For some reason I’m always interested in companies that come out of nowhere to become hugely successful. From Vizio to Under Armour, their paths to success can be an inspiring story. If you have been in the market for a compact, yet affordable camcorder in the past two years than it’s likely you’ve noticed Flip Video’s camcorder line. Pure Digital, the San Francisco company behind Flip Video, has stepped into an already crowded camcorder arena, and have somehow risen above the competition. They took the cell phone camera approach and streamlined it to the “Plug n’ Play” generation. Embracing a “Run & Gun” type of philosophy, Flip Video camcorders are aimed at those who don’t care about learning a bunch of tech jargon, features, and modes, but for those who just want to shoot and share video. Flip Video has 4 camcorders in their family and a host of accessories to accompany them. I suggest taking a look at the Flip Video website for specs and features on all of their models. This review will document my experiences with the Mino and the 720p Mino HD.
The Mino and the Mino HD are the newest and best selling camcorders in the line. Whereas other models are powered via batteries, the Mino’s use a rechargeable internal lithium ion battery. In most cases the only way to charge a Mino is through your computer’s USB connection, but if you have an iPhone USB wall charger, that will work as well. Both Minos are cosmetically identical and have the option to add custom faceplates upon purchase through the Flip website. They have “Touch Sensitive” buttons that are more like anti-buttons as they are indented. They react OK most of the time and occasionally need multiple presses to activate, or they press too easily when you don’t want them too. The viewfinder screen is small but fine given the size of the actual camera. The Minos have switchblade style USB inputs that work well with laptops but not so much for my iMac. It would be nice if there was a USB extension cord included to make it easier to attach to desktop computers. They both include onboard software that requires no additional installation or drivers beyond the initial time that you plug the Mino into you computer. What I want to stress the most is that you need to know the specs of your computer before you buy a Mino, to make sure it is compatible with your set up. I am running a G5 iMac Power PC on 1.8 Ghz with 1.5 Gb of RAM. The Standard Definition Mino worked on my rig, but the HD Mino did not. Pitfalls of technology I guess.
Bringing the Mino out with you can be a great time. It’s small enough not to weigh down your pockets, and reacts well to being thrown around. It fits well in your hands and has a simple interface that allows it to be turned on and shooting in seconds. There are no modes to choose from, so what you shoot is what you get. What I found to be weak was that there was no light on the Mino, so it was tough to shoot indoors at night were light could be sparse. I went dancing at a local 80′s night spot, and the video was unwatchable. It was still cool, but the only reason I kept the video was because I was saying funny things.
Each Mino shoots 60 minutes of film and the battery lasts a while, but I would forego battery life in exchange for a powered light. The designers must have thought of this and decided against it for some reason. Maybe future iterations will include a spotlight, or at least a peripheral attachment. The microphone on the Mino was very sensitive and picked up everything. The volume controls could be a little smoother and less drastic, as they only offer 5 levels of volume. The Mino also offers 5 levels of digital zoom while shooting which is actually the only control you have while recording. Most of the time this is fine and the majority of people using a Mino won’t want anything more, but it would be nice if there were some other exposure type settings, or the ability to shoot in B&W.
We already know the target market of the Mino, so asking for more is like asking for a different product. The video looked great on both versions of the Mino with obvious favor going towards the HD version. The only other thing I thought was missing was an earphone jack so you could listen to your movies amidst other noise, or for more private viewings. There is a small 2.5mm jack to facilitate TV viewing, so that’s cool. In the end the Mino performs beyond initial expectations, and is so small you’ll forget that you’re carrying a camcorder. It’s just a fun device to have that you can quick draw and start shooting before any cell phone camera.
On to the software. Called FlipShare, it is fairly intuitive and easy to figure out what to do. It offers a myriad of ways to catalog and share your footage. From making DVD’s from their service or the option to burn your own, you can also:
- Back up to your computer
- Make a video greeting card
- Share Online via FaceBook, YouTube, etc.
- Take snapshots from the videos
- Play Full Screen on your computer
Flipshare also offers very basic editing in terms of cutting from one side of the video to the other, or better put, adjusting the start and stop times. It’s another potential gripe, but again, the software is aimed at those who don’t really care about editing. However, I just reviewed One True Media, which is an online service specializing in easy video editing, that was far better than Flipshare, leagues ahead actually. I would recommend just exporting your files through the FlipShare DVD option to your desktop, and bring them into One True Media for a far better and expansive experience.
My other main problem with the software was that even though my iMac met the minimum requirements, the videos just didn’t run that well. Clipping and crashing was a constant that became so annoying that I gave up using it after a bit. FlipShare also has some crappy proprietary issues as well. The video would not run unless you converted it from Flipshare first. This meaning that you could not just take the files from the Mino and run them in QuickTime, they had to go through Flipshare first. Emailing a video over three minutes in length took way too long. As I mentioned before, the HD Mino did not work on my Mac. I used a buddy’s more powerful MacBook and Flipshare did run better, although the video I used to test it wasn’t very long.
Overall, I enjoyed my experiences with the Minos and if I had to choose one, I would go with the standard definition Mino. For one it works with my computer, is cheaper, and the variety of applications I’d be using it for such as email or Youtube, the viewer isn’t going to care about whether or not it’s in HD or SD. Plus I am about the only one I know with an HDTV. The software leaves something to be desired, but that can always be fixed in the future. Flip Video hits its target with the SD and HD Mino and is worth a look if you are in the market and you are that market.
- Great fun, easy to use
- Compact design, unobtrusive weight, functions, and modes
- Plug & Play
- Quality video & audio
- Software could be much better
- No light! Not so great for nightlife
- Volume changing is too incremented
- Regular buttons may be better
Buy the HD Mino for $209 here
Buy the SD Mino for $159 here
Customize Your Mino here