Gadgets & Gizmos


Another Friday as arrived and it’s time to have fun and forget about spreadsheets, meetings and documents. Today we take a look at Battlefield Heroes which is a free online first person shooter game developed by EA.

Installation

To begin playing Battlefield Heroes you must register for an account. Here we take a look at installing it with Firefox. You need to install the Battlefield Heroes Updater and restart Firefox.

When you get back you’ll need to install the updater.

Accept the EULA…

Then wait as everything is downloaded and installed. It’s a fairly complex game so the amount of time it takes will vary.

After installation is complete you can start playing right away.

Playing Battlefield Heroes

When you first start out you might want to go through Basic Training so you can get a feel for the controls and learn what they do.

You start out completing different assignments throughout the tutorial…just follow the arrows to the next one.

You learn how to enter tanks, planes, jeeps and other vehicles and maneuver them.

Driving a jeep to the next checkpoint for a new assignment.

Learning to use weapons and attack enemies…

Firing at other tanks in the tutorial…

Flying a plane around… this is very fun and you can shoot targets as well.

There are plenty of settings you can change from the video and audio quality to keyboard controls.

You’re allowed to create up to three hero’s and can choose the way they look and the type of soldier they are including a gunner, soldier, and commando.

Unfortunately while I was writing this up I was kicked off the server during battle because I was idle and trying to get screenshots. But I’m sure you get the idea of the game. During the game other players can hop in a vehicle with you and shoot at the enemy while your driving. It’s kind of a “capture the flag” type rules. The controls are fluid and the graphics are very nice. It’s definitely a lot of fun.

Even going through Basic Training is a fun experience and would be perfect while you’re at work. Then when you get home and have free time you’ll be ready for real battle. We’re interested in hearing from those of you who have played the game. Tell us what you like or don’t like about Battlefield Hero’s.

Play Battlefield Heroes

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It is another Friday and you’re sick of entering data and reviewing spreadsheets.  So today we will show you the fun action-puzzle game Excit! which helps you break away from spreadsheet chaos.

Playing Excit!

The goal of Excit! is to navigate the cross around the spreadsheets obstacles and reach the exit without leaving the screen.

After each level you complete you’re given a password so you don’t have to go through all the levels every time you play.

Another goal to work at is collecting MIS logos scattered throughout the levels.

As you progress through levels they become increasingly difficult and add more challenges and include different items to collect to complete the level.

This game is a lot of fun and helps you get away from the normal drudgery of looking through spreadsheets by putting a fun twist on them.

Play Excit!

Another Friday is here and today it’s time to play a flash game on the boss’s time. Today we take a look at Right 2 Point, which is a free flash game where you need to click and point to kill the baddies before they get you.

Right 2 Point

At the main page you can start a game right away or read the story behind it.

When you begin a new game it goes through a short story that explains your character and a bit of the story. Luckily you can skip the intro so you don’t have to watch it every time you play.

The Tazering Goons start walking toward you and “taze” you with their fingers. You need to control the mouse and left-click to kill them before they get to you.

As you continue on you advance levels. The meters at the top show your Finger Skills and there is a radar at the upper right corner that shows Goons approaching.

Some of the Goons can be killed with body shots and others need to be hit in the head. You can also slow them down when the clock icon is in front of them.

If the Tazering Goons get the best of you, you can play again or invite some friends to play as well.

This game is a lot of fun and as a funny story, with a cool rock music sound track. Start off the new year right and waste time at work with this fun first person pointer until the bell rings.

Play Right 2 Point

“What gadget should I get?” is a timeless question. To answer it, here’s our leaderboard of favorite gadgets, from smartphones, laptops and cameras to vacuums, rechargeable batteries and earphones.

Last updated Nov 25th, 2009 but we’ll update this list as the new stuff replaces the old and crusty. We read and write reviews so you don’t have to!

Smartphones


• The Best Smartphones: We like the iPhone, the Motorola Droid because it runs Android 2.0 operating system, and the Palm Pre for people who have stuck with Sprint. We do not like anything Symbian or Windows Mobile 6.5, for the time being. (But are excited for Windows Mobile 7.)

