There's a hell of a lot to be said for ease of use. The iPod, e-mail, and Facebook all owe a good chunk of their immense popularity to simple and intuitive interfaces. But Albert Einstein himself imposed a limit on how easy things should get: "Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler." RCA's recently upgraded Small Wonder camcorder (model EZ201), which promises features so simple your grandma could use it, crosses that line. How far over does it go? And is the simplicity worth the tradeoff? Find our after the jump.
THE ESSENTIALS: RCA EZ201 SMALL WONDER CAMCORDER
WHO WANTS THISPeople who want a camcorder for the zombie they have chained up in the garage.
WHYNo sentient being would find the Small Wonder difficult, though the footage is so-so at best.
WHAT'S COOLBig red button is simplicity incarnate; USB connector conveniently needs no cable.
WHAT'S LAMEEven in HQ mode, the footage sucks. And the digital zoom is useless!
FINAL MARK: C+The Small Wonder achieves its goal of ultrasimplicity, but the tradeoff is too great. May as well spend another hundred bucks and get a real camcorder.
PRICE: $129Check out the Small Wonder website for details.
Emphasizing that this is the "camcorder for dummies" are the extremely spare controls. A mere five buttons grace the backside of the Small Wonder — eight if you count to arrow paddle as four — while a switch on the side controls video quality. Most welcome is the extending USB jack, which lets you plug the cam right into your PC, so you won't find yourself tearing through your desk drawers for a cable when it's time to upload.
Once I got home to offload the video, I realized that was a mistake. Since the zoom is digital and not optical, all it does is add more graininess to your footage, and it's already got plenty of that, thank you very much (and yes, I was using HQ mode). Viewing the clips I recorded at the Prospect Park Zoo, I was dismayed — a closeup on a bullfrog made him almost indiscernible from the surrounding grass while my shots of sea lions doing flips looked highly pixelized.