Taking to heart the old saying that if it isn't broke, don't fix it, Flip Video has upgraded its MinoHD pocket camcorder for the 2009 holiday season with a new "premium" model that improves upon the popular product's design but changes little else.
In a nod to Apple, which adds the generational tag to its lines of iPod and iPhones, Flip dubs this model the MinoHD Second Generation. The key differences between it and the original MinoHD are a body that's made out of brushed metal rather than plastic, double the memory (8GB of built-in memory allows you to store 2 hours of HD video), and a larger, 2-inch transflective (antiglare) LCD that has a resolution of 960x240 pixels. Oh, and the second-generation MinoHD has a mini HDMI connector that allows you to view your clips on an HDTV--as long as you buy an optional cable. In contrast, Kodak's Zi8 ships with an HDMI cable.
The designers have also rounded the edges a bit, and the combination of the new metal casing and the rounded corners give this MinoHD a very nice look and feel. Overall, the camcorder just seems more luxurious and sleek--it retails for $229, so it better be--and it's slightly heavier, weighing 5.8 ounces vs. 3.3 for the older model. In terms of build quality, we also appreciated that the mechanism for the trademark flip-out USB connector has been upgraded for a smoother flip action.
Unless you buy directly from the company, this model is only available in black and silver; if you order it via Flip's Web site, though, you can get a snazzier custom version at no extra cost. You can find a comparison of Flip Video pocket camcorders here.
As with its older sibling, the back navigation controls have responsive touch-sensitive buttons sunk flush into a shiny surface; we like them, but on occasion you'll accidentally touch a button you wished you hadn't. Also, that surface is a fingerprint magnet, so expect to have to frequently wipe it off with the included faux chamois carrying case.
Aside from the additional memory and larger LCD--yes, it's nice, and you can view it even in bright daylight--spec-wise, nothing else has changed. While some pocket camcorders, such as Kodak's Zi8, offer 1080p video, the MinoHD second-generation sticks with 30fps 720p video. In terms of features, you get a standard 2x digital zoom, but it still lacks image stabilization and a macro mode for close-up shots. Like its siblings, the second-generation MinoHD is designed to be exceedingly simple to use, and it is. In contrast to some of its competitors, it provides virtually no settings to fiddle with apart from setting the date and time. You shoot in one resolution and that's it. There's no choice to drop to a lower video resolution to store more video, but why would you want to? Really, the MinoHD is all about pushing the red button to start and stop recording and hit the playback button to see what you've recorded. That's pretty much it.
As for power, the same nonremovable rechargeable lithium ion battery as the original MinoHD's is included here. It lasts up to 2 hours, compared with the standard Mino's 4 hours or so of juice. You also get the same 1/4.5-inch HD CMOS sensor, which in conjunction with an imaging processor upgrade theoretically delivers improved low-light sensitivity. As before, it encodes MP4 files using H.264 MPEG-4 encoding at a data rate of 9 megabits per second (vs. 4Mbps for the non-HD Mino).
Once again, we were fairly impressed with how good the video quality was for a camera this size. Flip Video seems to have improved the white balance for indoor shots, but all in all, we noticed little difference in the video we shot with this model and the video we'd previously shot with the original MinoHD. The video is pretty sharp, with accurate, vibrant colors. When you compare the video from this model to that of the standard-def Mino, the key is that that the video from this model scales well and looks sharp when you blow it up on your computer screen or play it back on a TV using an HDMI cable. To be clear, you won't confuse the video with what you'd get from a real high-definition camcorder, but the video quality is pretty impressive for a camcorder this tiny.
Video shot in both bright and low light looked pretty good. We took some footage in a dimly lit elevator, and while the video didn't look great, it wasn't as noisy in low light as we've seen from other camcorders of this ilk. The sound was also decent, now in stereo, though for best results you do have to stand fairly close to your subject and not have too much extraneous noise.
It's also worth noting that, like all these models, the MinoHD does much better when held steady. The camcorder also has some autofocus issues, such as locking on the ground rather than the animal scampering across it, and you can't get too close to your subjects or they will be out of focus (we wish there was a macro mode like the one offered on the Kodak Zi8). And you'll also notice that videos don't always play with the smooth precision of a true high-def video; there's just a slight bit of jitter. (Flip Video reps says it helps to have a more powerful computer and not have a lot of applications open when you're playing back videos, but we noticed it on a variety of systems.)
One of the Flip Video camcorders' key selling points is how easy it is to get videos off the camera and distribute them, and the tradition continues here. You simply flip out the USB connector and plug it into your Windows (Windows 2000/XP or later) or OS X (10.4 or later) machine and up pops FlipShare, the company's newly redesigned software. You can play back one clip, string several together to make a movie, pull a single frame (still photo) out of the video, and share your clips with selected viewers via e-mail or the Web.
When sharing via e-mail, instead of attaching a large file--even short 20-second clips can result in a 25MB file--recipients are sent a link to your compressed video. It looks worse than your raw video footage, but it doesn't look bad, and Flip Video has made an effort to preserve some of the sharpness and HD qualities. Aside from the fact that it can take several minutes to process the video, sharing a file is very simple. Click on the "Share Video" button in the software interface and it takes you to a screen that asks you to select a video clip and choose to share it via e-mail, share a greeting (send a private video card), or share it online.
To publish directly to YouTube, AOL, or MySpace, you'll need to create an account for each service and log in. But once you do, you can automatically upload your videos to the Web for private or public viewing with a click of a button. If you're allied to some other video-sharing site, a click of a button allows you to prepare the video for uploading, but you'll have to manually upload the processed file from a folder on your desktop.
For the latest version of FlipShare, which ships with the unit, the company has a added a few new features, including direct uploads of your videos to Facebook (again, you just have to sign in once) and a new movie Movie Magic feature that automatically mixes your clips into a movie. It's not quite as robust as the Movie Mix feature that was powered by Muvee, but it's still a welcome feature and we suspect a lot of people will use it. (For all you Mac users out there, you can edit and string together your video files together using iMovie as well.)
Flip Video also offers a couple of other sharing features. You can upload your videos to your own Flip Channel and create a list of people you want to share your videos with. When you upload a video, members of your list will be alerted via e-mail that you've posted a new video. And Flip also has an iPhone app that allows you or your friends and family to access those video remotely from an iPhone or iPod Touch.
Finally, if that wasn't all enough, the company also offers a make-your-own-DVD service. You upload up to an hour's worth of video to a special Web site to have it burned to a DVD, which then gets distributed to your family and friends at $19.99 a pop. The company also claims you can "keep your videos archived forever," but remember that "forever" doesn't mean the same thing to companies as it does to people.
In the end, the second-generation of MinoHD is just an enhanced version of the original MinoHD, and as long as only $30 separates this model from that model, we recommend going with this newer one for the expanded memory and larger LCD (at a price delta of $50, the choice becomes harder, but that's a decision you'll have to make on your own based on your budget). As for competing models like the Kodak Zi8, we like that pocket camcorder a lot, but the MinoHD is more compact, and the software is friendlier. You can't go wrong with either the Zi8 or the MinoHD, but the Kodak remains the better deal until we see significant discounts on this model.