When jumping into a crowded market, especially one with a couple of strong players in the lead, a company has to work hard to distinguish its entries from the field. JVC successfully manages that with its debut product, the Picsio GC-FM1–unfortunately, not often in a good way.

On sight, you’d certainly never confuse this mini camcorder with comparably priced competitors like the sleek, first-generation Flip MinoHD or the bulky but top-notch Kodak Zi8. Though it comes in three attractive colors–deep purple, royal blue, and black–and an almost perfect size (a bit thicker than but otherwise smaller and about as light as a BlackBerry Pearl), its shiny faceted plastic face and wavy chrome-colored accent strip are about as sparkly as you can get without actually going the Swarovski-encrusted route. And while testing it in the park, I thought I had developed some magic squirrel-whispering powers until I realized that it was the camcorder that they were climbing the fence to see. Adult humans were less impressed, based on my casual office survey.

The wavy silver sort of camouflages the exposed USB, miniHDMI, and composite video jacks on one side and the macro switch on the other. Unlike many competitors, the FM1 doesn’t have a built-in USB connector, though it includes a cable; nor does it bundle an HDMI cable like the Zi8. On the bottom is a tripod socket, hand strap connector, and a door covering the SD card slot and built-in battery.

The back–the side with the 2-inch LCD screen and buttons– is quite attractively designed, but the controls are horribly annoying; they’re too flat with no travel or feedback. You have to press the tiny power button with your nail, and there’s always a pause before it registers so you’re not sure if you have to press it again. With the four-way switch you control the digital zoom (never use it) as well as cycle through the different resolutions. The latter is incredibly frustrating. You press, hard because you don’t feel anything, and nothing happens. Press and nothing happens. Press and nothing–wait, did that setting just change? At least there’s no menu system to navigate with that control.

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