I seldom come across products as bad as this one.
Al Fasoldt's reviews and commentaries, continuously available online since 1983

T e c h n o f i l e
Aiptek camcorder: Proof that you can buy a cheap product and still get less than you paid for

Nov. 19, 2006

By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2006, Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2006, The Post-Standard

   Ever since my trusty $1,400 digital camcorder broke last year, I've wanted to buy a new one. So when I dropped over to Circuit City to pick up a flash card reader, I was irresistibly drawn to a display showing a new Aiptek P-DVR camcorder with half a zillion features all packed into a size that would fit into a Hobbit's pocket.
   And all for $149. Could a camcorder practically one-tenth the price be as good as my vaunted JVC model? I figured I'd take a chance. The Aiptek packaging said it had 6-megapixel still-picture capability, could record TV-quality videos for as long as two hours, played MP3 music files and came with a cute little remote control.
   How could I resist?
   But happiness is a fickle companion. I was amazed at my good fortune on the drive home. A real digital camcorder that takes still pictures and plays MP3s for much less than the cost of an Apple iPod nano. Fate seemed to be smiling on me.
   Until I took my first videos. And until I looked at the way the Aiptek worked.
   Let me start with the good news. The Aiptek P-DVR is small and easy to put in your pocket.
   Now the bad news. It no doubt will stay in your pocket until you take it back to the store -- where I'm headed right after I finish writing this -- because it's the lousiest camcorder I've ever laid my hands on.
   It doesn't focus by itself like nearly all other camcorders and digital cameras. It has two settings -- close and, well, not close. Pictures I took with it were either slightly out of focus all the time or slightly out of focus some of the time.
   It doesn't have a real zoom. The only zoom it has is a digital zoom. To operate the zoom control, you're supposed to press on the edge of a button the size of a Lipitor pill. That was impossible, but then so was the digital zoom. A total waste.
   It doesn't record real MP4 videos, despite the assertion that it does right in the manual. (Yes, Virginia, there is a manual for this camera, and it's even worse than the camera itself.) It records in a format owned by Microsoft. If you have a Mac or a Linux PC, you have to promise to give Bill Gates your next child in order to view the videos this camcorder takes. I thought we had passed through that dreadful time in computer history, but apparently not.
   But the worst thing wrong with the Aiptek is what happens when you pan the camcorder while taking a video. The picture breaks up so badly that it's unusable. You see so many blocks of half-coded image pixels that you'd think you'd been transported to Legoland.
   I seldom come across products as bad as this one. But the Aiptek does have a redeeming side. It reminded me of something I should never have forgotten: You get what you pay for. And, sometimes, even less.