Cisco Flip SlideHD: When Touchscreens Jump the Shark
At a Glance
For better or worse, touchscreens are finding their way into nearly every type of electronic product: phones, netbooks, cameras, tablets...and now, pocket camcorders.
The touchscreen in the new Flip SlideHD pocket camcorder is an iffy addition: It's great for watching videos, but not for shooting them. The SlideHD ($280 as of May 12, 2010) is the first member of Cisco's category-defining stable of pocket camcorders to have a touchscreen option.
Like the other models in the Flip HD line, it records 720p video at 30 frames per second, saved as MPEG-4 files to its internal 16GB drive, which can hold 4 hours of recorded clips or 12 hours of compressed video from other sources. The SlideHD supports playback of MPEG-4 videos that are loaded onto it from a computer.
Beyond its beefed-up storage spec, it's largely the same camcorder as last year's Flip UltraHD. There are a few significant differences, however, starting with the SlideHD's slide-out, tilting widescreen, which makes it far superior to watch videos on. Also, a built-in battery recharges when you plug the device into a computer's USB port (the Flip UltraHD ran on AA batteries); and there's a headphone jack on the bottom of the SlideHD.
The similarities with the Flip UltraHD are good news, especially in the video-quality department. The SlideHD records top-notch pocket-camcorder video in either bright light or low light. Here's sample footage captured the SlideHD and by two other highly ranked pocket camcorders--the Kodak Zi8 and the second-generation Flip MinoHD. (Use the drop-down menu on the bottom right of each video player to select the highest-quality video setting.)
Cisco Flip SlideHD: Video Quality Test
Kodak Zi8: Video Quality Test
Cisco Flip MinoHD: Video Quality Test
The SlideHD also continues the Flip legacy of capturing some of the best low-light footage in the business. Here's the SlideHD's footage matched against our top-rated low-light superstars--the Flip MinoHD and the third-generation Creative Vado HD.
Cisco Flip SlideHD: Low-Light Test
Cisco Flip MinoHD: Low-Light Test
Creative Vado HD (Third Generation): Low-Light Test
Alas, that excellent footage from the Flip SlideHD can be hard to come by if you run afoul of the touchscreen controls that you have to use when trying to record it.
The Flip SlideHD's touchscreen attempts to reproduce the button layout used by other Flip camcorders, with an on-screen "red button" that you touch to start and stop playback. The record "button" is flanked by directional touchscreen controls to operate the 2X digital zoom and to select clips for small-screen playback.
It's all very cute and brand-savvy, but designing the entire screen to serve as a strike zone for starting and stopping recording would have made the device much more usable.
To minimize fingerprints on the touchscreen, the Flip SlideHD provides a touch-sensitive strip below the screen for you to use in paging through clips and accessing the camcorder's settings.
The problem with both the touchstrip and the touchscreen is their response times. I often had to press a couple of times to get the input area to do what I wanted. That's not a big deal when you're playing back videos, but it sure is when you're trying to record them: It could make the difference between capturing the action and missing it altogether.
Another shortcoming: There's no tactile feedback to let you know you've successfully started recording (though there is a beep). The beginnings and ends of my clips tended to look shaky as a result of my repeatedly tapping the touchscreen to make sure the camcorder had started or stopped filming.
The touchscreen isn't all bad; the new interface and the large widescreen LCD definitely make viewing and scrolling through clips easier. The slide-and-tilt screen is well-designed for hands-free viewing by more than one person at once; but while it nails group viewing, Cisco achieves this goal at the expense of rendering the camcorder less effective for its primary purpose.
Yet another drawback compared to the all-metal Flip MinoHD, is the SlideHD's plastic front panel. The slide-out piece that hosts the SlideHD's touchscreen is made of metal; it looks as though the screen were designed for a touchscreen version of the MinoHD but got tacked on to the UltraHD's body instead. Awkward.
The flip-out USB connector is encased in plastic, too, making it much less sturdy than the connector on the nost recent MinoHD--and seemingly snap-off-prone. That's an important consideration, since the USB connector provides the only way to charge the battery or to offload clips to your PC or Mac.
The Flip SlideHD is a frustrating example of designer allowing a trendy but flawed interface to get in the way of an otherwise superb product. It's the best pocket camcorder available for sharing your clips in person with others, and its video quality is on a par with the best pocket camcorders.
But the primary use of a pocket camcorder is still shooting video, and the Flip SlideHD's 3-inch-diagonal touchscreen seriously compromises the Flip's usually quick-and-easy controls. $280 is a lot to pay for a camcorder that can't get the basics right, especially when you can get the same video quality out of two much-cheaper Flip camcorders (the Flip MinoHD and the Flip UltraHD).