The humble webcam is becoming fairly prolific these days. Not only is it virtually impossible to find a notebook without one, but they're also making steady progress into consoles and even into some monitors. But the plain fact is that many computer users, especially those with desktop machines or older notebooks, like my ancient two-year old Dell, are left without (unless you're a PlayStation 2 EyeToy owner, in which case you can get it to play nice with a Windows PC without too much trouble). Of course it's possible to use your mobile phone as a webcam, but then you're not only frequently left with bad quality and terrible adjustability, it's often quite an effort to get it working in the first place. And though many compact cameras are also usable as webcams, you're still stuck with similar disadvantages and a relatively bulky piece of technology on your desk.
Which brings us back to the good old webcam, and specifically, Microsoft's LifeCam VX 5000. It's been a while since we reviewed a decent webcam, with the last one worth mentioning being the excellent Logitech Quickcam Pro 9000, but this little beast's in somewhat of a different league. Available online for the very reasonable amount of £33 including delivery, it's obviously not Microsoft's highest end product, but judging by its specifications it should still be capable of a reasonable performance.
Getting the LifeCam out of Microsoft's over-complex packaging reveals a very cute, compact little device. In fact, this is probably the least intimidating webcam I've come across, and for some reason reminds me of Wall-E (can't get a better recommendation than that). The camera, body and lens form a little cube about the size of a DVI connector or two memory sticks side by side. The corners are rounded, and the lens is offset by a silver surround. The body is glossy black, with a thin, coloured strip around the outer edge, which we imagine would go well with Samsung's Touch of Colour designs like on its SyncMaster T200 LCD Monitor. The colours available are Fire Red, Cool Blue or Lucky Green, oddly enough again the same ones that Samsung will be coming out with. Coincidence? No matter what colour you choose though, be aware that there's a dim little blue activity LED just above the lens to indicate when the webcam is recording.
Both the build quality and design of the VX5000's body are decent, but it's the webcam's unique leg that grabs the attention, or pretty much anything else for that matter. Microsoft calls it the Fun Flexible Base, and the amount of time I spent playing with it is quite worrying remarkable. There are two solid ends, in between which is a flexible section that can be twisted into almost any shape, and the whole thing is coated in lovely soft-feel rubber. This, combined with the horizontally-swivelling head, makes the LifeCam very easy to attach to a monitor or place in almost any position on your desk.