The Pure Digital Technologies’ Flip Camcorder, affectionately known as “The Flip,” has quickly become one of the best-selling camcorders. We decided to review one to see why this small video cam is so popular.
At first glance, the brightly-colored Flip looks like a toy camera. Our first thought was, “This can’t be the device that garnered more than 13% of the camcorder market in just one year.” The Flip Ultra that we reviewed is a diminutive 4.17" x 2.16" x 1.25” (10.6 cm x 5.5 cm x 3.2 cm). To make the analogy to the toy camera even more real, at 5.2 ounces (150 grams), it is so light that it doesn’t feel terribly substantive.
The Flip Ultra comes in white and silver, orange and white, pink and white, green and white, and black and silver. The cases of the white, orange, pink and green models are a shiny plastic that gives the entire device a very cheap almost imitation look.
The black and silver Flip that we reviewed, however, was amazingly more substantial-looking. The only difference is that the black is a matt finished material that has a rubberized look. This finish is also easier to hold and makes the Flip feel better in the hand. Our advice is that if you decide to buy a Flip, you check out the different cases before you purchase. The colored cases are cute, but the black and silver case makes the camera look like a more serious device.
When compared to other camcorders, the Flip doesn’t have the sharpest image, the highest megapixel count, or the most features. In fact, it doesn’t even come close to the best in any of these camcorder areas.
What it does offer is simplicity and convenience at a good price (suggested retail price as of this review is $149.99, but can be found between $100 and $140). Its popularity may well be based on the fact that because the hardware and software is so easy to use, you can feel like a video expert in no time at all!
As shown in Figure 1, everything you need is in the box. This includes: The Flip Video Ultra Camcorder, a soft carrying pouch, a wrist strap, a TV cable, two AA batteries, and a Quick Start Guide.
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We cannot argue with the claim that the Flip is “The simplest camcorder in the world.” You simply use the on/off button on the side, as shown in at the upper portion of the Flip in Figure 2, to turn it on. This is not a button that you press, but rather one that you slide slightly downward to engage. This is an excellent feature because it eliminates the possibility of the camera being turned on inadvertently when it is in a purse or pocket.
The Flip has only three other controls, as shown in Figure 3. You press the red button in the center of the navigation wheel to start recording the video. The camcorder is very responsive and will start the video in less than three seconds. When you want to stop, you simply press the red button again.
Use the up and down arrows on the navigation wheel to zoom in and out. The Flip has no optical zoom. The 2X digital zoom blows the picture up, but as with all digital zooms, it also degrades the picture.
The play button on the left lets you review the videos that you have taken on the small, but clear 1.5” color screen. Pressing the left and right arrows lets you scroll through the video clips.
The button with the trash can on the right lets you delete the videos. Each time you start and stop the video you create a clip. Each clip can be deleted individually.
The Flip weights only 5.2 ounces (150 grams), so a steady hand is necessary to make it perform at its best. The bottom of the Flip has a standard tripod mount, as shown in Figure 4. This can be very useful for stabilizing the videos. In Figure 4, you can also see the battery compartment door.
The Flip videos are the resolution of a standard televisions (640 x 480 at 30 frames per second). It takes MPEG-4 AVI clips in the Advanced Profile MPEG4 format. While this doesn’t come close to the resolution offered by many other camcorders, the videos are amazingly clear.
We got good results in both bright and low light. In fact, we were pleasantly surprised by the quality of the videos. The 2 GB of built-in flash memory holds up to 60 minutes of video.
The Flip uses two AA batteries, which are included. Regular batteries last about 2 hours. rechargeables and higher quality batteries last about twice that long.
[nextpage title=”The Camcorder and Computer/TV Connections”]
Figure 5 shows the side of the Flip. When the small control with the dots is moved in a downward motion a USB connection pops out of the camera (Shown in Figure 6).
The pop-up connector can be very convenient, eliminating the need for cables and/or cords. However, because the Flip can be inserted in only one direction and the camera itself, which remains attached is so large, depending on your hardware setup you may have difficulty attaching the camera.
In Figure 7 you see the Flip attaches to this laptop correctly when it is the only attached device. In Figure 8, you can see that the same laptop, with an external monitor and Ethernet network cable attached, can no longer accommodate the Flip. Luckily, the Flip worked with our unpowered USB hub, as shown in Figure 9. Pure also sells an option USB cable that can also be used in such situations.
In Figure 5, you will also note a TV port under the USB pop-up. The included cable can be used to attach the Flip to a television to show the videos. Since the resolution of the Flip matches that of a regular television, the pictures look quite good on a television. The TV out is NTSC, so people in countries using PAL will not find it usable.
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The Flip works with Windows XP, Windows Vista, and Mac OSX.
Once you insert the Flip into the USB port on your computer, a pop up window appears, as shown in Figure 10. This allows you to make the first choice which is “View your Flip Camcorder Videos using the program provided on the device.” Click on that choice starts the software on the camera. The first time you do this, the Muvee Video Mixing Software is installed. Since the software is in the camera, there is no disk included, and no other installation and/or setup necessary.
You can also choose to save the video to your computer, but you can do this from within the software as well. In fact, the software allows you to do most of the things you will want to do quite easily. The software installs a 3ivx MPEG-4 decoder in the program menu. Although a minor complaint, we really wish that the program could label such additions to the program menu with the name of the program that uses it so that we would be sure not to uninstall it accidently.