• Cheapest Android Phones: Droid Eris and HTC Hero.

• The Best Smartphones, By Carrier: We sorted out theses answers on Nov 24th, but this category moves quickly so stay sharp when researching.

• Best Windows Mobile Phone We Wish Didn’t Run Windows Mobile 6.5: The HTC HD2

• Best BlackBerry: If you’re into phones with exceedingly reliable push email, the Bold 9700 is your phone. (We don’t like Blackberry’s touchscreen interfaces, so the Storms are no good.)

• Non-Smartphones: You mean dumbphones? No thank you.

Computers


• Netbook: If you must get one of these small, cheap and utterly slow machines, the HP Mini 311 with ion graphics is a good one.

• Netbook for Hackintoshing: Dell Mini 10v (and it must be the v) is the top choice. Here’s our guide to making it run OS X.

• Laptop: Our bias for OS X and Windows 7 becomes apparent in our choice of hardware that can run both without hacking. Macbook Pros. (Plus, we like unibody construction.)

• Best Non-Apple Laptops: Dell’s Adamo XPS may not be fast but it is “insane,” raising the bar on design and quality outside of Cupertino. We also like Thinkpads in general, like the X series and the new multitouch t400s. (It’s probably also worth noting that Asus and Toshiba recently came out on top in reliability.)

• Gaming Laptops and Desktops: Our friend Will Smith at Maximum PC likes these two laptops and two desktops. I personally like Xbox.

• All in One: We like the iMac, the HP Touchsmart and although we haven’t used it yet, the Sony Vaio L because it can double as a TV even when the PC is off. The PCs here have infrared touchscreens, so they do multitouch, but in a really shoddy way.

• MIDs: We hate MIDs. Always have, always will. Intel said they had the tech to make them; but the world never had the need. It either fits in a backpack and lets you do real work on a real screen and keyboard, or it fits in your pocket. There’s no real need for anything inbetween.

• Operating Systems: Windows 7 or Snow Leopard

• Network attached storage: We like the HP Mediasmart series with upnp, iTunes and Time Machine servers among other things. But the Iomega NAS is only a little less fancy and costs half the price.

Audio


• The Best receiver under $1000: We haven’t tested one in awhile, but we’re going to go out on a limb and say we like Onkyo, Denon, Yamaha and Pioneer gear. While some of our own testing is in progress, we’ll go with what our friends at Sound and Vision like: The Onkyo TX-SR706 7.1 receiver with 4HDMI ports and THX certification for $900.

• The Best High-End Portable Media Players: Zune HD and the iPod Touch. We Like the Zune pass system a lot, which allows you to keep 10 songs a month out of your unlimited downloads, even after you stop subscribing. But the iPod Touch‘s large app library makes it a powerful little computer.

• Best high-capacity media player: iPod classic is pretty much the only one left, since Zune has been discontinued and Archos is a mess.

• Flash Media Drives: We’ve always loved the screenless shuffle’s utility, but there are other drives to be had with more functionality for cheaper. Especially now that the buttonless iPod shuffle is sort of annoying to use. We like the Sandisk Sansa Clip+.

• Surround Soundbar: There’s only one series of soundbars that uses cold war submarine tech to bounce soundwaves off your walls for surround, and they’re made by Yamaha. I tested the YSP-4000.

• iPod Speaker Dock: JBL OnStage 400p (A winner from last year — I’m almost certain we should be retesting this category)

Video


• Best HDTV under $1000: Panasonic’s X1 series plasmas, and four more here.

• Best HDTVs, period: Here.

• 1080p Projectors Under $1000: The Vivitek H1080FD is one we like, although we have not tested many.

• Best Monitors: If your’e a Mac user, the 24-inch Cinema Display has a built in magsafe adapter. The Asus 23-inch VH236H is good deal at about $230, but Samsung and Dell are our solid choices for monitor brands, as well.

