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Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Shaper Image U Video Camera Review- For less than $15 is it worth it?

My wife took a a Christmas job at a local department store to earn some money for the pile of toys our kids expect Santa to bring on Christmas Eve. Along with the job she also got 20% off of anything in the store.

So, Christmas came and went as did most of the products the department store sells. Any remaining items were sold at extreme discounts- 50%, 60% or even 70% and that's where The Sharper Image U Video Camera comes into the (video) picture. Starting at a price of $99 a few weeks before the holiday, my better half managed to find one on clearance near her department for 70% off, plus a coupon, plus her employee discount, etc.. The final tally totaled less than $15 for a brand new video camera! By the way, in preparing for this post, I found the camera for $30-$49 elsewhere online.

In the box was the camera, a velevet-like carry pouch, a wrist lanyard and a cable that plugs into any TV for instant viewing. The camera itself weighs about 4 ounces and is the size of an average cell phone. It's powered by two AAA batteries which are easily replaceable with spares. This may be a better method of keeping constant power as built-in, non-removeable rechargeable batteries often die with no way to recharge until a wall-out let can be found- and this could mean missed memories- gone forever.

Minimal buttons mean minimal hassle.
(Credit: The Sharper Image)

Operation is quite easy. Press the large, red button below the LCD screen for a few seconds and the unit powers up and displays the image in front of the camera on the 2" LCD screen. Pressing the red button again initiates the record function. It's possible to "zoom" by pressing a rocker switch, but the effect is so minor as to be of no use. It's a better idea to simply walk closer to the object of your video and use your legs as a zoom instead.

Holding the U Video in your hand is not too bad- it simply feels like trying to take a photo with a cell phone. Construction quality is merely adequate. All plastic and a bit flimsy in places- but let's remember we're talking about a product that costs less than lunch for two.

We took the camera to record my son's basketball practice. We were indoors and he was approximately 10 feet away while he performed his passing drills. I was initially concerned because the image on the screen appeared really quite dark and I thought the video would be dark too. Once we returned home and I downloaded the video to a computer (quite easy with the unit's built-in USB port) we viewed the result of our work.

Much to our relief, the video was far brighter than it appeared on screen. The video is not of high quality, limited to a resolution (or sharpness) of 640x480. I would equate this to YouTube quality. Ok- but nothing special. The color was a bit washed out and the lighting exposure jumped around some, giving the video a "blinking" sort of effect. Audio quality sounded slightly tinny, but I could make out all sounds clearly.

It's possible to record up to 1 hour of video on 2 gigs of internal memory. After that, you'll have to keep the video on a computer hard drive (which can then be recorded to a DVD for long term storage).

So...the question in front of us is: For under $15, is this camera worth the money? I would say, for that amount, a solid yes. The camera is truly built to a price and feels like it. However, it does deliver on its promise of recording a certain level of video and makes it easy to download and share with family and friends. Plus, my wife now keep the camera in her purse for quick and easy recording of memories.

However, if I bought this camera at the originally listed price of $99, I would have felt like I spent too much for the end result of just OK video with low resolution and low-quality sound and I would have returned it.

But, I didn't pay $99- I paid less than $15 and for that amount, I think the purchase of The Sharper Image U Video camera was money well spent.

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