iPhone Gems: Video Recorders for Original iPhone + iPhone 3G
When Apple announced the video camera-equipped iPhone 3GS last June, original iPhone and iPhone 3G owners quickly lamented the lack of video recording in their handsets. While it had been possible to record video on either device using solutions developed for jailbroken phones, there was no suitable alternative for “law abiding” iPhone users. But late last year, Apple began allowing apps into the App Store that enabled the original iPhone and iPhone 3G to record video.
Today we’re taking a look at a dozen of these apps, noting an important caveat up front: they don’t have the iPhone 3GS’s robust, built-in video support to draw from. As a result, although it is possible to get usable video from some of these solutions, you shouldn’t expect any pristine or smooth, 30 frame per second (fps) footage—these apps are more for “in the moment” recording and social network sharing than for any sort of more ambitious use. In addition, the audio quality, if audio recording is even offered, is consistently poor. That said, they add a new feature at minimal cost—prices for these apps range from free to $2.
All of the apps below were tested on an iPhone 3G with framerates reported by QuickTime; original iPhones produce similar results.
Camcorder ($1) from KendiTech is a relatively straight-forward video recording app with limited export options and so-so video. The app presents users with an interface very similar to that of the standard Camera application, and records video as an MPEG-4 .mov file. In our testing, a roughly 20-second video resulted in a 3.68 fps file at 320x426 resolution, tall rather than wide, a result of the app’s inability to correctly rotate the video to the landscape position. Once the video is recorded, it is saved in the app’s built-in video library, from which it can be emailed or saved to the camera roll. It doesn’t offer a lot of frills, and the video it records isn’t of high enough quality to be of much use either, leaving Camcorder short of receiving our recommendation. Improved video quality, more control over resolution, and expanded sharing features would make it a more attractive option. iLounge Rating: C-.
While it sports a simple recording interface, iVidCam ($1) from GP Apps offers users a number of options beyond basic recording. Buttons at the top of the screen let users choose between three recording resolutions—426x320, 320x240, or 213x160—and an optional slider provides up to 30x digital zoom. In our testing, the app recorded the video in an unknown format, encoding it as a Photo-JPEG m4v file afterwards. iVidCam offers a built-in library for storing and watching recorded videos, with a built-in Wi-Fi transfer feature that lets users access and download videos from a computer’s web browser. Users can also upload videos to YouTube, and share the resulting YouTube link via email or Twitter; the ability to save videos to the camera roll is notably absent.
In our testing, iVidCam underperformed some competing apps, producing 3.11 fps video at the highest (426x320) resolution, 4.31 fps video at 320x240 resolution, and 6.3 fps video at 213x160. Users can choose to turn audio recording on or off; in our testing, turning audio recording off didn’t result in a notable difference in video quality. Although it offers users a choice in recording resolutions, as well as digital zoom and sharing options that go beyond that of a simple recorder, the video output from iVidCam was disappointing when compared to some of its same-priced, or slightly more expensive competitors, leaving it short of our recommendation. A boosted frame rate and true Facebook and Twitter uploading would go a long way to improve this app. iLounge Rating: C+.
With a slightly unusual but nice interface,iVideoCamera ($1) from Laan Labs impresses with a huge number of built-in sharing options that are unfortunately tied to a relatively unimpressive video capture engine. iVideoCamera provides a dark but otherwise familiar main interface, with an iPhone 3GS-like slider to choose between the two available video resolutions - 213x160 and 426x320. Unlike nearly every other app we tested, iVideoCamera’s MPEG-4 video output claimed 10 fps for both resolutions, although the higher-resolution video was obviously not recorded at such a usable rate.
Aside from its video issues, iVideoCamera is otherwise a very capable application, offering a built-in library, sharing for services including YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, and Vimeo, the ability to save videos to the camera roll, and the ability to e-mail videos or transfer them via FTP or a built-in Wi-Fi service. Although the app’s video isn’t the best available, its sharing options equal or surpass its rivals, and its interface is clean, nice-looking, and easy to use. Users looking for the best possible video quality from an iPhone or iPhone 3G will want to check out other options, but for those wanting to immediately share video across a number of services, and willing to give up some measure of video quality to achieve it, iVideoCamera is a good option. iLounge Rating: B.
Following in the footsteps of the company’s live streaming service, Qik Video Camera ($2) from Qik is a surprisingly solid video recording application with a number of interesting features. The app’s non-standard interface makes room for features such as brightness adjustment, choice of resolution—between 200x154 and 400x304—a digital zoom, “audio boost,” and a number of video effects, including selective saturation, black and white, a “mirror” effect, and color shift. Importantly, the app’s myriad features haven’t affected its ability to shoot serviceable video. Using MPEG-4 (Perian) encoding, Qik produced 10.6 fps video at the lower, 200x154 resolution, and an impressive-looking, if not impressive sounding, 8.76 fps at 400x304. Audio was low in volume, but audible with the volume turned up on computer speakers.
Once video has been recorded, it’s sent to the built-in library, and can optionally be automatically exported to the camera roll. Qik also offers a Wi-Fi transfer solution, and sharing via Facebook or e-mail; YouTube uploading is a notable omission. Based on its solid feature set and video recording that isn’t necessarily great, but surpasses most if not all of its competitors, Qik earns its place as one of the top video recording solutions for iPhone and iPhone 3G owners and our high recommendation; an improved framerate at full resolution and expanded sharing options would make it even better. iLounge Rating: A-.