• The Best Pocket Projectors: There is no such thing, friend. Wait a generation or 3.

• Blu-ray player: The LG BD390 with WiFi with Netflix and DivX playback is awesome, but we’ll never leave out the PS3!

• Media Streamers for People Who Hate iTunes or Love Piracy: The WDTV Live is a good one for people who like it easy, but hackers will probably choose Popcorn Hour, both which did well in our battlemodo. (Stay tuned, cuz that $99 Asus O!Play may soon be the champ.)

Cameras


• Best Entry-Level Video-Capable DSLR: Canon T1i

• Best Midrange DSLR: The Nikon D90 has the same sensor as the D300 at a better price.

• Best Prosumer DSLRs: The Canon 7D is great at shooting video and has great low light performance for an 18MP camera.

• Best Flash Camcorder: The Flip Ultra HD.

• Best Quality Point and Shoot: We like the Canon G11 (which is pretty big, but pretty wonderful.)

• A Camcorder We Like: We haven’t tested any in awhile, but we tend to like DSLRs that shoot video or cheap flash camcorders. If you must have a camcorder, our friends at CamcorderInfo liked the Panasonic HDC-TM300 for ~$1000.

• Best Point and Shoot: We like the Canon S90, even though we’re sure there are slimmer cameras. This uses the same sensor as the G11 and a faster lens, so it takes great shots for a slim.

• Best Rugged Cameras: The Pentax W80 is the best all around camera because of it’s depth and temperature ratings and size. The Lumix has the best picture quality but is a bit of a wimp with low thresholds for dives and temperatures. Canon‘s the best for water only because of its huge nose. And the outstandingly rugged Olympus has a fatal flaw, which is its terrible video.

• Best Helmet Camera: We love the GoPro Hero HD Wide because it mounts anywhere, is really waterproof and lives in a protected case. Plus, 1080p for $250 bucks.

• Best Slow Motion Pocket Camera: Casio EX FC100

Random Stuff


• The Best iPhone Apps: Here’s our monthly list of iPhone Apps, as well as our weekly roundups of the best new releases.

• The Best iPhone GPS Apps: Motion X GPS is our favorite value GPS app, but ALK’s CoPilot is another cheap champ. Navigon is still the classiest, but it costs a lot. (We’re hoping for free Google Maps with Navigation to come to iPhone.)

• The Best Android Apps: There aren’t as many Android apps out, but here are the ones we think are worth checking out.

• Ebook reader: Until we review a Nook, the Kindle 2 is still king.

• USB drive: The Patriot Xporter is fast, but if you have cash to spare, the Corsair Voyager GT is slightly faster and has 128GB of space.

• The Best Video Game Console: Xbox 360

• The Best Video Service: Anything, really, combined with Hulu and Netflix (for free old stuff).

• Best mid-tier office chairs: Herrman Miller Setu and Steelcase Cobi.

• Vacuums: We will always be loyal to Sir James Dyson because he tried to sell bagless vacuum tech to big vacuum corporations and they shut him down motivated by the profitability of bag sales. Then he started his own company. His machines are loud, but you can’t argue with their industrial design. Here’s his latest handheld and ball vacuum.

• Routers: D-Link Dir685. I know it has a digital picture frame built into it, but it also has a HDD and a bittorrent client. And Jason says it’s been more reliable than the top line Linksys he tested it against. I also like the Time Capsule, but haven’t yet tested the one with 2x the wireless performance.

• The Best Headphones: For in ear buds, we like the Shure SE110/SE115, Ultimate Ears Metro.fi and Etymotics hf5 won our tests. (The Last updated August 2008, so look for updates to winners.) We like the Klipsch Image S4i earbuds for people who want to use the iPhone’s voice control or iPod shuffle’s Voiceover function. For Bluetooth stereo headsets, we like the Motorola s305.

• Rechargeable Batteries: Duracell destroyed Energizer, and kept up with the legendary Sanyo Enerloops.

