Sunday, April 13, 2008

Flip Video Ultra: a Nice Digicam for the Price

I have, in a sense, been reviewing the Flip Video Ultra for months now. I had an issue with the first one's record button having a mind of its own, but after an exchange the second one I tried has been fine in that department. Before I get into the interface and the workings of it, the important question is, what does the video look like?

Well, I've uploaded a few different shots to YouTube and Revver, so judge for yourself. The thumbnail at the top goes to a Revver video that is a panorama of the Guanajuato skyline in Mexico. Down below you will find a video showing the ride down from that point on the funicular (incline railway) in the same city. Not awe-inspiring video, but probably better than your phone or digital camera will ever manage.

The videos actually look far better when you hook the camera up to a TV with the provided cord--better than watching them on your own computer. So if you want to save some good footage of you rafting down a raging river or ziplining through the forest, you might want to burn it onto a CD or take it to one of the outlets that does this (including CVS stores) and pay them to do it.

Overall, the Flip Ultra delivers as promised if you have the latest and greatest computer technology. If you have a PC or Mac that is even slightly old, or are using a USB port that is not 2.0, then look out. You will probably not get the software on it to work (it's on the player itself, not a CD). You will need to just pull the videos off the player in Windows Explorer unless you're willing to spend an afternoon downloading firmware updates. That's not necessarily a deal-killer at this price, but just be advised that if you want the device to do all it's supposed to do, have a new computer. This is based on my tests on three computers and reading lots of online message boards to see what other new users were experiencing.

All that aside, this is a nifty little digicam for the price. It's smaller than your average digital still camera, with a felt carrying case and a built-in USB plug. You just flip a switch, plug it into your USB port, and you're ready to pull off your videos. (There's a cable to use if the hook-up would be too awkward physically.) The interface is as simple as can be. All you really have to figure out is how to turn it on, how to use the 2X zoom, and how to delete. Nothing fancy, just the means to turn it on and start filming.

The 2GB Flip Ultra holds an hour of footage and the 1GB one holds 30 minutes, so the fact that it doesn't support a memory card doesn't really matter for most circumstances. You're not going to go all Spielberg on us with this little thing anyway. It's meant for the kid's soccer game, quick interviews, and travel shots.

Flip Video Ultra Series Camcorder 60-Minutes (Black)
Sure, the quality is not all that great, especially when you're panning, but good enough for the super-compressed videos you see on the sites mentioned above, especially if the subject isn't moving around much. People are obviously used to watching bad video on their PC or mobile device. If you're into specs, go see them all here, but the key one is the resolution is 640 X 280. Overall, this is an affordable, portable video device that does a better job than your regular camera, holds a lot more footage, and easily links up to a computer for transfers. For $149 to $179, what else can you reasonably expect? This is a cool piece of gadgetry at a good price, especially if you just went computer shopping recently and you can use all the included editing and upload software. It even uses plain ole AA batteries, so buy rechargeable ones and you're set for non-stop filming.

Flip Video Ultra Series Camcorder at Amazon

Search Flip Ultra prices at Shopzilla


Anonymous said...

We think it's a handy video camera for travelers, too, so we are giving one away this month in our April Getaway Giveaway contest at

Anonymous said...

Products like this that are not backward compatable drive me up the wall. I bought a Flip Ultra and can only get it to sync up with one of our three computers. Really annoying. On that one computer though, great for the price.

Anonymous said...

On what basis do you say that it does better than a digital camera? The resolution on most digital camera video is the same as the Flip and 30fps. In fact, wouldn't the digital camera video be slightly better because the lens is bigger?

Tim said...

Yes, the specs are the same, but in my tests there has been less noticeable pixelization using the Flip compared to the two digital cameras I have, even though one of those cameras has a larger lens. Not a huge difference on YouTube, but very clear on a computer or TV. It could just be that a single-use item is better built for the function than one trying to do everything. The new Flip Mino has a higher resolution too.