Cisco and Flip venture into touchscreen cameras. (May 22nd, 2010)
As ubiquitous as the Flip line has been, the pocket camcorder line has been quiet since Cisco took over. But while the original Flip Video camcorder was a minor revolution in a home video marketplace crowded with full sized camcorders, the Flip now has to fight against a mature crowd. With a touchscreen and a phone-like slider, is the Flip Slide HD a giant leap forward or simply an evolutionary improvement that could struggle against newcomers?
Product Manufacturer: Cisco
- Simple control and software.
- 16GB of storage.
- Good for previewing recorded footage.
- Capable, though not spectacular HD.
- Unresponsive resistive touchscreen.
- Video and audio quality mostly unchanged.
- Possibly unreliable slider mechanism.
- Expensive for the category.
Hardware design and the screen
The Slide HD is about the same size as the thicker Ultra HD we reviewed last summer and is easily pocketed. Overall, the build quality feels very solid with one exception: the slide-out screen. While the camera feels well built, the sliding mechanism was a bit flimsy. We're curious as to how long it will last in real-world conditions.
As with previous Flip models, the USB plug for the camera is stored internally and can be flipped open with the press of a button. Since most of the controls are now on the display itself, there's virtually nothing else to press. The bottom of the camera as always contains an HDMI output, headphone jack, and a tripod mount.
For playback, the three-inch screen on the Slide HD is bright, clear, and didn't display any artifacting when sampling clips. The touch layer on the Slide HD could use some significant improvement, though. It's a resistive screen, and quick taps simply don't register; users have to deliberately press down on the screen for anything to happen. Cost is undoubtedly a concern, but this simply feels like it's two years behind. Capacitive touch (such as on many Android and iPhone devices) is desperately needed here.
With 16GB of memory, the Slide HD is definitely ready for HD: it can store up to 4 hours of 720p, H.264 video -- an important component when the device is made as much for viewing videos as capturing them. Closer to the Flip Mino line, the battery is an internal lithium-ion battery that should last 2 hours; this was consistent with our testing, although it should be noted this is one of the first Flips where the total storage significantly outweighs the amount of practical recording time on a charge.
Image and sound quality
Like it or not, the sensor and resolution have been only slightly changed from the Mino HD or Ultra HD. Video quality is, accordingly, strictly functional: 720p of course makes images relatively crisp, but colors are muted and the sensor can't quite keep up with fast movement or rapid changes in the lighting situation. There's also no optical zoom, so the Slide HD isn't ideal for concerts (when allowed) or other environments where you don't have the room to compose the shot just by moving closer.
Audio has been somewhat improved with a stereo mic that's now omnidirectional, but we wouldn't quite turn to the Slide HD for serious audio fidelity. That isn't really the camera maker's fault: stereo audio on a device this small just won't have great separation or room for truly high-quality input. We'd like if there was an external mic input, although we'll admit that isn't really this device's focus.
Our main issue with image quality is simply that others have moved on; you can now buy pocket camcorders from Kodak or Samsung with 1080p, and in a few cases you'll find optical zoom. A traditional camcorder will almost always be better, but there are still ways to improve on the formula that aren't in evidence here.
Software on-camera and off
The interface on the Slide HD itself is simple to navigate. In record mode, there are some zoom controls, a delete function, and a record function that are lifted directly from earlier cameras. Playback mode, despite the new sit-back viewing mode, isn't much different; you can play or pause, scrub, favorite, and delete clips, and the main addition is a touch strip for scrolling through videos. Many of the settings on the camera are mostly automatic and users only really need to enter the date and time when first powering up the camera; after that, the camera simply works. All exposure, focus, and lighting adjustments are made automatically. As such, it still won't appeal to professionals, but the philosophy of ultra-simple recording remains intact.
The FlipShare software will seem familiar and, while it's been upgraded, is still fairly simple. Besides transferring content from (and now, increasingly, to) the camera, it's meant for sharing videos through the web or e-mail. Thankfully for Cisco, YouTube's HD video has taken off dramatically since the Mino HD and Ultra HD hit the street; you can upload a video in 720p and expect to see that resolution when you post it. Rudimentary editing functions are also present for trimming the video and adding transitions, but once again they're not the emphasis. The software really is for shuttling video to different areas, and we'd recommend a tool like iMovie or Premiere Elements if you're concerned about producing a more professional-looking result.
The Flip Slide HD is a solid product and, while certainly an evolutionary step, is one in the right direction. Nothing about the Slide HD is revolutionary, but we would definitely recommend it if you need high capacity or want a large screen to watch your footage. The combination of easy to use software and HD is a definite plus. The extra storage space and sliding display justify the $80 premium over the UltraHD, although anyone who hates resistive screens or tends to abuse slider devices like phones will want to steer clear.
Cisco's real concern should be the future of the line. The Slide HD is acceptable now, but it's a conservative update in a field that's moving fast. Simplicity goes a long way, but so do higher quality lenses and higher resolution output. If you already own an HD-capable Flip, it may be best to wait until a truly large upgrade. The best candidates will be those who either bought in to a standard-definition Flip or who are new to the arena but want to start with a bang.