Flip more or less invented the pocket camcorder market so when we heard that it was launching an updated range, we were very keen to get our mitts on them. The third-generation Flip UltraHD is similar to the last model, with its 720p video capture, although it does pack a few extra surprises. Along with the built-in 8GB memory as found on the previous model, the UltraHD also now includes image stabilisation and can shoot at 50fps - both of which should result in much smoother video capture. Flip also recently launched the new MinoHD camcorder which offers all the same benefits but with a slightly smaller chassis and a higher price tag. The UltraHD is also offered as a cheaper 4GB version, although this model doesn't offer image stabilisation and can only muster 30fps support.
Measuring in at 106 x 54 x 22mm, the UltraHD is certainly fairly svelte, even by pocket camcorder standards. And weighing just 128g, it's pretty light, too. The rubberised finish that covers the majority of the device is a nice touch that not only gives the UltraHD a premium feel, but also means that even the most butter-fingered of users shouldn't be dropping it too often. The front of the camcorder sports the fixed focus lens, located slightly off-centre to the left. Like most devices of this type, the lens sports a F/2.4 max aperture.
There are very few controls on the UltraHD, which is sure to be good news for those that like their products to be nice and simple. On the right-hand edge of the unit you'll find the power button that turns the device on and off with one click, rather than the annoying "hold button down for 3 seconds" move. You'll also find a small recess for attaching the supplied wrist strap. The underside of the Flip reveals a standard tripod mount along with a "hold" switch so that you don't end up with reams of video footage of the inside of your pocket. Next to this, there's a Micro HDMI port alongside the manufacturer's FlipPort connection.
The back of the device sports the 2-inch TFT LCD sporting a 320 x 240 resolution, along with the familiar central red button that's surrounded by a multi-directional pad that also doubles up as the zoom control. There are also separate Play and Delete buttons. The left-hand edge of the unit is home to the flip-out USB connector which is a great piece of lovingly crafted design work. Pulling the switch downwards releases the the USB plug, which pings out with satisfying ease and speed. The device is supplied with a soft pouch which won't do much against serious bumps and knocks, but will hopefully keep the screen from getting scratched when the Flip is in your pocket or bag.
The UltraHD is said to power up in 4 seconds - in fact, we found it to be a little quicker than that which is a great attribute for a device of this type to have. A lot of products say that they're "point and shoot" devices, but the Flip really is.
With the device powered up within seconds, you're ready to to record almost straight away and the operation couldn't be simpler. To record, you simply power up and then press the red button, while pressing it again stops the recording. The up and down controls (or plus and minus) enable you to get closer to your subject without actually having to move, using the surprisingly smooth 2x digital zoom.
Using a 1.6 megapixel CMOS sensor, the gadget captures MPEG4 footage (H.264) in high-def at 720p (1280 x 720 pixels). According to the spec list, the UltraHD boasts automatic low light detection, while the relatively fast F/2.4 aperture lens is designed to work well in dingy lighting conditions. The UltraHD also has automatic white balance and black level calibration which works well enough most of the time, although it ran into difficulty with high contrast subjects, such as a dark building against a bright sky.
The focusing range is effective from 1.5m (to infinity), so if you plan on doing any extreme close-ups then you're out of luck. The UltraHD works best on a range that's slighly beyond the minimum, but if you stretch it too far then it will begin to struggle to cope with detail on far away objects.
As these kind of products are designed to be whipped out swiftly from a bag and held aloft like a mobile phone for recording, it's no wonder that the footage tends to be a bit shaky. The new image stabilsation, along with the 50fps capture rate does seem to make a marked difference to the smoothness of the footage when compared with the previous model. However, the effectiveness of the image stabilisation seems to decrease as lighting conditions get darker. As with most pocket camcorders, shooting outside produces the best results, as indoor footage tends to lack detail and be plagued by unwanted artefacts. We found the colour reproduction to be pretty faithful to the subject, with flesh tones being fairly reaslistic too.
As you'd imagine, the built-in wide-range stereo microphone does a relatively decent job of capturing the sound, but it's not amazing and there's no option for plugging in an external mic. We found that the UltraHD added a fair bit of background noise to our recordings, even on footage taken in a near-silent room. It's not a deal-breaker and not that unusual on devices of this kind, but a constant sound that's reminiscent of running water or rustling paper on your clips will be a step too far for some video purists. Likewise, the built-in speakers are functional, but hardly inspiring.
You can play back footage on your TV using an HDMI cable rigged up to the UltraHD's Micro HDMI port, although you won't find one in the box so unless you've got a spare one laying around you'll have to fork out some extra cash. It's worth the extra trouble if you want to get the best out of the device's HD capabilities. Unlike watching your videos back on the tiny 2-inch screen, viewing them on an high-def TV really shows off the quality of the 720p footage, although we think that most people using a pocket camcorder will be more concerned about how their videos look on Facebook or YouTube.
The UltraHD is powered by the brand's own rechargable Flip Video Lithium-ion Battery Pack (included) or alternatively you can use 3 AAA Lithium Batteries if you haven't had a chance to get your camcorder charged up. You should get around 2 hours of recording time when the battery pack is fully charged. Charging the device is accomplished using the USB connector to hook up to your computer and it should take about 4 hours for a full charge.
The manufacturer offers pre-loaded FlipShare software that can be used for editing and sharing your videos directly to Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. It's very easy to use, but it's just as easy to circumnavigate the software altogether and just upload the videos directly from the device, rather than saving them onto your computer first.
This is certainly the best Flip we've seen so far and a marked improvement on the previous generation, but it's still a little on the pricey side, particularly considering the below average audio capture and the distinct lack of features. It's still cheaper than its sibling - the Flip MinoHD, which will set you back £179.99, even though it sports the same image stabilisation and 50fps capture rate. The UltraHD also deserves credit for its slick design and flip-out USB connector.
If you're after a pocket camcorder that's quick and simple to use and doesn't include lots of confusing features then the Flip UltraHD fits the bill. Having said that, there are cheaper models around with superior audio capabilities.