We've been waiting for a device that does for portable video what the MP3 player did for portable audio, especially now that so many video files are being traded online. Watching reruns on the bus would be great, and the PoGo Products Flipster is the one of the first devices we've seen that is dedicated to such a pursuit. Unfortunately, it's much harder to make video portable than audio, and the Flipster doesn't rise to this formidable challenge. We've been waiting for a device that does for portable video what the MP3 player did for portable audio, especially now that so many video files are being traded online. Watching reruns on the bus would be great, and the PoGo Products Flipster is the one of the first devices we've seen that is dedicated to such a pursuit. Unfortunately, it's much harder to make video portable than audio, and the Flipster doesn't rise to this formidable challenge.
Looks like a cell phone
Weighing 3.7 ounces and measuring 3.5 by 2.5 by 3.7 inches, the Flipster resembles a clamshell-style cell phone circa 1997, but it has a 2.5-inch screen. The Flipster's construction is solid, and the rubberized buttons, which control all navigation and playback functions, are laid out just like they would be on a cell phone. We especially liked the dedicated Audio and Video controls, which give you one-touch access to all of your content. In addition, there is a tiny speaker in the top part of the clamshell and an expansion slot on the side that accepts Secure Digital (SD) and MultiMedia Memory (MMC) cards.
While its main selling point is the ability to play video files, the Flipster, which features a 206MHz 32-bit RISC processor and Windows CE at its core, also makes a great MP3 player (AAC and WMA audio files also supported). After all, what other MP3 player has a full-color onscreen spectral analysis? And forget about carrying photos around in your wallet because the Flipster also displays most standard image formats, even if they do sometimes appear a bit distorted after being condensed to fit its 160x134-pixel display. Another plus: You can record WAV memos that can be uploaded to your computer, then played back or e-mailed. And in the future, PoGo Products says that it will offer such accessories as a digital-camera module, a TV tuner, and wireless connectivity.
Picky, picky, picky
To put the Flipster to the test, we downloaded 40 video files--mostly Seinfeld episodes and Saturday Night Live skits. Out of the 40 files, we could transfer only 7 to the Flipster via the included USB cable. To make matters worse, we had to use the included copy of Microsoft Windows Media Encoder to covert those 7 into WMV files since the Flipster supports only WMV and ASF formats. The conversion process is complicated and tedious; furthermore, it often doesn't even work properly since the software doesn't support many popular codecs itself.
We should note that the sample music videos (native WMV files) that PoGo shipped with the Flipster played just as they would on a Pocket PC--that is, the video quality is acceptable with frame rates in the 18fps to 22fps range. Sound quality is also decent, but in order for this product to be a viable option, PoGo Products must include software that makes any kind of video file Flipster-compatible with the push of a button. In other words, if you're thinking of downloading videos from KaZaa and watching them on the Flipster in the same manner that you download MP3s to a portable player, think again--the content just isn't widely available in the right formats at this time.
As far as battery life goes, PoGo says that you can get three to four hours of video or seven to eight hours of music from the included lithium-ion rechargeable battery. But if you keep the display on the brightest setting, battery life will be reduced.
In the end, while the Flipster is a groundbreaking product of sorts and is clearly a work in progress, it doesn't have quite enough merits to justify its fairly lofty price tag ($400 for the or $450 for this 128MB model). We liked its design and strong MP3-playback skills, but its video capabilities are undercut by the lack of available content. That said, it's unclear why someone would purchase the Flipster device instead of a Pocket PC, which not only offers similar features but adds additional functionality. Panasonic also sells a similar device, the , that offers MPEG-4- and JPEG- (still image) recording capabilities on top of MP3 and MPEG-4 playback. We hope that PoGo Products figures out a way to make this device more compelling, but as it stands, we're not quite ready to give it our blessing.