Updated: Oct 9, 2017

REVIEW: Creative Labs Vado Mini HD Camcorder

creative labs vado mini hd camera Creative Labs was best known for their SoundBlaster sound cards back in the 90s, but they've branched out into a variety of personal electronic devices related to the PC over the last 10 years, including MP3 players and cameras. With the popularity of the Flip Mino HD camcorder, Creative decided to throw their hat into that ring with the introduction of the Vado HD video camera earlier in 2009. With more and more people wanting to capture and post video clips to social networking sites (YouTube, Facebook, etc.), these mini cameras are becoming more popular. I think the first version of the Vado may have been hastily released, as an updated version followed within just a few months, most of the changes being cosmetic. This review will take a look at the first and second generation Vado products -- given the features, performance, and price, is this the HD camcorder you need?

Vado HD - Best Pocket HD Camcorder?

Creative Labs calls the Vado the "Pocket Video Cam", and that's really what these little cameras are supposed to be. They are designed to be portable, small and light enough to be taken anywhere, anytime. Let's start with the size: at just 3.5oz, and packed into a container size of 3.9" long by 2.2" wide by .6" thick, the Vado is just slightly longer than a deck of cards or a pack of cigarettes, but thinner. It'll easily fit into jeans pockets or a small purse, no problem. One thing that made the Flip video camera so popular was its simplicity -- not a bunch of confusing buttons and dials, just a power button, a big red RECORD button, and a play and delete button, that's it.

The Vado follows that strategy. The front side has only the lens -- and one of our few complaints. There is no lens cover, external or built-in, so this thing picks up lint and dust if you pop it in and out of your pocket, and you'll find yourself wiping and blowing at the lens. A removable, rechargeable battery is stored just under the front cover, which slides off to reveal it. Battery life is about 2 hours (takes 7 hours to charge fully via USB cable), while record time is about 2 hours of HD quality on the 8GB model, and 1 hour on the 4GB model. With a true 2" LCD 16:9 widescreen display on the back, the camera shoots 720p HD video (that is the lower of the 2 HD video formats, but still much higher resolution that a standard camcorder). There is no viewfinder -- the screen shows you what you are looking at and recording.

The power On/Off button is near the top of the right side. On the rear, below the display screen, is a RECORD button set inside a recessed 4-way navigation pad (up and down is used to zoom in and out, while the left and right pads are used to move between video clips when in playback mode). The only two other buttons on the rear are the PLAY and DELETE buttons. Pretty simple. And unlike many other camcorders, the Vado actually has a mini-HDMI port and comes with an HDMI cable adapter, so you can easily plug it directly into your HDTV and playback your videos on your big screen (it also has a built-in USB cable that folds into the bottom of the camera to tuck out of the way when not it use -- this lets you easily plug into your computer to transfer files or into your HDTV if your TV has USB inputs as well). There is also a mic on the front, speaker on the rear, headset audio-out jack, and tripod mount on the bottom.

Using the Creative Labs Vado HD - How good is the video?

Operation of the Vado mini HD camcorder is also simple. Press the power button on the side to turn it on. Point and view the display screen to see what you want to film, press the RECORD button and start recording. Press RECORD again to stop recording. Push the PLAY button to see what you just captured, hit the DELETE (garbage can icon) button to delete it if you don't want it. Use the scroll left/right buttons on the navigation pad to cycle through your other recordings, and press PLAY to view them. With no other settings or options to adjust, it really is just a point and shoot HD camcorder, as promised. It comes with Vado Central Software that lets you manage and upload and edit your video clips. For Mac users, it allows you to import clips directly into iMovie as well.

So while operation is very good overall, I can't say the same for the resulting video. Now keep in mind these mini cameras are not meant to shoot Hollywood style, first-rate video -- that's why they are under $200 and practically disposable, designed more for teens than anyone else, I think. That being said, it's hard to get a steady shot with one hand and a camera that weighs a few ounces. I think it is also an issue of the hardware or software compression that takes place, but if there is a lot of movement going on, you get fairly jumpy and jerky video clips. If you consciously hold the camera steady with two hands and minimize your movement, you'll get decent HD videos. If you use a tripod, you will get VERY good HD videos. If you use one hand and run around and bounce around and chase moving subjects, you will get very hard to watch video clips. In all cases, color capture and overall clarity is actually quite good, outdoor sunlit scenes of course look better than indoor scenes, as with any camera. Indoor low-lighting scenes were acceptable, as was audio capture. So we tend to use this camera inter-mixed with our other digital still camera that also shoots 640x480 video clips (which are very good, but not of course HD). If you are looking for a high-end HD camcorder, this isn't it. If you are looking for a low-cost, portable, fun HD video camera, then the Vado may be just what you are looking for.

Alternatively, you may also want to look into some other competing mini HD cameras like the Kodak Zi8 HD Pocket Video Camera (also around $199), JVC Picsio, and Flip Mino HD.

Here's a video clip showing what the Vado looks like and basic operation -- note how the front battery cover is removed, how the USB adapter flips down from the bottom, and how the power, record, play and delete buttons function.

Creative Labs Vado HD - First Generation vs. Second Generation

As noted above, Creative Labs rather quickly released a follow-up version, second generation of the Vado within a few months of the original model release. The orginal Vado came only in a flat, matte black finish. Buttons were also black, making them kind of hard to see. The second generation Vado moved up to a crisp, glossy finish, available in black or white, with the Play and Delete keys now highlighted in contrasting green (on the white model, 4GB memory, $179) or maroon (on the black model, 8GB memory, $199). All of the other technical specs seem to be the same, so video capture and quality should be the same between models. So the upgrade is mostly a cosmetic one, and yes, it does look better than the original Vado in my opinion. At least as of November 2009, they are still selling the older Vado model for $125 (8GB) vs. 99 for the 8GB second generation model.

Below are more pictures of the Vado. Feel free to contact us if you have any questions.

What's in the box.. silicone sleeve, cords, battery

Here's the flip-out USB adapter that is built into the bottom of the Vado, swings in and out when needed.

Close up of the lens..

Battery cover lifts off the front..

View of the display screen..