If you’re looking for a no-nonsense pocket camcorder, Cisco’s latest (and last) version of the Flip UltraHD is small and simple enough to justify its $180 (as of April 15, 2011) price tag.
What the new 2-hour Flip UltraHD lacks in features, it makes up for in pure, elegant simplicity. The camcorder offers some slight improvements over its predecessor: It’s thinner and less bulky–with a thickness of 0.88 inch versus the old Flip UltraHD’s 1.16 inches–but still a bit too chunky to slip comfortably into any but the biggest of pockets.
The 2-hour/8GB model we examined sports a couple of major additions that the 1-hour version of the same camcorder lacks: a special FlipPort, which you can use to connect optional proprietary accessories such as an external microphone; and 720p HD video recording at a higher frame rate of 60 frames per second, up from the previous version’s 30 fps. The new Flip UltraHD also runs on a rechargeable lithium-ion battery; alternatively you can switch out the battery pack for three AAA batteries.
Storage is still fixed internally: The new UltraHD packs 8GB of internal flash storage, which accommodates 2 hours of HD footage. Everything you need is in the box: the camcorder itself, a plastic wrist strap, a soft cloth carrying case, and a rechargeable battery. The battery is easy to install in the front of the Flip–just flip the lock switch on the bottom of the camera and the front panel slides off.
The 4.5-ounce Flip UltraHD looks a lot like its predecessor. The new model retains the soft, rubberized plastic cover, but jettisons the metal sides in favor of plastic ones. There’s still a flip-out USB port on one side and a power button on the other, and the back holds a 2-inch LCD screen. The buttons remain simple: playback, delete, and navigation controls.
The bottom of the Flip houses the proprietary FlipPort, an HDMI port (no HDMI cable is included in the box), a lock switch for the battery compartment, and a tripod mount. The new model comes in black/silver, white/silver, and custom designs that you can assemble via the official Website.
To charge the Flip, you plug it into a USB port using the flip-out USB connector on the side of the camera. Plugging the Flip into a computer USB port will trigger attached-storage recognition of the device. From there, you can drag and drop your clips from the Flip to your computer, or you can use the camcorder’s preinstalled FlipShare suite. FlipShare provides simple desktop programs for editing, playing, and uploading videos; you can also bypass the software entirely.
The Flip’s interface is extremely accessible–even my mother, who is somewhat technologically impaired, worked her way around the Flip UltraHD’s interface with no problem. Hit the power button and the opening screen appears for half a second before disappearing; after that, you’re ready to record. If you press and hold the record button during the startup screen, you’ll jump to a setup screen where you can choose the language, date, and time; select the tones for different features; and toggle the recording light on or off.
Playback is just as easy. You press the playback button, and instantly you can use the navigation controls to scroll through your recorded clips. To delete a video clip, tap the delete button, choose whether to delete the video (yes/no/all), and then tap the play button to confirm.
The newest Flip UltraHD’s video footage appears to have taken a significant dip in quality in comparison to previous Flips. In PCWorld Labs’ subjective tests for video quality, the Flip UltraHD scored in the middle of the pack for overall video performance.
Because the Flip UltraHD records at 60 fps instead of 30 fps, the moving objects it captures look a bit smoother than on previous Flips. However, video quality is murkier in bright light and much less impressive in low light than we’ve seen in previous incarnations of the Flip. Compared to previous generations of the Flip–which were practically the gold standard for low-light footage a generation or two ago–the UltraHD performs poorly in low-light conditions. At best it’s a middle-of-the-pack low-light performer. Still, in decent lighting conditions, the Flip UltraHD captures subjects nicely with bright, exposed colors; and at 60 fps, I could smoothly capture the subtle movements of a wolf eel swimming at Monterey Bay Aquarium.
The Flip UltraHD earned an overall video quality score of Good, mostly due to its respectable output in bright-light situations. Audio pickup through its on-board microphone stood out from the pack, earning a word score of Very Good in our subjective tests.
You can view the bright-light and low-light test clips we used for our subjective tests below. Select ‘720p’ in the drop-down menu of each player to see the highest-quality footage.
As with any Flip camcorder, you don’t get many recording options: The UltraHD offers smooth 2X digital zoom, and digital image stabilization that doesn’t work miracles; also, you’re limited to video-recording only. You can grab a frame from a video clip to use as a still image via the desktop FlipShare software, but the device itself doesn’t take photos.
The Flip’s fixed-focus lens lacks the macro versatility of competitors such as the Kodak PlaySport, which means that you can’t get too close to things if you want them to be clear. Standing about 3 to 5 feet away works well, though.
Cisco’s Flip UltraHD isn’t very full-featured, but that’s sort of the point. It definitely has its place, and it’s a great option for children, the elderly, or anyone who just wants a quick way to shoot easily uploadable video without any fuss. There are better-performing, more full-featured, more compact, and more modestly priced HD camcorders on the market, but the Flip UltraHD shares its predecessors’ elegant, easy operation. The Flip enters its early retirement leading the pocket-camcorder pack in sheer simplicity.