Flip’s (Pure Digital in the US) Mino HD is the follow up to the popular Mino “point and shoot” camcorder – a product category that the company practically invented – this time upgrading the video quality to High Definition or 720p MP4 to be precise. From the industrial design alone, however, you’d be hard pressed to tell the difference.
The Mino HD shares the exact casing as its standard definition relation, weighing in at just 94 grams and not much bigger than a typical candy bar cell phone. The device also features the same iconic flip out USB connector – hence the ‘Flip’ name – which makes it convenient to transfer clips shot on the Mino HD to a PC as well as providing the sole means for charging the non-removable battery.
In place of a view finder is a tiny 1.5 inch LCD screen (made smaller yet by the 4:3 aspect ratio despite the Mino HD shooting in 16:9), which, thankfully, is bright enough to be seen in the sun. Just below the screen is a large red record button surrounded by six touch sensitive controls (play/delete/up/down/left/right), and down the right hand side is the power button. On the left is a TV-out (no HDMI just composite), and on the rear is a standard tripod mount.
The Mino HD has 4GB of built-in flash memory – enough for about an hour of video – and Flip quotes the battery life as 2 hours between charging, more than enough to match the camcorder’s storage capacity.
Picture quality and sound
Obviously a budget High Def camcorder, the Mino HD’s picture quality is impressive, and I found it comparable to my Sanyo Xacti HD camcorder, which costs about £60 ($80) more. Colours were a little washed out in sun light but the footage contained no obvious pixelation at native HD resolution, and for a camcorder that operates in ‘auto’ mode for everything – focus, exposure etc. – the Mino HD does an admirable job at adjusting as you move in and out of shade and point at different subjects. Having said that, I have to note a few downsides.
High Definition video is very susceptible to hand shakes, and with the Mino HD being so light, the problem is exacerbated and it’s not clear how much image stabilization, if any, the device uses to compensate. I also found framing to be a little awkward because of the Mino HD’s tiny viewfinder/screen and the fact that it can’t be rotated as on more traditional camcorders. Another let down is that the rather feeble 2 x digital zoom can only be invoked once you hit record, leaving you no option to line up a shot beforehand.
The Mino HD’s built-in mic performed well, if a little quiet – you’ll want talking subjects to be fairly close by. Additionally, no moving parts means there’s no risk of any pesky ‘humming’ sound from the camera’s motor, and outside wind didn’t seem to be an issue either. On the downside – though understandable considering Flip’s intended market – there’s no head phone socket for monitoring sound or external mic input.
One of the selling points of the Mino HD is that software is included on the camera itself to enable basic editing and upload to various online destinations e.g. YouTube or share a link via email. Called FlipShare, the application runs of both Macs and Windows, and offers the ability to trim clips, add music and titles, and upload to YouTube or MySpace, export for other destinations, including DVD, and capture a still shot. The software is very easy to use, even if the trim option is a little buried, and certainly does the intended job: a bit of top and tailing of clips and adding credits before uploading (in many ways it’s easier to use than the new iMove, although a lot less powerful).
A really neat feature of FlipShare is that any edited clips can be saved back to the camera’s internal storage so that you can take ‘work in progress’ with you. One area where the software really disappoints, however, is that it doesn’t support YouTube’s new HD format. Because of the way FlipShare exports clips ready for upload to the video sharing site, they are downsized, presumably for bandwidth reasons, to standard definition.
There’s much to like about the Flip Mino HD – the “point and shoot” concept for casual use is welcome – but I can’t help but feel that the company rushed to High Definition too fast. Picture quality is great and should have warranted a larger 16:9 ratio screen, better zoom and support for uploading to YouTube in HD. With these limitations, the £170 price point seems a little on the high side. On that note, the Flip Ultra HD, which features a larger screen, removable battery and HDMI output, has just become available in the US.