Once the software is installed you will see a simple window like that shown in Figure 11.
From this window you can do many different things including saving, sharing, and/or deleting. The software is extremely easy to navigate. As shown in Figure 11, each video is shown on the screen and the options to save, share, or delete them are obvious.
You can share your videos by email right from the software interface. To send your friends a link to the video by email you need a free AOL account. Or you can choose the “Save for email” button to format the video and save it on your computer to be attached to an email that you create later.
To send the video in a greeting card, you simply choose the video you want to send, choose from a nice selection of different greeting cards, and fill in your email address, your recipients address, subject, and message. The program does the rest, including formatting the video and sending the greeting card. The email contains a link to view the video online at Pure’s website.
The program also handles sharing directly for YouTube, AOL Video, and My Space. This is an amazingly easy way to post a video, especially for the all-popular YouTube. You simply choose the video, enter your user name and password, and the Flip software will prepare the video in the proper format and upload it automatically. No wonder everyone likes this camcorder!
You also have the option of uploading the video to some other website. You simply choose “Upload to Other Websites” and the video is formatted and put on a folder on your desktop called “Flip Videos for Uploading.”
The beauty of this is that the videos are automatically converted into the best size and format. You don’t have to worry about choosing a format or converting the video.
If you have a DVD burner on your computer, you can also burn the videos to a DVD. Alternatively, you can also take your camera to a CVS, a Rite-Aid drugstore, or other commercial outlet that handles Pure DVDs. They will burn your video to a DVD for about $13.
You can also easily make a movie from the video clips. Although the program has an “Edit” option, you can only edit by shortening or rearranging clips. However, you can use this, along with the movie mixes feature to create a movie. You can choose from 6 movie styles which comes with default music or you can use music stored on your computer. Like the greeting cards, the movies are cute. There are not enough choices to keep you happy forever, but the basic choices create a nice little movie.
Another good feature is the ability to snap a picture of any frame of the video as you play it by simply click on the “Snap” button. The picture can then be saved to your computer for future use.
Although the software is easy to use, we did have two problems. Once when we inadvertently closed the program we did not find the program in the program list. The only way we saw to restart it was to search through the hard drive for the executable or to pull out the camera’s USB plug and reinsert it. Also, on one of our test machines, we sometimes got an unexpected error when we tried to delete a video, but in spite of the error, the video was deleted properly.
The Flip comes in several other versions. The all-black Mino is smaller. At a suggested price of $179.99, it is a little more expensive but has a rechargeable battery. The Flip video, their less expensive version ($129.99 list), has lower resolution, less memory, and fewer features. We highly recommend the $149.99 list Ultra over the Flip video. Get the Mino if you like the idea of a rechargeable battery.
Pure Digital Technologies’ Flip Camcorder (a.k.a. "The Flip") main features are:
- Available colors: white, black, orange, pink and green.
- Internal Memory: 2 GB (60 minutes)
- Screen Size: 1.5" (transflective TFT)
- Screen Resolution: 528 x 132 pixels
- Video Resolution: 640 x 480
- Frame Rate: 30 frames per second (constant frame rate, progressive scan)
- Video Bitrate: 4.0 Mbps (average – auto adaptive algorithm)
- Video Format: Advanced Profile MPEG4, saved as AVI file
- Lens Type: Fixed Focus (0.8m to infinity)
- Aperture: f/2.4 (fast lens for great results in low-light environments)
- Zoom: Smooth multi-step 2x digital
- Interface: 8 Buttons (Power, Play, Delete, Record and 4 way navigation)
- Dimensions: 4.17" x 2.16" x 1.25" (10.6 cm x 5.5 cm x 3.2 cm) (H x W x D)
- Weight: 5.2 oz (150 g)
- PC Connection: Built-in flip-out USB 2.0 arm
- TV Out: NTSC (cable included)
- Battery Life: Up to 2.5 hours (with 2x AA Alkaline batteries) or up to 6.5 hours (with 2 x AA Energizer E2 batteries)
- Tripod Mount: Yes
- Warranty: 90 days
- Support is by email which the company pledges to respond to within 4 hours during regular hours of operation including Saturday and Sunday.
- More information: http://www.theflip.com
- Average price in the US*: USD 120.00
* Researched at http://www.shopping.com on the day we published this review.
If you want to take high quality videos, look elsewhere. The Flip, however, provides a quick and easy way to post video online at YouTube or other websites and/or to send it to friends. The convenience that the Flip offers makes you want to carry it everywhere and take quick videos all day long. Pure even gives you two version of the Flip, one that uses AA batteries and one that has a rechargeable battery.
The video quality is good given the low resolution. It performs very well in low light situations. The ease of use can’t be beat. Pure Digital Technologies has followed Apple’s lead in providing a well-designed, easy-to-use product. They also have made it affordable. We can’t wait to see the next generation of the Flip and other future products from Pure.
- Simple, easy-to-use controls
- Self-contained, easy-to-use software
- Easy uploads
- Quick start-up
- Good video quality
- Good in both high and low light conditions
- No cords
- Small and light
- Tripod mount
- TV playback
- Plasticy feel
- Low resolution
- Few editing options
- Doesn’t always fit in USB port without hub or extender
- No optical zoom