Flip MinoHD (120 Minutes)

After updating the Flip Ultra pocket camcorder to shoot in 720p high-definition (HD) video, Cisco turned its sights on the Flip MinoHD. The smallest of the Flip camcorders, the original MinoHD ( Macworld rated 3.5 out of 5 mice ) produced only adequate results--typically lending a yellow tone to video shot indoors, offering a fairly underpowered mono microphone, and providing no way to view HD video on a TV connected directly to the camera. The new MinoHD changes all that, making the Flip MinoHD my new favorite pocket camcorder.

Design and specifications

The first thing owners of any previous Flip camcorder will notice when removing the new MinoHD from the box is how solidly built the camera is. Although approximately the same size as the original MinoHD, the new version is noticeably heavier thanks, in part, to its brushed aluminum exterior and the solid-metal USB connector that flips out with the touch of a switch. Flip the Flip over and you also spy a larger LCD. The previous MinoHD had a 1.5-inch LCD whereas the new model houses a 2-inch transflective TFT display (offering a resolution of 960 by 240 pixels). That display is bright enough to be seen outdoors under direct sunlight.

Just as you can with other Flip Mino camcorders, you can customize the look of the camera by applying a design of your own, using a generated design, or choosing one of the designs offered by Pure Digital (the arm of Cisco responsible for the Flip camcorders). Custom-designed cameras cost nothing extra but must be configured and purchased via Pure Digital's Web site.

The new MinoHD includes 8GB of memory for up to 120 minutes of shooting 30 frames per second (fps) H.264 video at an average bit rate of 9Mbps. It includes an f/2.4 fixed focused lens (0.8m to infinity) and a stereo microphone. Like previous Flip cameras, this one has a smooth 2X digital zoom that gets grainy when zoomed out. Like all Flip camcorders, the latest MinoHD includes the FlipShare software on the camera, allowing you to edit the camera's video on just about any computer you plug it into. And, like all pocket camcorders, this one lacks image stabilization.

The bottom of the new MinoHD sports the expected tripod mount but, additionally, a mini HDMI connector for attaching the camera directly to an HDTV or AV receiver that supports HDMI. Unfortunately, the HDMI cable necessary to do the job isn't included in the box. (MonoPrice.com sells Mini-HDMI to HDMI cables for just over $5.)

The controls on the back of the camera work just as they did with the previous MinoHD. Again, you find the big red button you use to start recording and touch-sensitive buttons for Volume Up and Down, Next, Previous, Play, and Delete. The power button remains on the right side (as you look at the back of the camera) and the switch that releases the USB connector is on the left. Echoing the case's rounder design, the Record, Play, and Delete buttons are a little more dimpled than their predecessors.

Vision and sound

I'll repeat the mantra: All pocket camcorders are a study in compromise. But the latest MinoHD handles those compromises better than other pocket cameras I've used. Like other cameras, the results of its low-light shooting can be grainy. However, it compensates for the wild color shifts you get from some of these cameras. Under typical lamp light, for example, most pick up a yellow cast and a few over-compensate and bring too much blue to the picture. The new MinoHD gets much closer to the true color--white objects are white instead of yellow.

Indoors under good natural light I found the new MinoHD tried a little too hard. Like the Flip UltraHD, it brightened the picture a bit too much, washing out skin tones. Outside under shaded sunlight, this wasn't as much of an issue.

The Flip UltraHD shoots a little blue outdoors and the original MinoHD tended to get blown out by bright colors under direct sunlight. The new MinoHD isn't perfect, but it loses the UltraHD's blue cast and better handles bright colors.

The MinoHD's sound is improved over the original as well. Not only do you now get a stereo microphone instead of one that records mono only, but the microphone is more sensitive--as sensitive as the one found in the Flip UltraHD.

Macworld's buying advice

The science of pocket camcorders is evolving. What was a great pocket camcorder yesterday (again, with all its compromises) is only adequate when a newer, better model comes out. Such is the case with the latest Flip MinoHD. It's today's great pocket camcorder. How long it will remain so is anybody's guess.

[Christopher Breen is the author of The Flip Mino Pocket Guide (Peachpit Press, 2009).]

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