There's a reason Flip dominates the pocket camcorder market, and it's not just that it pioneered the category. Flip camcorders are designed to be inexpensive and usable right out of the box: the now-signature design is foolproof, and there's always internal memory so that you don't have to go fishing in your drawer for a spare SD Card. Unfortunately, the SlideHD ($279), Flip's pricey newest model, misses the mark. The first camcorder Cisco has announced since it bought the makers of Flip emphasizes playing back video on the device, but its bulky design and finicky resistive touchscreen aren't worth the extra money.
For the most part, Cisco hasn't messed with the tried-and-true simple design: the SlideHD still has a clean, white plastic build with a large, peering lens on the front surrounded by thin metal accents. No Flip would be complete without the signature flip-out USB connector, power button, and tripod connector. This one, in particular, also has an HDMI port for watching your videos on an HDTV, as well as a 3.5mm headphone jack--a rarity on pocket camcorders. The 3-inch screen, larger than the display on any other Flip, is flanked by thin speaker strips.
Like other Flips, the SlideHD has no memory card slot: rather, it has 16GB of built-in memory, enough to store 12 hours of video, so that users can start shooting as soon as they take the SlideHD out of the box.
Sporting a relatively large touchscreen, the SlideHD was designed for sharing videos on the spot, but the slide-out screen adds serious bulk. Although it still feels light and is easy to cup in one hand, it looks as if someone stacked a Flip Mino on top of a Flip Ultra. At 4.1 -- 2.2 -- 1 inches and 6.1 ounces, the SlideHD is thicker and heavier than any other pocket camcorder on the market. While it's too big to stuff in pants pockets, you can get away with stashing it in a (men's) coat pocket or a bag.
One thing the SlideHD is missing are obvious volume controls. A volume rocker on one of the sides would do, or an on-screen volume control that's visible only in playback mode. Although there is indeed a miniature volume slider when you play back videos with the screen closed, it disappears in full-screen mode, which is how Cisco wants you to replay videos anyway.
Whether the heft of the SlideHD is a deal-breaker depends on how useful you think its touchscreen and hidden touch panel are. The touchscreen's interface perfectly mimics that of older Flips: there's a red record button in the middle, flanked by buttons for adjusting the 2X digital zoom, playing back and deleting clips, and rewinding or fast forwarding movies in playback mode. When you tap the red record button to either start or stop filming, it makes a satisfying beep so that you don't have to wonder if your tap registered. If you'll be shooting a quiet scene where these tones might be distracting, you can turn them off in the settings, which are accessed by tapping the end of the touch strip.
Although the touchscreen is easy to navigate, we wish it were capacitive, like on the iPhone. Because of its resistive touch technology, this display isn't always responsive; we found we had to apply a little extra pressure. Having handled many a touchscreen phone, we've come to expect displays that respond to even the lightest tap.
Slide Out and Play Back
When closed, that 3-inch screen is meant for framing your videos; when open, it's meant for showing off your videos to friends at full-screen. Although the viewing angles are clear from the sides (the screen is frozen at one angle from the front), the low-res display (400 x 240) doesn't do justice to the content. If you start playing back a video with the screen closed and then pop it out, the SlideHD automatically starts playing the video in portrait mode at full-screen. However, you can't turn on the device by sliding out the screen, though there are plenty of other camcorders that turn on when you flip out its LCD.
Playing back your videos this way also gives you more options than if you just pressed the playback button with the screen closed. Using the touch strip, you can swipe through a line of thumbnails; tap the on-screen thumbnail to start viewing it; tap again to stop it and see more thumbnails. At the top of the screen, you'll notice tabs, designating different folders where videos are stored (you can edit these using the FlipShare software, which you install simply by plugging the SlideHD into your Mac or PC's USB port). By pressing the right end of the touch strip, you can access a settings menu, which lets you do things such as turn off the sounds or record light, and adjust the date and time.
Ultimately, the touchscreen and touch strip seem ancillary. By now, many people have used an iPhone or some other touchscreen phone. One expects to swipe through thumbnails by touching the screen. Swiping the touch strip is kind of like using a mouse to interact with a device when it would be just as easy, if not easier, to use a finger. And it just so happens that the screen doesn't pick up too many fingerprints, despite all the touching, so we think it could handle some extra swiping.
For all its design flaws, the SlideHD actually delivers pretty good video quality. The recording specs haven't changed a lick since we reviewed the Editors' Choice-winning Flip UltraHD last year: it records 720p video at 30 fps using the H.264 codec. The colors in our videos were accurate, although not as saturated as those we got with the Kodak Playsport. However, our videos had a brighter, more natural exposure than those we shot with the Playsport. We were often able to make out more background detail, too.
That said, we think it's time for Flip to upgrade to full HD (1080p) video. Doing so would not hurt Flip's model of simplicity first (an odd design, however, does). Even Kodak, which has long struggled with battery life on its camcorders, finally figured out how to keep the camcorder lasting a while despite recording either full HD video or 720p video at 60 fps.
Battery Life and Software
The SlideHD's rechargeable battery promises 2 hours of recording time, which is slightly shorter than the 2.5 hours that the Flip UltraHD claims. In either case, we found that battery life wasn't a limiting issue; we shot plenty of short clips intermittently over several days without the device dying on us.
Like other Flip camcorders, the SlideHD comes with FlipShare software on board. The software, which runs on both Macs and PCs, has a clean interface that makes it easy to import movies, upload them to Facebook, MySpace, and YouTube, and then make simple movies out of them. Users can add titles, credits. and music. While less intuitive and polished, Kodak's ArcSoft MediaImpression software is more robust, as it allows users to add voice-overs and fun filters to videos, and can also upload clips to the now-popular Vimeo and Twitter.
If you're looking for a Flip camcorder because you've decided you like it's out-of-the-box simplicity, we don't blame you. We just think that the $279 SlideHD isn't the Flip you should be considering. It costs $80 more than the Flip UltraHD, which also has 16GB of internal memory and a simpler design. We suggest you consider that or the $149 Kodak Playsport, which is waterproof, shoots in full HD, and comes with more robust software (it has no internal memory, so the cost of a 16GB SDHC Card justifies the $50 price gap between the two). Bottom line: the SlideHD's playback-focused and sometimes confounding design isn't splurge-worthy.