• Mice: For gaming, the Microsoft Sidewinder X8. The Logictech MX1100 for regular mousing. And the Magic Mouse is not amazing, but it’s pretty good if you have a Mac—the best mouse Apple has ever made.

• Keyboard: We like the Logitech DiNovo.

We’re in kind of a golden age of DSLR cameras. They’re cheaper than ever, so they’re affordable, and they do more stuff than ever, so the time’s right to jump in. Here’s our DSLR picks for every (non-pro) budget.

Baby’s First DSLR: Nikon D3000

The D3000 is cheap. We’re talking a full kit (i.e., it comes with a lens) for just $460, making it the cheapest DSLR kit around. But what really makes it stand out for beginners is a built-in tutorial system that explains how to get certain kinds of shots—like shallow depth of field—in plain English.

Amateur Hour: Canon T1i

The next step up is Canon’s T1i. What we like is that it packs a bigger boy’s image sensor—it’s got the same 15-megapixel sensor as the pricier mid-range 50D—and 1080p video into a camera that’s $720 with kit lens. Also, for the money, it edges out Nikon’s D5000 on a few points, namely superior video handling and Live View.

Bigger Britches: Nikon D90

Nikon’s D90 was the first ever DSLR to shoot 720p video with manual controls, but that’s only part of the reason we like it. It’s got the awesome image sensor from the semi-pro D300, in a package that’s just over $1000. And at that price, it’s $100 cheaper than Canon’s competing 50D, which has the same image sensor as the cheaper T1i above, but none of the video benefits of either camera.

The Budding Auteur: Canon 7D

The only camera on this list that’s more expensive than its competition—the D300s—the 7D overwhelms with DSLR video that’s superior to every camera but Canon’s very pro 1D Mark IV (which costs $5000). It shoots in 1080p, with full manual controls, and it’s amazing what it can do in low light. Besides that, Canon’s somehow cheated physics with an 18-megapixel sensor that doesn’t explode with noise at high ISO settings, all while cramming a whole bunch of new features, and an actually good autofocus system. It’s $1900 with a kit lens.

Beyond here, honestly, you should already have a pretty idea of what you’re gonna buy without our help. And if you’ve got your own opinions about what’s best in every price range, let’s hear ’em in the comments.

You back up your computers, or at least know that you should. But what about your smartphones? They carry massive amounts of personal data, and are subjected to life-or-death situations on a daily basis. Here’s how to back them up:

You don’t have to use a smartphone for more than a few weeks to amass a staggering amount of stuff on it, from text messages and phone numbers to personal settings and photo libraries. And as with your laptop or desktop, a significant portion of this stuff is stuff you want to keep, whether you know it or not. And cellphone backup isn’t just a matter of keeping copies of data that you consciously archive every day, like contacts, photos and notes—it’s about keeping copies of information that you didn’t even know you wanted. How many times have you needed to dig through an old text message conversation? Referred back to your received call list to recover a number you didn’t save? In a lot of ways, your smartphone is more closely tied to your personal identity than your computer is. So, people: back it up. You’ll feel better.

By platform:

iPhone

If you’ve got an iPhone, there’s a good chance you’ve already sat through—and been annoyed by—its backup routine. iTunes updates your iPhone’s backups at every sync, which makes users’ lives a bit easier, and guarantees some kind of safetly net by default. But! As with most fully automated systems, iTunes backup is kind of enigmatic. It just sort of… happens, and it’s not clear what you’re saving, where it’s going, and how to keep it truly safe.

What it’s doing is performing a full backup equivalent. In other words, instead of just mirroring your entire device as a big image file, it’s extracting all the useful bits, so it can restore your iPhone as if it had undergone a full, mirrored backup. This includes, among other things, bookmarks, app settings and data (including in-app purchases, but not the apps themselves), contacts, call history, Mail accounts, SMSes, videos and photos. In other words, pretty much everything. Backups are performed automatically, and restoring to one is a simple matter of plugging in your iPhone, alt-clicking on its icon in iTunes, and selecting “Restore from Backup.”

