Pure Digital's Flip Mino is a svelte follow-up to theFlip Video Ultra, the wildly successful flash camcorder that won our Editors' Choice award. Although its video quality isn't better than the Ultra's, the Mino offers a sleeker design and several premium features, including a rechargeable battery and advanced playback options.
The Flip Gets a Makeover
If the Flip Ultra reminded us of a kid's toy, the Mino looks like it's for grown-ups (albeit, hip ones). At 3.3 ounces, it makes the 4.9-ounce Ultra feel leaden, and it's smaller, too: just 3.9 x 2.0 x 0.6 inches next to the Ultra's 4.2 x 2.2 x 1.3-inch frame. Like previous Flips, it comes in solid colors with an accent band stretching across the front and circling the lens; ours came in black with a silver stripe. Also like the other Flip cams, the Mino has a 1.5-inch, glare-free LCD, retractable USB connector, TV output, tripod connector, built-in speaker, and red record button with dedicated playback and delete buttons.
In lieu of traditional buttons, the Mino has flat, touch-sensitive controls. At first, they seemed oversensitive when adjusting zoom and volume, but we quickly got used to them. The screen is viewable in all but the harshest light, but it picks up scratches more easily than the Ultra does.
The Mino ushers in some other subtle design changes. Users now can pause, rewind, and fast-forward movies they've shot; the previously one-directional mic is now omnidirectional; and instead of having to hold down a sliding lever to activate the device, there's now a dedicated button for turning the camcorder on and off.
Same Solid Performance (Almost)
With a few exceptions (the mic, namely) the Mino's specs match those of the Ultra, previously the highest-end model in the Flip family. The Mino records 640 x 480 video at 30 frames per second (but takes no still photos), has a 2X digital zoom, and 2GB flash memory (enough space to store 60 minutes of video). So, it's not surprising that the Mino doesn't deliver better video quality than its lower-priced siblings.
Although the sound quality was often louder and fuller on the Mino, the video itself remained similarly colorful and fluid as those from the Flip Ultra. Oddly, our footage taken with the Mino was often underexposed, particularly in low-light situations, a complaint we didn't have with the Ultra. On the positive side, we preferred the Mino's zoom; it did a better job maintaining focus as we panned in and out.
Although we prefer the Mino (and, in particular, the Flip Ultra) to the Creative Vado, a pocket camcorder priced at a tempting $99, the Mino faces strong competition from Kodak, whoseZi6camcorder delivers 720p video for the same price. Comparing the Mino and the bulkier Zi6 isn't really an apples-to-apples comparison; the Mino's 30-fps VGA video just isn't as smooth as the Zi6's 60-fps HD video. Aside from superior video quality, we also like how the Zi6 can take still 3-megapixel photos and even has a Macro mode. The Mino can't take still photos, whereas the Zi6's are colorful and sharp.
Easy Sharing, Limited Editing
Not only is the Mino's 640 x 480 video YouTube-ready, but the camcorder comes with software that makes it quick and easy to directly upload movies to YouTube as well as AOL and MySpace--the latter of which is unique to the Mino. To upload a video, simply enter your username and password, and specify if the video is public or private.
Using the bundled editing tools, you can shorten videos by cutting from the beginning and end, using sliding Start and End tabs on the movie's progress bar. Too bad you can't edit out the boring stuff in between. One nice touch: the editing screen allows users to pull still photos from their movies using the Snap button.
Clicking the Make Movie tab in the left-hand pane will open a wizard, in which you can add a theme and music (you can choose your own files or those that correspond with the built-in themes). The result is crude: your movie, unedited, with background music.
Virtual Greeting Cards
Lastly, users can create and send video greeting cards within the Share Videos tab. You can pick themes from such categories as birthdays, events, love, holiday, and other general categories. Once you've selected your clip and theme, just enter the recipient's e-mail address, a subject, and message, and you're done. You can just as easily use the software to e-mail clips to friends without the cutesy greeting-card element. Unfortunately, users no longer have the option to have their footage transferred to DVDs for pick-up at retail locations.
The Mino also differs from its predecessors in that it has a battery that recharges when you connect it to your notebook's USB port (previous models take AA batteries). The rated battery life is 4 hours, whereas it's between 2 and 5 hours for the Ultra, depending on whether you use Energizer batteries or not. Our unit still had three full bars after taking dozens of short videos over several days.
We'll let you decide if a rechargeable battery is a boon: you might appreciate not having to buy new batteries regularly, but you might also prefer being able to simply swap in a new set when the Flip runs out of juice.
Overall, we recommend the Flip Mino because of its sleek design, easy-to-use software, and solid video quality for $179. But compared to the Kodak Zi6, an identically priced pocket camcorder that shoots even sharper 720p video and takes still photos, the Flip Mino falls short. Some might prefer the Flip Mino because it's less bulky, but we say you'll get more for your money with the Zi6.