Low cost, lightweight and easy-to-use, pocket camcorders have been a big hit with consumers. But smartphones, like Apple's iconic iPhone, have been an even bigger hit. In addition to their multiple computing functions, a growing number of smartphones can record high definition video. This begs an obvious question: if that slender smartphone in your pocket can record HD video, do you really need a pocket camcorder?
To judge, we've stacked up the two competitors, smartphones and pocket camcorders, side-by-side to see how they match up:
When it comes to video quality, smartphones largely offer 720p HD video recording. This is a lower resolution than most pocket camcorders, which offer resolutions of 1080p, but that doesn't always mean it's inferior. Some 1080p pocket camcorders actually produce worse video than a 720p model. That said, pocket camcorders tend to offer larger image sensors, which contributes to better quality video. They also offer faster frame rates, up to 60 frames per second, which improves video quality when filming faster motion video. Winner: pocket camcorders.
While smartphone prices have come down, and are heavily subsidized by mobile carriers, you can often pay as much as $200 or more for one. Pocket camcorders can usually be had for about $150. Of course, with a smartphone, you pay every month for a voice and data plan, and those ain't cheap. Price, as you'll see below, is also a factor when it comes to storage capacity. Winner: pocket camcorders.
Both pocket cams and smartphones record to removable memory cards and/or internal memory. Most pocket camcorders rely on full-sized SD cards, while most smartphones rely on the smaller and slightly more expensive microSD cards. The smaller microSD cards are available in large capacities, however, and provide more than enough storage for your videos. However, most smartphones offer digital music playback and the ability to download apps, graphics, etc. So your smartphone memory card isn't simply used for storing video footage - it's storing other digital files as well. Winner: pocket camcorders.
Neither pocket camcorders or smartphones acquit themselves well when it comes to lenses. Neither use optical zooms (there are one or two pocket models that offer optical zooms, but the vast majority don't). Nor is there any optical image stabilization. Winner: draw.
Size & Weight
Pocket camcorders tend to be much ticker and somewhat heavier than your average smartphone. They are not always as tall, since some smartphones have large displays, but in general it's a lot easier to carry a smartphone around than a pocket video camera. Winner: smartphone.
Most pocket camcorders have smallish 2-inch displays, and the largest you'll find is 3-inches. Smartphones, by contrast, can have screens as large as 4.3-inches with multi-touch capability to boot (something not found on any pocket camcorder). Some smartphone displays (especially Apple's) are considerably brighter and sharper than anything you'll find on a pocket camcorder. Winner: smartphone.
When you're done shooting your footage and you want to transfer it to a PC or Mac, pocket camcorders make it easy, with built-in USB ports and software that's pre-loaded onto the unit. Smartphones offer no such luxury. But smartphones can (in theory) upload that video on the spot via cellular or Wi-Fi networks. Uploading your smartphone video over a cellular network isn't very cost effective (or time effective) but it can be done. Still there aren't many pocket camcorders with Wi-Fi and none with cellular networking. Winner: draw.
Ease of Use
If you're looking for something that's "point-and-shoot" don't bother with a smartphone. While they're not the most complex gadgets out there, they're more complicated than a pocket camcorder - which has few controls and menus to get lost in. Winner: pocket camcorders.
This one's not even close: while pocket camcorders have gotten more feature-rich, they can't hold a candle to the nearly limitless things you can do on (and with) a smartphone. Even in the video department, a growing library of apps lets you add effects and tweak your videos, so even if the phone itself doesn't offer video controls out of the box, third party software can. Winner: smartphone.
If you want to record video while you'r on the beach, white water rafting, or trekking through a sand storm, there are a growing number of waterproof and rugged pocket camcorders that can handle whatever nature dishes out. Smartphones, on the other hand, are pretty delicate creates. Winner: pocket camcorders.
Pocket camcorders and smartphones match up fairly well in the feature department, but pocket camcorders retain an edge in some quality specs as well as their ease-of-use. At the end of the day, a 720p smartphone is a worthy competitor, but we still think there's a lot to recommend in a high-quality pocket camcorder.