What can $200 buy you in a camcorder? Not a whole heckuva lot, which is probably why the standard-definition SC-MX20, with its traditional design, long zoom lens, convenient SD-card-based recording, and relatively nice manual feature set, jumps out from a crowd of nonzooming minicamcorders and awkward pistol-grip models. But while its feature set sounds quite appealing, its performance and video quality don't match closely priced competitors.
I have mixed thoughts about the MX20's design. It comes in silver with black accents, red accents, blue accents, and all white. It's about the same size as Canon's FS models of similar vintage, but, oddly, it looks larger; neither camcorder is terribly tiny, but they are small enough to fit in a large jacket pocket. Though it's relatively tubular in shape, which can sometimes pose usability problems, it has the neat rotating grip that debuted on the SC-HMX10 that lets you adjust the camcorder's height for comfort. You rest your back three fingers on a recess of rubberized material on top for additional stability.
Except for the plastic accents, the camcorder appears almost featureless; the few buttons and switches are silver on silver, so you can't miss the big red dot indicating the record button on the back, just above the power switch. A zoom rocker sits on top with a movie/still mode toggle button to the rear; a tethered plastic cover below it hides an AV out connector, USB connector, and power jack. The battery and SD card slot are on the bottom of the device, much like a camera, which makes card and battery swapping difficult if you're using a tripod. On the camcorder body when you open the LCD are three buttons--info/battery check, screen brightness, and Easy Q (full auto)--plus the speaker. There's a manual lens cover switch on the lens barrel.
The 2.7-inch LCD seems about par for its class--pretty coarse but usable. On the bezel are a menu and secondary record button, plus the four-way-plus-OK navigation switch that doubles as a secondary zoom. The MX20 offers selectable shutter speed (although you can't drop below 1/60 second) in addition to basics such as exposure compensation and manual focus. Within the menus you get the standard scene presets, white balance, electronic image stabilization, digital effects, 16:9 wide recording, resolution options (TV Super Fine, TV Fine, TV Normal, Web, and Mobile), a wind filter, backlight compensation, an intervalometer (1 through 30 second increments till you fill up the card), a night mode which slows the shutter to 1/30 or 1/15 second, and some other minor features. (You can download/view the manual in PDF format if you'd like more detail.)
While it all seems straightforward, the controls actually feel a bit mushy and there's an annoying delay when stopping/starting recording. I frequently thought my button press hadn't registered, beginning an endless cycle of inadvertent stops and starts. Furthermore, the zoom switch is too sensitive, making it difficult to get an evenly paced zoom speed. The navigation switch on the LCD is also just a bit too flat, making it difficult to press the right arrow without accidentally pressing the enter/OK button.
The MX20's 34x zoom lens probably attracts a lot of interest, but like all budget camcorders, it unfortunately pairs a really long zoom with electronic (rather than optical) image stabilization. That said, the EIS does a fair job of minimizing shake, but there are other issues with the MX20 that makes its EIS performance moot. For one, it focuses fairly slowly and in low light it pulses quite a bit. Overall, the video looks mediocre, even by pre-HD YouTube standards. It's video is soft, with color moire and has interlacing and compression artifacts--and that's at its best, TV Super Fine quality (720x480 pixels at 60 frames per second). Part of the problem is the relatively low-resolution 680,000-pixel sensor. In practice, I've found that tapeless recording requires slightly higher resolution to produce a decent video. Oddly, though, it captures really nice-sounding audio.
If you're looking for a cheap camcorder with a long zoom lens, it's worth spending about $50 more for the Canon FS100. However, if your budget's that tight, consider foregoing the zoom entirely and getting a cheap minicamcorder instead. If the Samsung SC-MX20 sounds too good to be true, that's because it is.