Crucially, this is different from selecting “Restore” in the device summary page: doing that will revert your device to a clean, factory-default image, which will delete all your personal data. Which isn’t what we’re trying to do here! (In fact, it’s the opposite!) If you attempt to do this, you will be prompted to perform a backup, which should be a red flag.

iTunes stores its backups as archived files in semi-cryptic directories, so if you want to pull them out of the closed iTunes system for proper backup, i.e. to an external HDD or online storage solution, you can find them here, as per Apple’s useful support page on the subject:

On a Mac: ~/Library/Application Support/MobileSync/Backup/

On Windows XP: \Documents and Settings\(username)\Application Data\Apple Computer\MobileSync\Backup\

On Windows Vista: \Users\(username)\AppData\Roaming\Apple Computer\MobileSync\Backup\

To add a backup to iTunes, simply copy it back to its default directory, and it should show up as a restore option, labeled by date, when you’re setting up a wiped or recently capital “R” Restored iPhone or iPod Touch.

Android

Google’s position Android backup and sync has been translucent, perhaps to a fault: Since it depends so much on web services, it doesn’t need to be backed up, right! It’s already backed up, in the cloud! We’re freakin’ Google, y’all! THIS IS THE FUTURE! (Carried to its logical conclusion, this is the Chrome OS ethos. Anyway.) To a certain extend this cloud-focused cheerleading is fine, and can be put to good use. Gmail and Gcal are always safe, and your contacts can be added to your Google account too—should you designate them to be saved as Google contacts, not just SIM or Phone contacts. To do this:

1. Open your Contacts list
2. Press the Menu button
3. Select Import
4. Tick the “Google Contacts” box

But for anyone who wants to back up more than their Google-service-based info, this doesn’t really help. For that, you’ll need to go third-party. There are lots of backup apps for Android, but most of them are paid, either immediately or after a free trial. I assume just go with the best free(ish) solutions, all of which you can find by searching for their names in the Android Market.

Backup apps on Android are split into two types: the all-in-one apps that sync your data to a single file, and the piecemeal apps. Unfortunately, the AIO apps tend to be paid; doing this for free takes multiple downloads. Download these three apps: SMS Backup and Restore, Call Logs Backup & Restore, and APN Backup & Restore. Each one backs up its respective data to your microSD card (in /sdcard/*appname*BackupRestore/) for easy restoration on another phone. Using these apps is self-explanatory, since there are only three buttons: Backup, Restore and Delete.

Astro File Manager fills a remaining gap: app backup. It’s a free file browser at heart, so the backup option is kind of hidden—once in the app, press the menu button, then click “Tools.” Select “Application Manager/Backup,” and you’ll be able to backup your apps to your SD card. To restore, just install this same app on the device, insert the old SD card, navigate to the same “Application Manager/Backup screen” again, and select the “Backed Up Apps” tab. Astro is also a solid file browser, you can can manually move your data—like photos and videos—to a microSD card, where you should probably be storing them by default anyway. [Pic via]

There! Sprite Mechanic does the same in a slightly simpler way, but I’m hearing reports that it’s a bit buggy on certain handsets (the Hero variant and Droid, specifically). Still, it’s free, so it may be worth a try.

Lastly, if you’ve got a rooted phone, Backup for Root Users backs up virtually everything, and it’s totally free. That catch? You need to have a rooted phone, or else it won’t work. Which is either a crying shame, or a great excuse to root your phone.

Palm Pre/Pixi

Where Android’s cloud-based not-really-a-backup system doesn’t feel remotely complete, the Pre’s is actually pretty good: Backup is performed automatically, every day, and linked to your user account. This just covers the basics, though. For example, a list of apps is kept server-side, but the app data itself isn’t backed up; browser bookmarks are remembered, but no form data or website passwords. Media isn’t backed up at all. Here’s the full list. The solution is a bit hackish, but it works fine for most data. From PreCentral, a brief guide on backing up using either Microsoft’ Sync Toy for PC, or with slight, obvious modifications, ChronoSync for Mac:

1. Plug in the Pre and select USB Drive.
2. Download SyncToy and install.
3. Click SyncToy on your desktop to run SyncToy for the first time.
4. Click Create New Folder Pair. For the Left Folder, Browse to the Pre’s Drive (maybe E: or F:)
5. For the right folder browse to your documents folder and create a new subdirectory such as PreBackup and select it.
6. Choose to Synchronize and name your folder pair something easy to remember like PreBackup.
7. Click Run.

