YouTube’s influence, it seems, knows no bounds. Not only has it inspired a daily, global version of You’ve Been Framed, Flip Video UK and Creative have even made mini camcorders whose sole aim is to let you shoot and upload videos without the fuss of converting file formats.
The Flip Video Ultra is a solid-state number and feels much more toy-like than the Creative Vado. It’s a somewhat chunky piece of plastic, but is narrow enough to fit comfortably in your hand.
Round the back sits a VGA camera, on the side a composite TV out, and on the bottom a switch for removing batteries and a tripod thread.
The controls are unbelievably simple with a big, childlike red button in the middle to start and stop recording. Flanking the record button are play and trash buttons for reviewing and deleting clips, while surrounding the red button is a navigation D-pad with volume and scroll commands.
And that’s it. No exposure settings, no focus or white balance. Just good old point and shoot. There is a basic 2x digital zoom but the negative effect on quality makes it a much better idea to ‘manual zoom’ (or, in other words, get closer).
Straight off the blocks
Recording on the fly is easy thanks to the Flip Ultra’s super quick startup: under 2 seconds from pressing the side-mounted ‘on’ button.
The 1.5in screen is good for reviewing and deleting undesirable clips. However, it’s slightly on the small side compared to Creative Vado’s 2in display.
But the Ultra’s display is ‘transflective’, meaning we could still see what was going on onscreen in bright sunlight. And at 2GB of storage, we had a respectable hour’s worth of filming at VGA quality before the Ultra was full.
This means uploading your footage to your laptop is easy as shooting thanks to the flick-knife style USB connector. If you’re using a PC, the onboard software will fire up as soon as the Flip Ultra’s connected. If you’re on a Mac, it’ll show up as a drive with a one-time install.
The Flip Video software lets you review clips and do some very basic editing functions or string clips together to make a movie. There’s then one touch button uploading to YouTube, AOL Video and MyspaceTV.
Unfortunately, the USB connector is at an awkward right angle, which means that if you have USB ports one above the other, the size of the Ultra means one will be inaccessible. Also, if your ports are at an angle, you won’t be able to connect the device.
The footage produced by the back mounted VGA camera is easily good enough for the web and we found the crispness and colour reproduction to be better than that of the Creative Vado.
No eye for detail
But there is a disclaimer: the Flip is no way fit to replace your tape camcorder. The pictures lack detail, while the sound doesn’t stand up in a noisy environment without distortion.
We’re also a little disappointed by the plasticky feel and size of the Flip Ultra in comparison to the sleeker Creative Vado and it’d be good to see future models with a memory expansion slot.
But the superior picture quality in comparison to the Vado and the fact that it runs on 2AA batteries rather than requiring recharging from the mains makes the Flip Ultra a better travelling companion overall.