A spartan interface belies the reasonably nice video produced by ShowTime ($1) from Polar Bear Farm. The app’s main recording screen has a recording timer, a centrally-placed recording stop/start button, and a filmstrip icon to take users into the built-in library. When in library view, the app offers Wi-Fi transfer, although videos must be compressed to become available for transfer. Once compressed, other sharing options become available, including optional uploading to YouTube, Facebook, and TwitVid, and an option to share the video via email.
Interestingly, and unlike the majority of its competitors, ShowTime doesn’t use any buttons or traditional controls to choose between its two resolutions—instead, it presents a slightly darkened border around the area of the screen that represents the video size. When held vertically, the app recorded 320x240 video, which was then compressed into a 6 fps Apple OpenDML JPEG .avi file. If the user holds the device horizontally, the app instead records in a widescreen, 426x240 resolution, the widescreen nature of which adds a nice cinematic quality to the video, even if it’s recorded at the same 6 fps as the smaller resolution. It may not offer any effects or other fancy features beyond its handful of sharing options, but we liked ShowTime’s straightforward interface and reasonable, if not great, video recording, which incidentally was paired with the best sound recording out of any of the apps we tested, although that’s not really saying a lot. The sound is very listenable when it works, but cuts out from time to time, creating brief silences during recordings. An improved framerate, more solid audio, and expanded sharing and effects features would improve it further. iLounge Rating: B.
Boasting an impressive framerate and a host of realtime effects, Video Camera iCamcorder ($2) from dw-c is an interesting video recording solution. Its deceptively simple recording screen offers users a record button and a menu button only, with most of the app’s functionality hidden within menus—functionality including a built-in library, e-mail, Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter sharing options, Wi-Fi transfer, camera roll export, options for a fixed framerate to improve audio/video sync, audio recording, and a “high quality” setting. Also accessible from the main menu is a list of realtime effects, which may improve, reduce, or not affect the framerate of the video, depending on which the user selects. Effects offered include a grayscale mode, color flip, multi-view, old movie, Super 8, inverted colors, a mirror effect, motion trails, and more.
Unfortunately, it didn’t take long for us to realize how dw-c had achieved the ability to apply all these effects in real-time to video being recorded by an original iPhone or iPhone 3G: it captures video at a very low resolution: 160x208, claims QuickTime, which allows Video Camera iCamcorder to achieve frame rates approaching 15 fps on its Apple Photo - JPEG.mov-format videos during normal shooting conditions; turning the “high quality” option on and off didn’t seem to have an impact on framerate or overall video quality. While it shoots video at a very low resolution, Video Camera iCamcorder does offer users a solid framerate, plenty of sharing options, and an impressive number of effects; audio is recorded, albeit at very low volumes unless you’re very close to the iPhone’s integrated microphone. Users looking for the highest-resolution, best-quality videos from their iPhones should move along, but for users looking to have fun with their cameras and use the resulting videos primarily for MMS or social network sharing, Video Camera iCamcorder is a good choice. Expanded resolution options would make this already worthwhile app even better. iLounge Rating: B+.
VideoCam ($1) from xyster.net is a very simple video recorder that boasts a strong framerate but lacks many of the features offered by its competitors. The app uses a non-standard interface for recording, with buttons for recording start/stop and for library access; these are joined by two other similar-looking areas which are used to display the current status (ready, recording, processing) and the length of the current video. Once recording has finished, a progress bar just below the live video view area begins to move as the video is processed as an MPEG-1 .mpg file.
Notably, VideoCam is locked to a single recording resolution—208x208—but does manage to record at a reported 24 fps; playback of the videos showed a slightly lower framerate with many visible compression artifacts. The app is apparently meant to be used in vertical orientation only, as it failed to rotate video taken from a horizontal position, and offers only a built-in library with Wi-Fi transfer as other features—no other sharing options are offered, nor is the ability to record sound. With its lackluster video performance, limited feature set and abnormal interface, VideoCam falls short of our recommendation; improved video output quality, expanded sharing features, and audio recording would go a long way towards making VideoCam a more attractive option. iLounge Rating: C-.
We also tested several applications that we decide not to rate for various reasons but thought worthy of mention; these are listed below.
Camera Plus Pro ($2) from Global Delight is unique among the apps in this round-up in that it is designed primarily for taking still pictures, and only offers video recording as a secondary feature. The app’s interface is an unusual mix of standard iPhone UI elements and non-standard icons that can cause confusion when navigating through the app. In our testing, the app recorded video as an MPEG-4 .mov file, unfortunately with plenty of compression artifacts. Video resolution is locked at 213x160, which further limits the usefulness of the roughly 9 fps video. We decided against rating Camera Plus Pro because its features go beyond the scope of a simple video recorder, making it difficult to fairly compare against the other applications in this article.
iVid Cam Free (Free) from GP Apps, is a limited version of the paid application, choosing to put a banner on full-resolution video recorded by the app to allow users to try the app’s features without giving them full access. Surprisingly, the free version of the app retains the ability to share videos via e-mail, YouTube, or with a computer via Wi-Fi transfer, but since the video itself is so obviously watermarked, we thought it best to view iVid Cam Free as what it is: a demo version of the full application.
A trio of applications, Vidster! ($2) from Procypher Software, Video Camera ($1) from Hurryforward and Video Genius (Free) from CodeGoo were unusual in that none of them offered any sort of Wi-Fi or sharing options—at all. Video Genius did automatically export to the camera roll, but didn’t feature any other way to get video out of the application; Video Camera and Vidster! didn’t even go that far, forcing users to view any recorded videos from within the app’s built-in library. Due to the fact that there was no easy way to access any of the application’s video files to test for recording resolution and framerate, and no other notable features beyond basic video recording, we opted not to rate any of the three applications.
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