We've already discussed Kmart's Jazz T20 camcorder ($20 on Black Friday) and Kohl's Shift3 Slide Mini Digital Video Camera ($40 on Black Friday) in earlier blog posts, neither of which are particularly distinguished. J.C. Penney, meanwhile, is advertising The Sharper Image U Video USB Camcorder ($50 on Black Friday). It runs on two AA batteries and has 1 GB of flash memory, good for an hour of standard-definition video shot at 640 pixels by 480 pixels. Unfortunately, we couldn't find any professional reviews of the Sharper Image camcorder, and there weren't any user reviews at JCPenney.com or the handful of other retailers that sell it. The price particularly notable, either; you can go online and buy the camcorder today from J.C. Penney for the same price that's advertised in the Black Friday circular. Nor is the price any better than that of Macy's and Bed, Bath and Beyond, which also sell the Sharper Image camcorder.
One rung up the video food chain are two high-definition mini camcorders sold by Radio Shack and Best Buy. Radio Shack is advertising the Vivitar High Definition Video Camcorder for $70 on Black Friday, a savings of $30 off the regular price. This pocket camcorder shoots in 1,280-by-720-pixel high-def video and has 8x digital zoom, considerably more than the aforementioned standard-def camcorders. It has 16 MB of on-board memory and also uses SD cards (4 GB maximum), and it has a lithium-ion battery that can be recharged with either a power cord or a USB cable. It's also got a built-in voice recorder, a rather unusual feature, and it doubles as a still camera shooting 8-megapixel images.
Best Buy, meanwhile, is touting its proprietary-brand Insignia 720p HD Camcorder ( $70 on sale), discounted $60 off the regular price. Like the Vivitar, the Insignia shoots in 1,280-by-720-pixel high-def, although it has only a 3x zoom. Unlike the Vivitar, the Insignia has far more internal memory (90 MB) in addition to accepting SD cards, and it also has a night-shot mode. What's more, it functions as a still camera, shooting 5-megapixel images.
Like a lot of mini camcorders, reviews of the Vivitar are scarce. There are no user reviews on RadioShack.com, and we found only two reviews at Amazon.com. One owner loves it; the other hates it. Both say the tiny control buttons are hard to press, and they each complain that the handheld camera is very sensitive to motion (a common complaint among mini camcorders). We couldn't find any reviews of the Insignia camcorder.
Are any of these camcorders worth buying?
The dearth of professional and user reviews for these models make us reluctant to recommend any of them. If you're going on price and features alone, it's hard to beat the Insignia 720p HD Camcorder, although we cannot say how video quality measures up against the best-in-class Pure Digital Flip UltraHD.
Interestingly, Wal-Mart isn't advertising a mini camcorder in its Black Friday circular. Staples, meanwhile, is advertising the standard-definition Pure Digital Flip Ultra ($130), but that price is in line with other retailers like Amazon.com, Best Buy and Wal-Mart.
Bottom line: Stick with the Pure Digital Flip Ultra for the best quality, but Kmart's $20 Jazz T20 looks like a fun and cheap stocking stuffer.