What you’re doing here is essentially backing up the Pre’s internal storage, bit for bit. Unfortunately, this doesn’t back up settings and some application data, so restoring from this image won’t ensure that you don’t lose some data; just media, ringtones, etc.

Between this, Palm’s backup and the natural backup inherent in being tied to online services like Gmail and Flickr, the only notable things not really backed up properly are specific application data and SMS conversations.

Windows Mobile

Microsoft has always offered some kind of backup out of the box, and as of the release of version 6.5, there are multiple options. The core backup utility, of course, is Windows Mobile Device Center, or as it’s known in XP, ActiveSync. Pairing your device with these apps is quite simple, and gives shelter to most of the data you could want to back up, including contacts, calendar appointments and media.

In XP, download and install ActiveSync, and when you plug in your phone, start the ActiveSync app, which you should be prompted to open anyway. Set up a pairing relationship, select the data you want to backup, and you’re good to go.

In Vista, you’ll need to download Windows Mobile Device Center and do the same; in Windows 7, you should be prompted to install Windows Mobile Device Center as soon as you plug in a WinMo handset.

Now, let’s assume you’re not using a Windows PC, or you don’t want to bother with setting up a sync relationship with a computer. You’ve got two free options, which together back up even more data than ActiveSync, without and external machine.

My Phone, another Microsoft app, is available for free to any Windows Mobile 6.0, 6.1 or 6.5 user. It’s a misleadingly basic-seeming little app, which backs up nearly everything you store on your phone:

[By default]: contacts, calendar appointments, tasks, photos, videos, text messages, songs, browser favorites and documents between your phone and your My Phone web account.

Restoring from MyPhone is just a matter of logging into your Live account from within the app. You get 200MB of free storage, after which you’ve got to pay. Still: pretty fantastic, especially if you set it up to do scheduled backups.

If you want to back up your phone’s data without a PC or a cloud-based service, there’s PIM Backup. This utility feels and looks kind of ancient, but it’s great at what it does. And what does it do? Everything:

– backup/restore appointments
– backup/restore call logs
– backup/restore contacts
– backup/restore messages (SMS, Mails, …) NEW !!!
– backup/restore speed dials
– backup/restore tasks
– backup/restore custom files

Best of all, it stores your backup in a single file, which can be restored on any device using the same app. The procedure is dead-easy: Download the PIM CAB file to your device, install it, open it, check the data you want to back up off the list, and go. To restore, you go through the exact same interface, selecting “Restore” from the app’s pulldown menu instead of “Back Up.” In the spirit of safety, you may want to back up PIM’s backup files on some kind of external storage. PIM lets you designate where you’d like to store its backups: select your microSD card if you have one, after which you can transfer it to any media your want. If not, you may want to transfer your backup to a PC or external storage device. (Unfortunately, the easiest way to do this is probably with ActiveSync or Mobile Device Center, since most WinMo phones don’t allow you to browse the root storage in Explorer.)

BlackBerry

RIM has made life easy for BlackBerry users, who can back up their entire devices using BlackBerry Desktop.

First, install the app.

Under “Backup,” select “Options,” where you can specify encryption and data type parameters (encrypt the data for safety if you want, but make sure to select “Back up all device application data.”

Click “Back Up,” and select the destination directory for your backup. It’s a single file, so it’s easy to throw on an external HDD, USB stick or microSD card for safe storage.

