Here we have the Cisco Flip Video MinoHD 2010 (3rd Generation). It’s the latest update to the ever-popular Flip series and brings the pocket-cam originator back into the game, finally catching up to the handful of small shooters that surpassed it in 2009. Anyone looking for a fun, exceedingly easy-to-use casual video camera should read onward.
Body and Design
Even by pocket camcorder standards, the Mino 2010 is tiny. It’s roughly the dimensions of a long business card, but a half-inch thick -- still tiny enough to fit into any pants pocket. It carries on the minimalist tradition of its predecessors, with few physical features. There’s a power button on the right, a switch for the flip-out USB arm on the left, and tripod threading and an HDMI ouput on the bottom. On the main panel, it’s a modest 2-inch screen, a few command buttons, and the signature big red record button. The first Flip had a near-perfect design, and thankfully, little has been done to mess with that success.
All pocket camcorders are easy to use, but the Mino is boiled down to the absolute basics. There’s one button for power-up, and barely one second later, it’s ready to record with another press of a button. There aren’t really menus or options here, so the experience remains quick and responsive.
Playing back and deleting clips is straightforward (hit the play button or trash button, respectively). There’s a fail-safe to prevent you from accidentally deleting all your clips while the Mino is bouncing around in your pocket, which is a great feature (though perhaps slightly confusing at first, but really, not a big deal). Even uploading and sharing is brainless. Pop out the USB arm, stick it into your computer, and the built-in Flip Share software walks you through everything else (it’s Mac and PC compatible, too).
The Mino doesn’t even need a memory card. The particular model I reviewed had 8GB of built-in memory, which is enough to record two hours of 720p HD video at 60 frames per second, and it’s available in a one-hour, 4GB configuration as well.
Cisco also announced a series of accessories than can hook up to the Mino, though none were included for a review and not too many are available at the time of writing.
The design and interface have always been the Flip’s strong suits, but the un-stabilized 720p video in the last generation of Mino HD camcorders lagged behind competitors like the Kodak Zi8 and Zx3 (Playsport) models.
This current generation still shoots at a more modest 720p, but it finally incorporates image stabilization. The lack of IS really had the older Flips lagging behind the competition over the past 18 months.
Though I’d like to see the Mino’s resolution ramped up to 1080p, it probably doesn’t affect the video quality to such a great degree. The fact remains that a pocket camcorder’s image quality is still limited by the tiny sensor, cheap lens, and hand-shake -- the image stabilization can only do so much to offset it with such a small, light camera, though it certainly helps.
In short, the Mino’s video quality is good enough for a $229 (list price) pocket camcorder. The color is pretty vivid and the picture is relatively smooth while panning. Avoid using the digital zoom when possible -- though it’s only a 2x zoom, it significantly degrades picture quality (though that’s to be expected). Low-light shooting is very difficult. Sound is comparable to a digital still camera -- a bit tinny, but serviceable and in stereo. (One of the aforementioned accessories is an external microphone, which should improve quality).
Though the Flip brand was a trailblazer, it’s not the only solid option in the category anymore. It’s slightly outclassed by the Kodak Playsport, which is the best pocket camcorder made to date. That camcorder shoots stabilized 1080p video, in a waterproof body, and it costs at least $60 less than the 8GB Mino model. Granted, the Playsport is bigger than the Mino and lacks the built-in memory and USB arm, but the benefits outweigh those minor inconveniences for most buyers (at least it seems that way, judging by how popular the Playsport is on this site).
But when you get down to it, they’re both easy-to-use, easy-to-carry cameras with good enough picture quality. It’s almost nitpicking at this level -- if you’re dissatisfied with the Mino’s video quality, you won’t be much more pleased with the Playsport. You’ll have to upgrade to a traditional camcorder with a larger sensor to really see a difference. And the lure of pocket camcorders is waning overall anyway. Any current digital still cameras or smartphone shoots HD video as well, almost as good as if not better than a pocket camcorder. Folks who own either one of these gadgets -- similar in size, price (well, if you leave out monthly service plans for smartphones), and actually more capable all-around -- really don’t need a pocket camcorder.
But if you don’t own any of the above and still need a casual camcorder to carry around, the Flip Mino is the absolute, bar-none, simplest and smallest video camera out there, with a brand name, solid video quality and reliable performance at a reasonable (if still slightly bloated) price.