Samsung HMX-U20 review

12 Nov 2010

Can’t quite match the polish of the Flip range of cameras, but it’s very good for the money

Price when reviewed: 
90(£90 inc VAT)
5

The Samsung HMX-U20 may look similar to Flip’s latest UltraHD pocket video camera, but in approach the two devices are diametric opposites. Where the UltraHD plumps for simplicity, eschewing menus and fancy extras, the HMX-U20 packs all sorts in.

The headline feature is a 3x optical zoom, the first we’ve seen in this type of video camera. Maximum resolution is double that of the Flip UltraHD at 1080p/25fps, or you can choose to shoot at 720p and a smoother 50fps. There’s no image stabilisation, but you do get 7.8-megapixel stills, a nifty time-lapse mode and stereo audio recording.

Quality is very good, at least outdoors in good light. That resolution helps it capture more detail than the Flip UltraHD can and, in 50fps mode, panning shots and action look super-smooth, eliminating the wobbly camera-roll effect that so often afflicts these devices. Colours look more natural than on the Flip, too.

Samsung HMX-U20

Move indoors, however, and things very quickly take a nosedive. In low light, footage looks murky and dim, and in shadowy corners we spotted a lot of colour noise, although it doesn’t suffer from the same over-aggressive compression as the UltraHD. Overall, though, the Flip is the better camera, notwithstanding its lower resolution, and its wider angle lens makes it a more flexible device, too.

Another area in which the HMX-U20 lags behind the UltraHD is usability. The first big problem is with the physical design. In order to accommodate that zoom lens, there’s a whacking great ring protruding from the front of the body, which means it isn’t as comfortable to hold. The button panel on the rear is fiddly, and the screen is unforgivably poor. The viewing angles are so narrow that if you tilt the camera very slightly away from head-on, the image all but disappears.

The same usability problems hit the HMX-U20’s onboard sharing and editing software, Intelli-Studio. There are some nifty features, including basic timeline-based, multiclip editing complete with text and transition tools, but it’s a bit of a fiddle to use compared with FlipShare. The HMX-U20 comes with no integrated memory of its own; you have to add your own via an SD card before you can even start shooting.

Apart from superior resolution and a couple of handy extras, then, the Samsung HMX-U20 just isn’t in the same league as the Flip UltraHD. But it’s saved by an amazingly low price: £77 exc VAT is simply stunning value and means this camera makes a very tempting budget alternative.

Details

Price ex VAT £77
Price inc VAT £90
Performance 4
Features & Design 4
Value for Money 6
Overall rating 5

Specifications

Camcorder HD standard 1080p
Camcorder maximum video resolution 1920 x 1080
Camera megapixel rating 7.8mp
Camcorder recording format MPEG-4, H.264
Accessory shoe? no
Camera optical zoom range 3x
Camera optical image stabilisation no
Screen size 2.0in
Touchscreen no
Built-in flash? no
Light? no

Audio

Internal mic type Stereo
External mic socket? no
Quoted battery life 100mins

Dimensions

Dimensions width 53
Dimensions depth 16
Dimensions height 104
Dimensions 53 x 16 x 104mm (WDH)
Weight 111.000kg

Storage

Memory card support SD

Outputs

Data connection USB
Composite video output? no
Component video output? no