That’s it! Further instructions, including a detailed restore guide, are available here. [Pic via]

Symbian

Depending on which brand of handset and Symbian shell you’re using, your backup options are going to differ. The Ovi Suite will do the trick. It’s a full, automated backup suite, but it’s PC-only and works exclusively with Nokia phones. Using it is as simple as setting up a sync relationship—just install the suite and plug the Nokia phone in via USB, and follow the wizard prompts—and it’ll keep contacts, calendar items and media backed up. [Pic via]

Non-Nokia Symbian users—Samsung folks, listen up—can use a free app called The Symbian Tool. This will actually pull a full image copy from your Symbian phone, meaning that you can restore your phone bit-for-bit to the state it was in at the time of backup. There are also less severe options for basic media backup, or selective sync. More details here.

So, that’s it! If you have more tips and tools to share, please drop some links in the comments-your feedback is hugely important to our How To guides, and your collective troubleshooting efforts have SAVED HUNDREDS OF LIVES, possibly. And if you have any topics you’d like to see covered here, please let me know. Happy backups, folks!

Pocket camcorders are a hot holiday gift, but due to their nearly identical feature sets, it can be tough to tell which is best—so I tested seven of these humble unitaskers to make your decision easier. You’re welcome.

Pocket camcorders (AKA mini cams or budget cams, or sometimes Flip cams after the pioneer of the category) are simple gadgets. They’ve got one job to do: Shoot watchable video, often for uploading to streaming video sites. They’re also very close to the end of their lifespan, with perhaps only a year or so left before smartphones make them obsolete, but right now they’re the easiest and cheapest way to take quick and dirty video. I tested seven of these diminutive camcorders, or more accurately six camcorders and one capable PMP, in five categories: Outdoor, indoor, low light, macro, and sound.

The criteria for judging fell mostly to smoothness of video during motion, image sharpness, noise, and color reproduction. Specs like storage capacity, screen size and battery life are mostly the same across the board, although overall, compared to last year, this crop of mini cams are faster and stronger, with beefed up memory and HD sensors. All save the iPod Nano take 720p video (or better) and add HDMI ports and more memory to accommodate the higher-quality footage. Yet I wasn’t really all that thrilled with any of the camcorders—the bar for these cams is so low you could trip over it, and several of them actually did. Battery life was disappointing across the board, as none could break two hours of filming. Anyway, on to the results!

Results

Choosing between the Kodak Zi8, Flip Mino HD and Flip Ultra HD is tricky. The Zi8 is unreliable, but when it’s good it’s unbelievably good; the Mino HD is diminutive, solid and stylish, but overpriced and with lousy touch controls; and the Ultra HD is a reliably good shooter with a low price and the best controls of all, but physically unappealing (read: fat as hell). In my opinion, you should never judge a book by its obese cover, so the champion is…the Flip Ultra HD!

Flip Ultra HD: First Place


Flip’s Ultra HD is the best overall choice. It’s one of the cheapest cams around (at $150, it’s $70 less than it’s younger brother, the Mino HD), but it tied for the highest score in our lineup, and it features nice tactile controls that I much prefer to the sleeker Mino HD’s touch-sensitive exercise in frustration. Unfortunately, the Dom DeLuise HD is upsettingly fat—about twice as thick as the Mino HD, but even that doesn’t really get across how truly large it feels in the hand. It’s not particularly heavy, but it is by a long shot the thickest pocket cam here. On the plus side, that girth hides a useful battery—Flip includes a rechargeable pack, but the John Candy HD can also use two AA batteries, which is great since pocket cams have generally abysmal battery life (usually about an hour, though of course they’re often rated for double or triple that). Replaceable, cheap batteries are really nice, but some will have to decide whether the William Howard Taft HD’s girth is worth that feature. Given its price, I think it is.

Video quality is just fine, above average if not particularly impressive on every test, and it, like the Mino HD, is extremely user-friendly. Although that simplicity yields less flexibility and a barebones feature set compared to the Kodak Zi8, it’s a good distillation of the aims of pocket camcorders, and its 100% tactile controls are a welcome change from the Mino HD. If you’re not superficial, it’s a very smart buy.

