manufacturers looking to expand the offering of such devices and avoid being eclipsed by equally pocket-friendly smartphones.

The Playtouch is certainly pocketable, measuring 58.4 x 109.2 x 15.2mm, if anything, it is a little on the fat side compared to your average phone. It weighs about 100g, so is light enough to port around without really noticing you have it in your bag or jacket pocket.

With a glossy black plastic front and a glossy touchscreen panel on the back, the Playtouch will soon be covered in fingerprints, so be prepared to spend your time polishing it against your t-shirt. There are a number of connections on the Playtouch with a 2.5mm AV jack to connect to your TV and a 3.5mm jack for headphones. Hiding under a flap on the left-hand side are the mini HDMI and Micro-USB connections and on the right-hand side a flap which covers the slot for the SD card. There is a tripod mount on the bottom, which is sadly curved, so it won’t stand up on its own, so stabilising the Playtouch on a table or wall is harder than it needs to be.

Also hiding on the side and accessed via the same flap as the HDMI and Micro-USB, is a latch to release the USB arm. An almost defacto feature on these types of devices, it means you can plug straight into your computer without the need to lug around an additional cable. As such, the Micro-USB only offers charging, and to share or extract your videos you’ll have to use the full-sized USB. 

Kodak have generously bundled pretty much everything you could want in the box, including a mains power pack to charge the internal battery (user replaceable, if you want to carry a spare), and the cables, including the right HDMI cable to connect to your TV as well as a Composite video cable which plugs into the 2.5mm jack. There is also a wrist strap and a bag which will take care of the aforementioned cleaning.

There is practically no internal memory to speak of, giving you only 7 seconds of video at the highest 1080p resolution, so an SD card is essential. Some will also like the fact that there is a battery that you could swap out with a fresh one if you are away from your charger for any length of time. The battery will give you a couple of hours of recording and is accessed by slipping off the front cover.

Video capture comes in four different modes, the headline being 1080p at 30fps and dropping down to offer 720p at either 60fps or 30fps and finally the SD offering which gives you a 848 x 480 resolution at 30fps. Still capture is offered at 5 megapixels. On top of the standard video capture you can apply a number of effects, although none are especially exciting: sepia, monochrome, high saturation and “70s film”. The effects are noticeable, but we’d have preferred something more dramatic, like a “miniaturise” or Lomo effect.

There is only one button on the back of the Playtouch - as the name suggests, other controls are handled via touch on the display. The touch response is good and the menu options are big enough to make it simple to skip around the settings and make your choices. However, there is one significant flaw with the whole arrangement.

You’re given a 3-inch screen, but you can only record with the device in portrait, so rather than getting the entire length of the display to view your images, you only get the width. As such, you are left with an image display that is little different from previous devices such as the Kodak Zx1 or the Kodak Zi8. The extra screen space of that 3-inch screen is taken up by the touch controls until you press the record button, after which you are offered touch controls for the digital zoom (which we’d advise against using).

We’d have much rather seen the Playtouch deployed in a landscape aspect, giving you the advantage of that large screen. Bizarrely, the icons will auto-rotate when you switch the camera around, even if the recording doesn’t. To give it its dues however, watching video back and showing it to other people is great thanks to the large screen.

As on previous Kodak pocket camcorders, the Playtouch offers two focus settings: normal and macro. Normal is described as 100cm to infinity, whilst macro handles a distance of 15mm. Switching modes during filming results in a sound like someone firing a nailgun into your head, so it doesn’t really give you a smooth transition for creative filming. We prefer this arrangement to the fixed focus offering of many devices, which fail to give you any opportunity for macro capture. The focus mode switch also means you don’t have to contend with the mic picking up chirps or buzzing as autofocus adjusts, so there are pros and cons to both arrangements and compromises you have to accept.

However, the quality of the video captured isn’t that good overall. Even on the highest settings there seemed to be a lack of distance detail and a great deal of ghosting on panning shots. Switching to 720/60fps copes with movements much better, preserving some detail as you move the camera around, but with a noticeable drop off in quality. In good light there was noise present in video (also apparent in the stills) especially in the sky. Overall, it just isn’t as sharp as we wanted it to be and didn't handle high contrast scenes adeptly, especially noticeable when you take advantage of the HDMI and view it on your TV.

In low light noise crashes in, but that’s common for pocket camcorders. Another thing we noticed was that the lens wasn’t very wide angle, so you may need to take a few steps back to get what you want - at 1080p this is very noticeable, with the 720p setting being slightly wider angle.

Audio is another weakness of the Playtouch. It picks up a lot of hand noise, we’ve mentioned the switch noise too, but it also only offers mono audio. It picks up a lot of environmental noise - a common problem for many small devices. You do get a gain control, so if you are somewhere noisy you can turn the mic level down to save your ears. Turn it down we did, but we still found that a light wind made the mic whistle. In quiet conditions we found there was always a hiss from the mic, although recent firmware updates seem to have toned this down a degree.

The headphone jack will also support an external stereo mic, although you don’t get one supplied in the box, meaning you’ll be able to get away from those hand noises and so on - making the Playtouch a more appealing model for those that like to do their bit to camera, or narrate from behind it. We still found some hiss, but the results will vary depending on what mic you connect - you’ll also have to remember to select the right option onscreen when connecting headphones or mic prior to starting recording.

There is a noticeable lag between what you see on the display and what you are actually doing, worth bearing in mind if you are filming anything that requires precision - although we suspect for the sort of kids in the garden or camping holiday deployment, this won’t be a problem.

Stills capture are equivalent to a basic 5-megapixel phone camera and don’t really give you too much to get excited about, so it won't replace a proper digital camera.

Sharing is the name of the game with the Playtouch and as such it comes with software pre-loaded on the device to install on your computer. It supports both PC and Mac (with PC owners getting Arcsoft Media Impression and Mac owners getting something called Kodak Camera Setup App). We tested it with a Mac. On connection the software offers to install and will then let you make various selections, such as where to upload video to and where to save content on your local drive.

The idea is to automate the process as much as possible, so you can indicate what you want to upload within the Playtouch playback mode, which means you can get your content out swiftly on connection. Call us old fashioned, but we quite like the manual process of extracting the content you want, saving it where you want and then sharing what you want - ultimately it doesn't save you that much time using the automation and the manual route offers you many more settings.

Where the 3-inch screen does become a little more useful is in previewing your video, where it will play on the full screen. The resolution is a little on the low side compared to your average smartphone, but it’s a better offering than the tiny screens of older pocket camcorders. 

Also offered is digital image stabilisation, but we’d rather opt for proper support, which gets you the best results overall - a mini tripod will be a great addition for setting the camera up and keeping it steady whilst you film the action in front of you.

Verdict

The Kodak Playtouch makes the right moves, but doesn’t delight with the final results. The Full HD video capture lacks the impact we really want and there are various compromises along the way. The focusing switch offers macro potential, but we’d prefer the simplicity of autofocus. The audio is poor from the built-in mic, but the external mic option is a real positive.

But the biggest disappointment is in the use of the screen. Kodak set out on the right course, but then fall at the first hurdle. We want to film and see all the action, as it happens, on the large screen. That means flipping the device into landscape, something it won’t let you do.

Something of a mixed bag, the Kodak Playtouch offers a heavy dose of pros and cons. The touch interface doesn’t seem worth it given that the screen isn’t put to best use and the quality isn’t quite good enough, especially at the £200 mark.