The tapeless, fixed-lens S20 weighs only 6.8 ounces with batteries and media installed but is sturdier than its competitors. It's also svelte: just 1.2 inches thick, 3.5 inches high, and 2.5 inches wide. On the downside, the mini cam's vertical shape encourages you to place your thumb on the back-mounted controls and block the lens and the built-in flash with your fingers. The tightly spaced interface can be awkward for large hands, and the four-way pad isn't much help--its buttons are mushy and hard to press.
Unlike the flip-out LCDs of competing models, the S20's 1.5-inch screen twists vertically 270 degrees and latches tightly to the camera. The menus look somewhat similar to those on DV camcorders. You get exposure compensation, automatic and preset white balance, light-sensitivity settings from ISO 100 to ISO 400, three video-compression modes, and 1,600x1,200 or 800x600 photo resolution. Additional features include a built-in flash and an A/V connection for a TV or a VCR. The 64MB of onboard memory will hold 18 minutes of video or 700 stills, and you can add storage space with SD/MMC media.
The S20 uses two alkaline or rechargeable nickel-metal-hydride AAs. In our tests, the batteries hung on for almost an hour of normal use.
Rated at a zippy 22 to 25 frames per second, video captures looked relatively smooth. Automatic exposure adjusted quickly enough for most situations. Gateway pumped up the S20's color saturation; it produces vibrant--sometimes too vibrant--video and stills. Unfortunately, severe color shifts occurred when we panned in some brightly lit exterior scenes; the video moved rapidly from green to blue and back again. While the compression artifacts and the video noise were bearable, limited dynamic range caused large areas to momentarily turn white.
The S20's stills were slightly out of focus, exterior shots lacked detail in high-contrast areas, and interior photos exhibited a strong reddish-purple tint. On the plus side, the built-in flash did a good job of illuminating subjects within about 15 feet of the camera.
If you want an inexpensive, portable mini cam with a bit of cool factor, the S20 will serve you fine, but it's obviously not for serious shooters. Keep in mind that its low-res, highly compressed video is suited only for e-mailing or posting on a casual Web site.