Review: Flip Ultra 08.08.08

Flip Ultra - a cheap little camcorder defies the the tide of “convergence” and does just one thing well

words Sean Dodson

In the gadget world, convergence has long been king. In the last five years all manner of handheld devices have offered an increasing amount of overlapping functions. The wisdom has been that customers want a single gadget that does everything. So what to make of a cut-price camcorder that offers one function, when most mobile phones already offer the same?

The Flip Ultra is a handheld video camera and that’s it. It shoots an hour’s worth of video and has basic playback. Like the iPod, it has few buttons on the actual device, leaving the bulk of its functionality on your computer so you can just go ahead and shoot. Which you can – with consummate ease – approximately ten seconds after taking it out of the box.

After its US launch last year, the Flip Ultra swiftly became the best-selling camcorder on Amazon, capturing as much as 13 per cent of the US camcorder market within weeks. Next month, the Flip will launch in the UK, retailing at under £100 and in five colours.

The sheer ease of the Flip should also win you over. It’s one of the most intuitive devices I have ever seen. It shoots richly coloured, high-contrast video at 30 frames a second and stores it on an internal hard drive – no tapes, no memory cards, not even a charger. The Flip neatly eschews the two main drawbacks of mobile video: most mobile devices make uploading content to the web a bit tedious, and shooting video saps battery power.

The Flip gets over both these problems by, firstly, making uploading video as easy as eating ice cream, and secondly, using old-fashioned AA batteries. Moreover, it has a scratch-resistant surface, perfect for a pocket, and the device is both lightweight and robust enough to drop on the floor, which I did within hours.

Syncing a Flip with a computer couldn’t be easier. A USB adapter flips out of the side (hence the name) and you simply plug it in to a computer. All the required software is held on the device and boots automatically. It’s a doddle to navigate and is linked in to user-generated video sites such as YouTube, although my Flickr account proved temperamental.

It’s slow to respond to changes in light and it dislikes very strong sources of illumination, casting the sun as a black orb for example, but the results it produces are much crisper than those offered by even the most sophisticated mobile phones. There’s a space for a tripod, but the rectangular shape of the Flip makes it perfect for just standing on a table and letting things roll. It works well in the hand for quick 30-second snapshots, perfect for shooting friends on the beach and sharing later on Facebook.

Converged devices can be a bit like a sofa-bed, which is fine as a piece of multi-purpose furniture, but notoriously bad as either a bed or a sofa. Similarly, many new gadgets offer video and audio, but do them equally badly, leaving room for a cheap standalone device. At under £100 the Flip should prove very popular this year. If camcorders get much cheaper, they’ll be giving them away with free insurance quotes.

flipvideo.co.uk

This is some film shot by Sean Dodson on the Flip Ultra at Motcombe Park.

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