Regular readers will know that one of the things that I’ve been getting more into this year is video editing (see the page that I’ve just added as a teaser for things to come in 2009). This has been driven by the increasing ease-of-use of online services, the capabilities of the machines and software I have, and the gadgets I’ve been playing around with. In January I looked at a cheap USB video camera, and since then I’ve had even nicer toys to look at :-)
Back in October I was invited to talk to the EMEA President of Flip Video, Ray Sangster, at the press launch of the Flip Mino in London. I imagined at the time that my earlier blog posts about this category of devices was at least partly responsible for the invitation.
Before the visit I’d canvassed some questions from my friends on Twitter, and I had some ideas and thoughts of my own that I wanted to discuss. For instance, why bother with a USB camcorder like a Flip when mobile phones are increasingly able to record video and connect to the Internet? Why are the Flip cameras later coming to Europe (typically several months behind the US launch?). Would the Flip cameras get external mics, or other accessories to make them more useful to journalists?
Ray kicked off the conversation by showing me some sample video made by college students in the US… and immediately also pointed out that the target audience for the camera is primarily the 14-25 age group who use the web more than TV, and also particularly with the Mino (which is slimmer and sleeker than the previous Flip Ultra) more slanted towards women, who capture “memories” more than “video for editing”.
The answer to my core question around the value of the device compared to, say, a mobile phone was a great one – Ray offered me his phone and suggested that I try to find the controls for recording video. It’s true that right now, it is relatively difficult to do that (and impossible on the iPhone, which still doesn’t support video, or have a decent resolution)… The very simplicity of the Flip is the selling point. It is reflected in the design of the hardware (big lens, big record button, flip-out USB connection, that’s about it!) and the use of the software, which I’ll talk about in a moment.
The time-delay on release was put down to the time needed to convert to European standards and languages, which is fair… although I remember when the original Flip came out, I got very frustrated waiting for the UK release. It would be great if they could reduce that window for future models.
The accessories include tripod, underwater casing (for the Ultra… I’ve not seen that for a Mino yet but I’ve not looked hard)… but it doesn’t seem likely to me that items such an external microphone are coming along, given the focus on simplicity and the consumer market.
I was interested to learn that the Mino is being used, in the words of the PR company, “from the catwalks to Kandahar” – they are being used to record fashion shows from people like Stella McCartney, and covering war stories in Afghanistan for upload back to the UK over a telephone modem.
A very enjoyable afternoon!
The Flip Mino itself is delivered in a smart box reminiscent of Apple packaging (particularly that of the iPhone). You get the camera, a soft carrying pouch, and that is it – all you need to get going.
You get a simple camera with no batteries to fiddle around with. It’s a fixed 2Gb capacity (60 minutes recording time), unlike some other devices on the market which can support additional storage like SD cards. You record your clips, plug in to a computer, and the software can upload directly to YouTube and MySpace… I was somewhat surprised that it doesn’t support other services like Viddler and Facebook too, given their growing popularity.
If you’re curious to see what I thought of the hardware and the Mac software, take a look at the short clip below.
A number of small things bother me about the Mac support for the Mino, some of which I mention in the video. Firstly, I notice that the software is PowerPC and therefore runs in Rosetta on an Intel Mac – why not ship a Universal binary? It doesn’t support logging in to YouTube with a Google ID (iMovie 08 does). The Save to Album option puts the videos into [homedir]/Documents/My Flip Video Library – which seems strange – why not use the Movies folder, or just use drag-and-drop on a Mac to copy the movies straight off the USB drive (which is actually what I ended up doing, and editing with iMovie). Generally, I’m left thinking that they could have done a better job of the Mac support. It works with OS X though, and that’s a step forward from previous models.
I also took the camera out with me on a weekend break with friends in November. It was a good opportunity to see how it performed outdoors, and also to see what others in the target age group thought about it. Here’s a chance to see what kind of audio and sound quality you get.
As for opinions: generally, friends were commenting that the screen was too small, and shared my impression that phones are moving into the same space, so many were doubtful that they would buy one… but they also don’t make many videos at the moment anyway. In all honesty, their reactions were not strongly positive.
So where is the “but”?
So far I’m probably sounding reasonably positive, and the fact is that I do like the Mino, despite the faults I’ve observed. It’s small, convenient, and “good enough” in most respects. My issues with it are that I think it’s somewhat expensive given the competition from alternatives like the bulkier and AA-battery-driven, but 720p-capable Kodak Zi6 HD; and that right around the corner are some other rather nice-looking HD devices. DSLRs are also increasingly getting HD video recording capabilities, so the market space for these devices is potentially narrowing. That said, there will always be something better on the horizon!
My overall feeling is that if you want a simple, straightforward video camera that is easy to use, portable and “good enough” then absolutely, check out the Flip Mino. And if you don’t want my opinion, then Scoble reckons the Flip was the best gadget he “stole” in 2008… although commenters on his post also note that the Kodak is a contender. You can also take a look at Julia Roy’s video review.