Having a portable camcorder is a necessity in the video blogger’s toolbox. And since I’d been toying with the idea of video blogging, I asked for feedback on whether to get the Flip Mino or the RCA Small Wonder pocket camcorder.
Although I received a lot of good feedback about the Flip Mino, I opted for the Small Wonder because its feature set simply outweighed the Flip’s. Basically, I couldn’t justify spending $50 more for less features and better form factor. (I wanted to, but couldn’t.)
After playing around with the Small Wonder, this is my unbiased review for anyone else considering such a purchase.
What You Get (aka What’s In the Box)
When the package arrived, the device looked a little bigger than I had expected. But, it still wasn’t so massive it couldn’t be ported around in a purse or bag. (I wouldn’t consider putting it in my pocket, though, unless you’re wearing baggy pants. It’s still a bit bulky for that.)
Once you’re finally able to cut through the Fort Knox style packaging–this was an annoyance to me–you have a few accessories that are included:
- The camcorder itself (of course)
- Carrying pouch (Good quality, but has the RCA branding all over the front of it)
- Lanyard (hand strap)
- USB extension cable
- 2 AA batteries (surprisingly, they were good quality: Energizer)
- AV cable for connecting to your television. (The AV cable only included a single audio output when it should have had two. Even the documentation referenced the "white and red" cables although only the AV cable only had white.)
- 1GB MicroSD storage card (The removable storage card was a nice touch, but it should have also come with an SD adapter. It’s not a big deal because they generally come with any MicroSD card purchase, but if someone isn’t intending to expand the memory any time soon, it would have been nice to have.)
First Impressions of the Small Wonder
The camcorder itself is very straight forward. In fact, I didn’t really need to consult the included documentation to get the batteries and memory card put in.
But, the documentation did come in handy for setting the date and time. This, in my opinion, is a good thing–when a device is simple enough to set up without reading through miles of how-to.
The camcorder itself was light, until you put the batteries in. That said, it still wasn’t unbearably heavy. It could be likened to a mid-size cell phone; it actually weighs less than my HTC Tilt. When compared to my Tilt, it’s just a little bit thicker, the same width, and slightly shorter.
What I found a little disturbing, however, was the USB arm. To unfold the arm, you must first flip out the screen, pull out the USB, and then flip the screen back. As if that wasn’t tedious enough, the Flip out screen and USB arm feels somewhat flimsy and I’d be worried to let a child hold it with either of those elements in the outward position.
Aside from that, the device does seem sturdy–as though it can definitely handle a few short drops (though I don’t recommend dropping it to find out).
What I Like About The Small Wonder
Initially, the deciding factor for me was the expandable memory. In the event that I’d like to store more than an hour’s worth of video on the device, it’s comforting to know that all I need to do is swap out a memory card like I can do with my digital camera.
Another perk is the ability to take quick snapshots. Although these are not high quality snapshots, they will certainly do in a pinch or if you just want to grab a quick shot of something with better quality than your cell phone can produce. Plus, there’s no need to futz around with various settings or buttons or waiting for the camera to process and take the shot (that’s the one thing I hate about my cell phone’s built-in camera); hit one button and the snapshot is taken within a second.
The flip out screen means that you can easily record yourself and see what’s happening at the same time.
You also have the ability to decide whether you’d like to take web quality or high quality video. The high quality (HQ) video is quite good–they claim near DVD quality–while the web quality (webQ) video is a little more pixilated. HQ is recommended if you intend to watch the video on your TV while web quality is for, well, viewing on the web. If you have a large storage card in there, then you may as well just go ahead and use HQ all around; you can always downgrade the video, but you can’t upgrade.
And what would a review be without a demonstration of the quality? This is a very quick (37 seconds) video done using the webQ mode on the camera:
And here’s the quality you can expect from the one-button snapshots:
It’s not spectacularly clear or anything, but it gets the job done and you can make out the object in the photo. (That’s my cell phone laying on my review notes, in case you’re curious.)
What Needs Improvement
Since nothing is ever perfect, I did have a few complaints about the device, although quite minor in the grand scheme of things.
My first and main complaint is there’s no way to disable the sound. When you turn the device on or off, it plays what could only be described as the strumming of a harp. When you begin recording, it dings, and even when you’re flipping through the videos, more dinging. In general, this wouldn’t be bad, but in some settings–trust me, I learned the hard way–it’s preferable not to have sound enabled (I’d like to believe that’s why most cell phones have a vibrate or “sound off” setting).
Another complaint that ties for first is that it doesn’t have a lock. Most devices that are meant to be carried in a purse or pocket come with a way to lock the button to guard against accidental activation. The RCA Small Wonder doesn’t.
While it may be unlikely that you will accidentally hit the on button and the record, it’s still nice to have that added peace of mind. There’s nothing worse than finding out that your battery died or the memory card is full of black video. (I should also mention that if the device is on and has not been used, it will turn itself off after 2 minutes.)
As I thought more about it, I would have preferred to have a device with a built-in battery. Initially, the use of AA batteries was a selling point for me (I generally use rechargeable batteries, so needing to constantly purchase more wasn’t a problem).
Then I began thinking more about the convenience of not having to constantly replace the batteries in my iPod or cell phone, and how annoying it was to change the batteries in my digital camera, I slowly came to the conclusion that having a built-in battery was indeed a good thing.
Even though the device may need to be replaced in 5 years because the battery no longer holds a charge, by that time, I’d probably be ready to upgrade the device anyway and since it uses a MicroSD card, taking the data with me wouldn’t be difficult.
In general, this device needs to be slimmer and cuter. Not really a complaint, but with the direction in which technology is moving, this device could certainly take a lesson from Apple and other companies on sleek, lightweight, and minimalist design (especially with the packaging).
Addendum for Windows Vista Users
When I finally connected the device to my Windows Vista laptop (to grab the video/still photos), the memory manager didn’t automatically start. Nothing happened except Windows told me the device has been installed. Unfortunately, their included Read Me file isn’t much help.
In fact, although it says it’s compatible with Windows Vista, I’ve not been able to get the Memory Manager software to perform correctly. I continue to receive a "No Disk" error message upon launch which can only be closed by quitting the program from the Task Manager. It’s not a big deal for me personally because I can just open it up, browse the files, and do with them as I wish. For the average user who may be looking for ultra-simple, it could be a problem.
All of that said, I can’t give you a proper review the included software and its capabilities; at least, not from my Vista machine.
My Final Thoughts
It’s highly unlikely that you will win any independent movie awards with the film you shoot using this camera, but for capturing life’s little moments or even video blogging on the go, this camera certainly delivers. Plus, the flip out LCD screen makes recording yourself a much simpler task in case you want to provide instructional videos.
The Small Wonder has, in general, all the features of the Flip (minus the form factor) for less money which also makes it a practical investment.