First Hands-On: Flip MinoHD Gets Apple-Esque Design, HDMI Output, 8GB Storage

DSCF9005Pure Digital announced an updated version of its Flip MinoHD pocket camcorder this morning and I can count a bunch of welcome changes. With the same price of $229 (it costs thirty dollars more than the Flip Ultra HD because it’s slimmer, you see), you get double the internal storage (8GB now), HDMI output (finally), and a larger screen (2 inches, instead of 1.5).

Essentially, Pure Digital brought the MinoHD up to the same level as the more recently released UltraHD, which had 8GB of storage and HDMI output at launch. The Flip MinoHD still has on-board editing software and records 720p video at 30 frames per second.

The company’s overarching design aesthetic hasn’t budged either: as always, you can record in one resolution only (e.g. no downgrading to VGA), you can’t take digital stills, and there’s no memory card slot. It also has a non-removable battery (Pure Digital says it lasts two hours), which you charge by plugging the camcorder into your USB port, using the classic flip-out connector.

The MinoHD does usher in a noticeably different design, though. Read on for hands-on first impressions, and some sample clips.

Apple-Esque Design

The most striking thing about the new MinoHD is its striking resemblance to the Apple’s MacBook Pro line. While the front face still has a black glossy finish with a bright red record button and glowing white touch-sensitive controls, the back panel now has an aluminum look (even if it’s not actually). That metal backing gives the MinoHD a weightier, more solid feel, although it was still light and thin enough to slip easily inside the front pocket of my pants. The change is subtle, but I like it.

Meanwhile, the power button, which used to be wide enough to press with the pad of your finger, is now a thin strip, too thin to press with your finger (I used my fingernail most of the time, which got old quickly). I felt like I had to apply concerted pressure (that is, press and hold) to get the camcorder to turn on and off. To return to the aesthetics, the power button’s black finish against the aluminum back panel even reminds me of the contrast between the MacBooks’ aluminum unibodies and their black keyboards.

The resemblance to Apple’s products  is noteworthy not just because it’s part of a growing design meme (have you seen the Nokia Booklet 3G?), but because Apple went after the Flip camcorders by injecting its latest iPod Nano with (VGA) camcorders. There’s a good chance the Flip MinoHD was well into development by then. But still, the coincidence is funny.

Another design change, this one unrelated to Apple’s aesthetic: when you plug the MinoHD into your USB port, the perforated speaker strip on the back side glow red. It’s a nice touch.

I also appreciate the larger screen. In my review of the original MinoHD, I complained about the 1.5-inch LCD. But the new one’s 16:9 2-inch screen, in contrast, was easy to see and use for framing shots, even in direct sunlight. The touch-sensitive controls, still few in number, are as responsive as ever. Moreover, the digital zoom remains the smoothest I’ve seen on a pocket camcorder.

Video Quality and Sample Clips

For its class, the MinoHD’s video quality is strong: you can expect better detail, color, and exposure than you can from many other pocket camcorders, let alone the iPod Nano. But it does have its limits. It can only do so much with shadow detail, for example. Take a look at the two clips of moving traffic for instance: while the cars in the foreground whiz by crisply, it’s harder to make out some of the storefronts in the background, whose dark facades don’t show much detail to the camera.

Even though I ultimately prefer the MinoHD’s ability to stabilize shaky video over the Kodak Zi8’s, you’ll find the best detail in Kodak’s pocket camcorders (the Zi8 can record 1080p video, which looks noticeably sharper, and all of them– the Zi8, Zi6, and Zx1– can record 720p video at up to 60 frames per second, which allow for less blurring in scenes such as the carousel vignette below).

Then again, I’ve always preferred Pure Digital’s camcorders’ battery life (including this one’s), and I suspect the fact that it records at 30 fps, not 60, is a contributing factor.

Check out the video we took with the MinoHD below.


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