Editors' note: You may have heard that Cisco will no longer be producing the Flip camcorder products. However, as long as they're still available on the market, you may want to consider buying one anyway. If so, here are some issues you should consider, and if not, here are some alternatives.
Taking to heart the old saying that if it isn't broke, don't fix it, Flip Video has upgraded its MinoHD pocket camcorder for the 2009 holiday season with a new "premium" model that improves upon the popular product's design but changes little else.
In a nod to Apple, which adds the generational tag to its lines of iPod and iPhones, Flip dubs this model the MinoHD Second Generation. The key differences between it and the original MinoHD are a body that's made out of brushed metal rather than plastic, double the memory (8GB of built-in memory allows you to store 2 hours of HD video), and a larger, 2-inch transflective (antiglare) LCD that has a resolution of 960x240 pixels. Oh, and the second-generation MinoHD has a mini HDMI connector that allows you to view your clips on an HDTV--as long as you buy an optional cable. In contrast, Kodak's Zi8 ships with an HDMI cable.
The designers have also rounded the edges a bit, and the combination of the new metal casing and the rounded corners give this MinoHD a very nice look and feel. Overall, the camcorder just seems more luxurious and sleek--it retails for $229, so it better be--and it's slightly heavier, weighing 5.8 ounces vs. 3.3 for the older model. In terms of build quality, we also appreciated that the mechanism for the trademark flip-out USB connector has been upgraded for a smoother flip action.
Unless you buy directly from the company, this model is only available in black and silver; if you order it via Flip's Web site, though, you can get a snazzier custom version at no extra cost. You can find a comparison of Flip Video pocket camcorders here.
As with its older sibling, the back navigation controls have responsive touch-sensitive buttons sunk flush into a shiny surface; we like them, but on occasion you'll accidentally touch a button you wished you hadn't. Also, that surface is a fingerprint magnet, so expect to have to frequently wipe it off with the included faux chamois carrying case.
Aside from the additional memory and larger LCD--yes, it's nice, and you can view it even in bright daylight--spec-wise, nothing else has changed. While some pocket camcorders, such as Kodak's Zi8, offer 1080p video, the MinoHD second-generation sticks with 30fps 720p video. In terms of features, you get a standard 2x digital zoom, but it still lacks image stabilization and a macro mode for close-up shots. Like its siblings, the second-generation MinoHD is designed to be exceedingly simple to use, and it is. In contrast to some of its competitors, it provides virtually no settings to fiddle with apart from setting the date and time. You shoot in one resolution and that's it. There's no choice to drop to a lower video resolution to store more video, but why would you want to? Really, the MinoHD is all about pushing the red button to start and stop recording and hit the playback button to see what you've recorded. That's pretty much it.
As for power, the same nonremovable rechargeable lithium ion battery as the original MinoHD's is included here. It lasts up to 2 hours, compared with the standard Mino's 4 hours or so of juice. You also get the same 1/4.5-inch HD CMOS sensor, which in conjunction with an imaging processor upgrade theoretically delivers improved low-light sensitivity. As before, it encodes MP4 files using H.264 MPEG-4 encoding at a data rate of 9 megabits per second (vs. 4Mbps for the non-HD Mino).
Once again, we were fairly impressed with how good the video quality was for a camera this size. Flip Video seems to have improved the white balance for indoor shots, but all in all, we noticed little difference in the video we shot with this model and the video we'd previously shot with the original MinoHD. The video is pretty sharp, with accurate, vibrant colors. When you compare the video from this model to that of the standard-def Mino, the key is that that the video from this model scales well and looks sharp when you blow it up on your computer screen or play it back on a TV using an HDMI cable. To be clear, you won't confuse the video with what you'd get from a real high-definition camcorder, but the video quality is pretty impressive for a camcorder this tiny.