Flip Ultra HD camcorder

Flip pretty much kick-started the pocket camcorder trend but seemed to quickly fall behind the competition in terms of their offering. We've seen the Mino HD previously and here we have the Ultra edition updated to HD.

In terms of design it is pretty much what we had before in the Ultra edition. It is still pocketable, measuring only 108 x 55.5 x 30mm and weighing 170g. It's the same size as the original Flip Ultra and retains those toytown looks, but with the white plastic paired with silvery trim in our review sample.

As before the lens sits on the front, the flip-out USB connector resides on the left-hand side along with the newly added mini HDMI and the right-hand side sees the power button. The back features a beautifully crisp 2-inch screen above the controls, which are kept to a minimum, meaning it is simple to use.

The bottom sees a tripod screw thread and the lock for the cover. Slide off the cover and most of the bulk is explained. Whereas the Mino models have an internal battery, the Ultra is designed with bays for two AA batteries. The Flip Ultra shipped with regular batteries, the Ultra HD now has a battery pack, so you get a best of both worlds situation: rechargeable battery pack, or the option of regular AA batteries if it runs flat and you can't charge it.

The memory has been boosted too, giving you 8GB, enough for 2 hours of recording, putting it on a par with the Creative Vado HD. The image sensor is the same as the Mino HD, giving you 16:9 720p capture, but with a boosted "Flip Video Engine 3.5". Video is captured in MPEG4 (H.264 + AAC stereo audio, at 30fps).

Operation remains the same simple approach as in previous Flips and devices of this ilk: power on, press record, and that's it. It takes about 4 seconds to get from off to filming. There is a limited and rather pointless 2x digital zoom, which is worth avoiding.

Image quality remains impressive, with good natural skin tones and nice rich colours. Low light performance is impressive too: it does get a little noisy, but Flip have continued the trend of being a little better than some of the other offerings. Audio capture is reasonable too, with stereo mics providing a more immersive audio experience than most mobile phone's video capture will give you, but in busy environments, it all gets a bit much and there is no option of an external mic.

We are impressed with the way the Flip handles colour on gloomy days, when many videos look a little grey and boring the Flip manages to pick out colours with a good deal of punch so you still have something to look at. Highlights in bright conditions can get blown out, but overall it works well.

The solid performance carries through when you shift your videos over to your HDTV in the lounge. As the Flip Ultra HD now carries that HDMI port (albeit of the mini variety) you'll be able to connect it straight to your TV, although Flip don't supply the cable, or any cable, in fact. Of course, you can play the files straight off the camcorder on your PC or plugged straight into your PS3.

The biggest problem is in image wobble or handshake as you move around. It's always going to be a problem, but the best images come from supporting the Flip either on a surface or tripod, where the camera can remain steady. It does have a flat bottom (unlike the Vado models) so you can stand it up and talk to it for video diaries.

As before the FlipShare software is onboard and provides viewing, trimming, saving, sharing and the option to make a movie, stringing together clips. Sharing will allow you upload directly to YouTube or MySpace, as well as converting files for optimum uploads to other sites such as Facebook.

It is worth noting that if you want to upload to YouTube HD you'll have to do it manually as the software doesn't do this for you, uploading only regular definition files.

In reality you don't need to use the FlipShare software on your PC or Mac, as it if just as easy to browse the connected Flip and extract what you need. Unlike the Kodak models, you don't get the luxury of removing a memory card to plug straight in.

Battery life is good, giving you around 4.5 hours of capture before it needs charging, although obviously you'll only get 2 hours of video on the memory, so you'll need to plug it in, at which point it will be charging again.

Verdict

We criticised the last iteration of the Flip Mino HD because we didn't feel it had done enough to stand its ground against the competition. The Flip Ultra HD, however, although sticking to the same design has a number of advantages over that model, with the only downside being the increased size.

But the world has moved on a step in recent times, with mobile phones starting to step into the realm of HD capture and offering a similar simple range of controls, the pocket camcorder might be under threat. However, for those who want something affordable, simple and very easy to use, then the Flip Ultra HD is back in contention.


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