Flip Mino HD: Second Place


Flip’s Mino HD is the best-looking and best-feeling camcorder I tried. Its aluminum body feels solid and expensive, which might be because it is—at $230, it’s the priciest camcorder I tested. But I wouldn’t be surprised if it sells the best, even though it’s not the greatest deal, because it looks (and is) simple, cute, and functional. I won’t rehash my review, except to say that I hate those goddamn touch buttons more and more every time I use the Mino HD. They’re incredibly sensitive and I guarantee that you will accidentally trigger the playback function more times than you can count.

Besides that, it’s totally serviceable: It did well on all of my tests, it’s thoughtfully designed and stupid-easy to use. But it’s definitely overpriced, and I have a hard time recommending it over its physically awkward yet substantially cheaper older brother, the Ultra HD, just for its looks.

Kodak Zi8: Third Place


Wider and taller than the Flip Ultra HD, though not nearly as fat, the Zi8 packs a 1080p sensor and the largest and best screen of the bunch. The controls are easy and tactile and aside from flimsy-feeling plastic covers over the ports (one of mine already fell off), the hardware is high-quality. The Zi8 snagged the bronze medal, because while its highs were higher than either of the Flips, its lows were lower—and given how focused and simple this type of gadget is, reliability is worth more than flashing moments of greatness.

The Zi8 absolutely rocked in two of my tests, outdoor and macro, with perfect color reproduction and excellent clarity, and it even takes pretty decent still photos (think point-and-shoot circa 2006 quality). But the conditions need to be just right to get the most out of this guy—I first tried it in 1080p mode (neither of the Flips can break 720p) and while picture quality was amazing, scenes with lots of motion were pretty jerky to the point of being distracting. But even in 720p, it was still head-and-shoulders above the competition—but only in outdoor and macro testing. In the indoor test it proved to have difficulty focusing on objects closer than 10 feet but farther than 2 feet away, and low light shooting was distinctly tinted red and a bit dark. It wasn’t unusable in any test (unlike the similarly uneven Creative Vado HD) and at $180 it’s fairly priced, so I’d still recommend it—but you and I are likely to be more forgiving of the Zi8’s flaws than, say, your mom, who just wants a camera that works pretty well all the time. For her, go for a Flip.

The Rest

The Creative Vado HD scored pretty high, only a point lower than the bronze medalist Kodak Zi8, but while its design is fairly middle-of-the-road (albeit nice and teeny), its abilities were all over the place. It was one of the worst in standard daytime shooting (it has a hard time with sunlight, a serious problem for a pocket cam) and macro, but was the best at indoor, and while its low light video was a little dark, it was the clearest and smoothest of the lot. It also, likely due to Creative’s background in stellar-sounding PMPs and sound cards, boasts excellent sound quality. At $150, it’s very fairly priced, but I can’t recommend a camcorder that mangles sunlight the way the Vado does.

Apple’s iPod Nano is the only “camcorder” in this roundup to peak at VGA resolution, and aside from a surprisingly strong macro performance, it shows. It turned vibrant colors dull and lifeless, washed out detail and made everything seem darker than it was. It can’t compete with the Zi8s and Flips of the world, but it’s still usable and incredibly priced at $150/$180 for 8GB/16GB—if you’ve got a Nano already, you probably won’t need a dedicated cam. Convergence killed the video star, I guess.

The JVC Picsio GC-FM1 sucked. It’s spectacularly ugly (think Ed Hardy-inspired) and cheap-feeling, with a confusing button layout (unforgivable in a pocket cam) and a high price ($200, or $178 at Amazon). Besides all that, it scored poorly in every one of our tests. Avoid.

And finally, the worst—Aiptek’s PenCam HD. I wanted to like it, I really did—it’s got a tongue-depressor-like design and came with a sweet tripod that attaches to a bicycle’s handlebars—but it bombed in almost every one of my tests. The 1.1-inch screen is nearly unusable and battery life barely topped 40 minutes, so it’s definitely the loser here.

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