The need for digital photography has become ubiquitous, whether it's pictures of the kids at the beach, a snap of that motorcycle you want to sell on eBay, or a little video email you want to send to grandma. So one of the most important features to look for in a camera is portability -- something small and light enough to always be with you.
The Aiptek Pen Cam VR is a James Bondian wonder of miniaturization that touts itself as a "5-in-1" device, but its most impressive feature is its size. At 5.5" x 2.2" x 0.7," the PenCam is not much bigger (or heavier) than a magic marker, and it can easily be slipped into a suit jacket pocket, or even cupped secretively in your palm (for you secret agent wannabes).
The main use for the PenCam VR is taking quick and simple digital pictures. You won't win any photography awards with one (except maybe in a low-res avant garde category), but at a resolution of 640 x 480 (software-interpolated to 1024x768), the images are just fine for documenting family events, creating a vanity Web page, or displaying your wares at an online auction.
But taking pictures is just one of the functions of the Aiptek. The "VR" in the name stands for Voice Recorder, a great feature that allows you to take voice memos. With it, you can record up to 13 minutes of personal reminders or audio notes, or add voice memos to the pictures you've taken.
But the eggheads at Aiptek didn't stop there. You can also take up to 20 seconds of digital video footage on the camera, albeit at low quality. What you get looks more like a student art film than recognizable home video, but again, for certain modest applications (e.g. letting grandma see the kids going bananas in the family room), this is a nice added attraction. The camera also functions as a desktop video cam, with included software like NetMeeting and CyberLink VideoLive Mail. Picture-editing software is also included for adjusting brightness and contrast.
While the PenCam VR doesn't have higher-end features like an LCD viewfinder, Aiptek has included quite a bit with their cameras. The USB cradle holds the camera for video conferencing and transferring pics quickly, while also supplying power when attached to the computer (when on the road, the camera operates for up to two weeks with AAA batteries). A rudimentary LCD window allows navigation through picture options, including a self-timer, plus picture, voice and video options.
For all the features packed into such a small and nearly weightless device, you'd expect to pay top dollar. Not in this case. The PenCam VR retails for about $120, and the PenCam Trio (with identical features except for voice notation), is less than $100. For a camera this cool and this cheap, expect to see them showing up just about everywhere -- maybe even it places you don't want them. So watch your back, 007.