Test Drive: Logitech Pocket Digital

It’s not the best digital camera, but the Logitech Pocket Digital could be the neatest gadget of the year. This brushed-aluminum point-and-shooter not only fits in your pocket, it fits in the credit-card compartment of your wallet – it’s no larger than a laptop’s PC Card, half an inch thick and 1.8 ounces — yet snaps and stores over 50 images before needing to be emptied (images uploaded to your PC).

Battery life is ample; controls, including a self-timer, are simple; and a sliding lens cover lets you slip the device into a shirt pocket or purse so you’re always ready to capture a snap. And while most entry-level consumer cameras cost $300 to $400, the Logitech is almost an impulse buy at $130.

So what’s the catch? There are several: unlike virtually all digital cameras (including Casio’s recently announced, almost-as-small Exilim), the Pocket Digital has no LCD monitor to frame a shot or review your pics – you can’t see images till they’re transferred to your computer. It has no flash for indoor shots, no zoom or closeup mode, no removable storage or replaceable battery.

While Logitech advertises “1.3-megapixel images,” that’s a fib – the camera’s CMOS sensor captures 640 by 480 (VGA) resolution, and your image-editing software can probably do a better job of enlarging or interpolating images to 1,280 by 960 pixels than the Pocket Digital does. And even sticking to 640 by 480, image quality is strictly Instamatic.

But hey, Kodak sold a lot of Instamatics. And if you’d like an ultra-simple, always-in-hand camera – one you can carry at all times, or even forget you’re carrying – to snap images for your Web site or for e-mail to family and friends, the Pocket Digital is hard to resist.

Eat Your Heart Out, 007
Easily mistaken for a business-card holder, the Pocket Digital measures 3.5 by 2.25 by 0.5 inches closed – you turn it on by sliding the case open, increasing its length by half an inch and revealing the viewfinder and tiny fixed-focus (F/3.8, equivalent to 47mm on a 35mm film camera) lens. The shutter (what Logitech helpfully calls Picture Taking) button is on top; a tiny port for the supplied USB cable is on the left.

Aside from the viewfinder, the only rear-panel controls are two buttons below a 0.5-inch-square LCD that shows battery status; the number of shots left in the camera’s 16MB of flash memory (counting down from 52); a big or small rectangle to indicate image size; and whether the self-timer and function beep sounds are active. One button toggles the sounds and, when pressed for more than a second, the self-timer. The latter offers a 12-second, beeping delay between pressing the shutter and taking the picture, if you can put the camera on a table or bench propped against a soda can or sunglasses or something.

The other button switches between 640 by 480 and 1,280 by 960 image size – the 52-shot capacity is unaffected by your choice. Held in, it lets you delete the previous or all images in memory, if you know you took a blurred or accidentally-pointed-backwards shot without even seeing it.

The USB cable serves a dual purpose. First, once you install the provided Windows 98/Me/2000/XP driver, connecting the camera and your PC is all it takes to summon a dialog box with one button to transfer images to the folder of your choice (automatically clearing the camera’s memory for the next batch); a full 52-shot download took 2 minutes and 10 seconds on our Celeron/1.3 desktop.

You can’t drag and drop images from the Logitech within Windows Explorer as you can with many USB cameras, but on the plus side, you can plug and unplug the camera without fussing with “remove or stop hardware” dialogs. MGI’s PhotoSuite 4 image editor is also supplied on the driver CD.

Second, plugging the Pocket Digital into a USB port tops off its built-in, lithium-polymer battery. If you take a full set of snapshots, make a quick PC pit stop to download them, shoot another 52, and so on, you’ll drain the battery after three or four sets (i.e., over 150 shots). But in normal use, you may never exhaust the battery, as long as you leave the camera connected while cataloging or editing the images you just downloaded.

And both the battery and image capacity are sufficient to slip the Logitech into a pocket and head out for a weekend trip. It doesn’t get much more convenient than that, although you can’t dawdle when framing shots – to save energy, the camera automatically switches off after 30 seconds’ inactivity and must be closed and reopened to continue shooting.

It should be obvious by now that the Pocket Digital is about amazingly tiny size and happily low price, not about prize-winning photography. After taking several hundred pics, our opinion of its image quality had changed almost as many times, from poor to fair to good and back, but a few conclusions are clear.

To begin with, we’ll repeat our advice to stick with the smaller or native sensor resolution and use PC software if you want to enlarge a pic to bigger-than-VGA size later: Images that came out of the camera at the 1,280 by 960 setting were uniformly as pixelated or grainy as ones we’ve seen from low-priced cameras’ fake digital zoom.

With neither a zoom lens nor LCD monitor, it takes some practice to frame shots properly – subjects that filled the tiny viewfinder proved to be only an off-center portion of the captured image. The same goes for the Pocket Digital’s Instamatic-style fixed/infinite focus, although shots at its closest range (about two feet), while hardly as sharp as the macro-mode closeups of more costly digital cameras, were often a pleasant surprise. The featherweight Logitech, however, is very vulnerable to camera shake; without a steady hand, you’ll get blur or even kaleidoscope effects.

And without a flash, it goes without saying that you’ll get your best results outdoors on sunny days, or at least in brightly lit rooms. The camera touts what its OEM designer SMaL Camera Technologies calls Autobrite exposure-control technology to accommodate varying light levels within a scene, as when shooting someone backlit by a window, and we’ll give it a B – portions of an image that some cameras would leave as pitch black do indeed show some detail (occasionally at first glance, often when retrieved or rescued by your image-editing program’s contrast- or color-enhancement functions). But try to tweak brightness or contrast too far, or shoot in an averagely dim room, and the Pocket Digital is drowned out; images look like still frames from a video camcorder at best, blotchy garbage at worst.

Bottom line? We think it’s as simple as print versus screen: If you want a digital camera whose images you can print and frame on a shelf or wall, even sticking to 3 by 5- or 4 by 6-inch size, the Pocket Digital will disappoint. But if you’re e-mailing family-picnic snapshots to Grandma, or using software to shrink images to smaller-than-VGA resolution for Web posting, it’s cool and convenient as well as a conversation piece. And it’s the only digital camera we’ve ever tested that made us temporarily panic, thinking we’d left it in a shirt pocket in the laundry.

Reprinted from Hardwarecentral.com.

Small Business Computing Staff
Small Business Computing Staff
Small Business Computing addresses the technology needs of small businesses, which are defined as businesses with fewer than 500 employees and/or less than $7 million in annual sales.

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