Like Apple, Flip Video has the slightly confounding habit of refreshing its range without actually offering us anything new. So, while the Flip Video MinoHD pocket camcorder has been around for a while now, the latest model is actually the third generation in its continuing evolution. And it's definitely an evolution rather than a revolution. Design, operation and features remain roughly the same, bar a few notable improvements. At £180, it even costs about the same as the last version.
A good deal has changed in Flip Video's corner of the market since the company's initial -- and highly successful -- foray into the world of digital video. For a start, just about everyone and their half uncle twice removed has decided they want a piece of Flip's pie. Sanyo, Sony, Panasonic, JVC, Kodak and more have all produced inexpensive Flip-like pocket camcorders, many of which offer a little more than just straightforward pointing and shooting. The Kodak PlaySport, for example, is waterproof, while the JVC Picsio GC-WP10 doubles as an MP3 recorder.
Kudos, then, to the folks at Flip for sticking to their guns with their new line of cams. Rather than tacking on whatever the latest fashionable feature might be, the company has decided to refine and improve what was already there. What this means, in practice, is that the brand-new Flip MinoHD looks remarkably similar to the previous Flip MinoHD. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing. You may have heard people describing pocket camcorders as 'smart phone-sized' -- well this one genuinely is. To give you an idea, it was actually slightly smaller in length and width (though marginally deeper) than the Nokia N97 we had hanging around our test bench. Decked out in matte black and sporting softly backlit touch-sensitive buttons, the Flip MinoHD's beauty is in its simplicity -- reflected in both its design and functionality.
Easy does it
To say the range of options is a little limited would be an understatement, but, again, this isn't meant as a criticism. Using the Flip MinoHD really is as straightforward as switching on the device, pointing it at what you want to film and pressing the big red button in the middle. It's extremely hard to get it wrong, especially since there are virtually zero settings to contend with. Hold down the middle button during start-up to set the time and date and turn off noise alerts -- and that's about it. Some users may find the lack of options frustrating but, for the most part, it's actually pretty liberating to be able to go out and shoot what you want without worrying about modes and settings.
The device records video at one setting only: 720p, at a frame rate of 50 frames per second (fps). This is one area where the current incarnation improves on its predecessor, which was only able to film at 30fps. It's a definite step in the right direction and provides smoother motion in outdoor environments, but we're curious as to why Flip decided not to bump up the resolution. Many similar devices from other manufacturers now offer 1080i and even 1080p resolutions, often for significantly less cash.
Still no stills
Like its predecessor, the Flip MinoHD lacks a dedicated photo mode -- something even its cheapest competitors now offer as standard (though, admittedly, with mixed success). Its absence here will surely dissuade some shoppers who are keen to carry one small device for all their photo and video needs.
There's also still no option to add your own storage. The model we tested came with 8GB of internal memory (a cheaper 4GB version is also available), and this is fine for roughly two hours' worth of Flipping. But, once it's used up, you'll need to find a PC and offload your clips before you can carry on.
Performance-wise, results compare favourably against the competition, with crisp, detailed images and vibrant colours. Motion is smooth and rolling-shutter issues are negligible. In lower lighting conditions, the Flip MinoHD is not immune to a little grain and some over-saturation, but it compares pretty well against other similar devices when used indoors.
The other mention-worthy addition to the new model is an image stabiliser. It's only an electronic one (optical image stabilisers are usually best), but it does a decent job of ironing out some minor wobbles.
The filming side of things isn't the end of the story, either. The device has an HDMI output and features its own fold-out USB terminal, so you can connect it straight to a computer. It also comes with a very useful built-in app that lets you trim, save and upload your clips to the Web. Plug your MinoHD into a PC and FlipShare provides a direct pipeline to Facebook, YouTube, MySpace and Twitter, so it's just as easy to share your clips as it is to film them.
It's a shame the latest Flip Video MinoHD hasn't evolved a decent photo mode or the ability to shoot at 1080p. The current incarnation isn't radically different from the last one, so upgraders may want to give this product cycle a miss. Also, compared to many of the other pocket cams that have flooded the market of late, Flip's device doesn't necessarily represent the best value for money.
For all its obvious oversights, though, we like the Flip MinoHD. Its single-minded dedication to the task at hand and its aversion to frills appeal to us. It also happens to be phenomenally easy to use, records decent quality clips and is small enough to take practically anywhere.
Edited by Emma Bayly