In case you missed Apple’s fall iPod announcements, Apple and Flip Video (now owned by Cisco) are at war. After Steve Jobs treaded into Flip territory by adding a camera to the iPod Nano and implied that it eliminated the need to buy a separate device, Flip headed back to the drawing boards determined the prove that an MP3 player can’t upend the established leader of the up-and-coming mini HD camcorder market. The resulting second-generation Mino HD, introduced a month after the new Nano, adds a bigger screen, more memory, and a more polished design. Will it be enough to fend off a cheaper, smaller device from the likes of Apple? Will it even justify an upgrade from the old version? Let’s find out.
From the outside, not much has changed from Flip to Flip, save for a handful of minor aesthetic refinements. The company has always offered the Mino HD in customizable cases, allowing you to get it skinned in anything from a psychedelic rainbow print to a picture of your dog, but as part of its newfound appeal to Apple fans, the new Mino HD includes one extra option: anodized aluminum. The bright, silky-feeling finish might have been cast directly from a pile of melted down MacBook Pros, which is great as far as we’re concerned. It lends the camcorder a rock-solid feel and lustre the original just didn’t have. You’ll notice a little extra heft, though: weight goes from 3.3 ounces on the old Mino HD to 4 ounces on this version, a sacrifice we’ll gladly take for the tough new shell. Dimensions remain almost identical, but the design has been tweaked ever so slightly to look like it’s been through a rock tumbler: Edges have a smoother finish, and even the buttons on the back have been rounded out and melded into the case for a more seamless look.
With Apple’s cheapest $149 Nano packing 8GB of storage, Flip was practically obligated to double the Mino HD from 4GB to 8GB in order to match it. But unlike many competitors, it still has no SD slot to add memory or swap cards when one fills up. The stamp-sized 1.5-inch screen on the old model has been discarded in favor of a 2.0-inch model with more resolution, making it just a bit shy of Apple’s 2.2-incher. Of course, the 720p HD sensor on the Mino HD already put the standard-def sensor on the Nano to shame, so it remains for this generation.
But while Flip engineers seem to have been busy reacting to Apple, they’ve conveniently ignored other competitors who have plowed forward with new features that put the Mino HD to shame. Kodak’s Zi8, for instance, bests the Mino HD with 1080p resolution, a 2.5-inch screen, optical image stabilization, and even a microphone input jack – all at $180 MSRP. And JVC’s new Picsio GC-FM1 also offers 1080p video, plus 8-megapixel stills, for $200.
The iconic switchblade-like USB jack from all Flip camcorders makes a return on the new Mino HD, and it has gotten even slicker this time around. The chunky plastic collar around the old plug disappears in favor of a clean all-metal version, and the hinge has been been beefed up considerably to give it a much sturdier feel that allayed our worries of it snapping off with a misplaced blow. However, the lack of flexibility can still create issues when plugging it into a crowded row of USB jacks, making us prefer the bendy rubber USB plugs on the Creative VadoHD and Kodak Zi8.
Unlike the original Mino HD, which counterintuitively offered a standard-def composite output for viewing its high-def videos, Flip wisely decided to make the switch to HDMI this time around, finally catching up to its lower-priced sibling, the Ultra HD.
Like the original Mino HD, the new version comes with a silver wrist lanyard and a suede-like drawstring bag for carrying. However, Flip no longer includes the requisite cables to go with its new video output. You’ll have to buy your own HDMI cable. For $230, we really think this is a bit stingy on Flip’s part, especially when Kodak manages to throw in both standard- and high-def cables with its lower-priced Zi8.
Flip makes no claim to improved video performance with the new version of the Mino HD, but we tested both versions of the camcorder head-to-head to compare. As expected, the new Mino HD retains the sharp detail and clarity of the original, but colors also seem to be tweaked for the better. Images captured with the new Mino HD look slightly more saturated and vibrant, but the effect was subtle enough that we needed to compare identical frames side by side to really notice, and owners of the old Mino HD could probably achieve the same effect with some postprocessing.
As with almost all pocket HD video camcorders, the Mino HD continues to suffer from extreme motion blur when moved too quickly. Even a steady walk will turn its high-def video into a muddy mess.
Lay the Mino HD side-by-side with every one of its pocket-video-cam competitors, and style-conscious YouTubeographers will pick it up first every time. The new aluminum body undoubtedly makes the Mino HD a great-looking and feeling camcorder, which may redeem Flip in the eyes of Apple’s notoriously design-crazy customers. But while it might win a petty battle with a reworked MP3 player, the Mino HD is losing to its real peers like the Kodak Zi8, which trounces the Mino HD in almost every category except style. The original Mino HD justified its price well when it launched nearly a year ago, but Flip has continued to tread water with the product while competitors dash forward at Michael Phelps speed, leaving this lightly polished second-gen device behind the pack.
- Compact, pocketable form factor
- Captures sharp 720p video
- Sleek aluminum shell
- HDMI Output
- Larger 2-inch screen
- Overpriced relative to competitors
- Lacks 1080p capture
- No image stabilization
- No included video output cables
- No SD card slot
- Suffers from severe motion blur
- Slightly heavier than previous version