With its acquisition earlier this year of Pure Digital, makers of the Flip line of ultraportable, user-friendly video cameras, Cisco Systems has big plans for the Flip as part of its vision for the connected home. And as the second generation of Flip products hits the Canadian channel, the buzz is likely to continue building. I've used the first generation Flip since last year, and I've come to love it. It's easy to use and portable, and it has accompanied me to many conferences and trade shows, allowing me to compliment my writing with video reports. Among the only points I raised were the inability to charge by USB and the lack of a mic jack for better audio. The VGA picture quality was also a challenge at times. So I was excited to get my hands on the next generation of Flip products recently, and I can report two of my three minor concerns have been addressed. The Flip family has gotten larger and now includes two product groups: Flip Ultra, and Flip Mino. And within each group there are two offerings, one which shoots standard-quality VGA video (640x480) and one which shoots HD (720p) in 16:9 widescreen. We'll review the Ultra at a later date; this review focuses on the Mino. The Mino is about half the size of the Ultra, taking portability to another degree. While the Ultra mesures 107mm x 55mm x 29mm, the Mino is just 101mm x 50mm x 15mm and weighs a scant 93 grams. For the size advantage you do have to accept a smaller screen and 60 minutes of recording time instead of 120 minutes on the ultra, but for the added portability it's a compromise worth considering. I tested the Mino HD, and comparing it to my first generation ultra, the Mino just feels like a sturdier, more durable, higher quality product. The older Ultra felt a little plasticy. The Mino feels substantial. Mine came with a sleek black finish, but it's also available in chrome, and a customized pattern can be applied when ordering online. If you haven't used the Flip before, the user interface is designed to be as easy as possible. The on button on the side activates the camera. You orient the camera using the 1.5" widescreen display. There's no settings to fiddle with after you set the date and time on first use, just point and press the big red button to start and stop recording. A minimal digital zoom is included, but it doesn't move too far. While the Ultra is powered by two AA batteries, the Mino has an internal battery that is charged by the flip-out (hence the name) USB dongle, which also performs your data transfer to the PC. I greatly prefer USB charging, and you can get about two hours on a charge with the MinoHD, and four hours with the non-HD Mino. While the first generation Flip used a codec that caused me much conversion drama before I could bring it into Adobe Premiere for editing, the Mino HD gave me .mp4 files that Premiere had no troubles with at all, allowing me to get right down to editing. And the picture quality the Mino HD produced was beautiful and clear, particularly when viewed on a high-definition display. And if you want to watch your Flip videos directly from the camera on your TV, an output jack and cable are included. The one still missing feature I'd love to see is a microphone jack, so I could connect an external mic for better quality audio. Pure Digital tells me though they intend the Flip to be a primarily consumer offering, so a mic jack is an unlikely addition. I urge them again thought to reconsider. Now, the Flip does have its limits. You'll want to stick to well-lit locations. And if you're aiming to get audio, get close, and try for a quiet location. It comes with a tripod mount, I picked up a $10 tripod at a local store and I found this did wonders for my shaky hand syndrome. Bear those limitations in mind though and the Flip Mino HD is a dream, and a great fit for someone who wants the portable ability to shoot great-quality video without lugging around a full-sized camera. I carry mine everywhere in my jacket pocket. The Mino HD is available now through retail and distribution for US$279.99, while the non-HD Mino model retails for $219.99. s.
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