I mean it when I say that the Flip is easy to operate. Turn it on and hit the record button to start shooting HD video. Once pressed, there is not much to do other than stand back and watch the action through the top-third of the touchscreen.
However, that same touchscreen presents the biggest issue with recording. Its top third does not provide enough space to accurately monitor what you’re shooting. It’s cramped, it’s tough to tell if subjects are in focus, and the actual recording angle significantly exceeds the display size. This means you can’t fully see what’s being recorded. It’s a major annoyance. It would have been nice if there were a “full screen” option for the viewfinder instead of dedicating a full two-thirds to a static record button.
Auto white balance, while not perfect, does a fair job of keeping colors accurate, even under different lighting conditions. The same goes for auto focus and exposure. The SlideHD did blow out a few highlights, including some yellow daisies I shot in test footage, but otherwise adjusted quickly and accurately.
Because its lens can’t move and there’s no macro mode, the SlideHD needs at least 3 to 4 feet of space between the camcorder and the subject to retain focus. Outside that range, the SlideHD focused quickly for me. Inside 4 feet, the footage was blurry.
The SlideHD doesn’t include image stabilization and only has a 2x digital zoom, which is slow and nearly useless since it degrades clip quality.
The SlideHD has 16GB of internal memory, which is good for about 4 hours of footage. It doesn’t accept external storage cards, so you’ll have to unload files onto a PC or Mac once you reach capacity. I used the SlideHD for 1 hour and 40 minutes of continuous shooting, which is 20 minutes short of its advertised 2 hour-battery life. But it means you’ll have plenty of time to unload clips between charges. You can also delete videos through the playback mode to clear up space in a pinch.
In terms of video quality, the SlideHD is almost indiscernible from both the MinoHD and UltraHD. All three shoot h.264/MP4 video at 720p/30fps with impressively solid results. The colors are vibrant but balanced with minimal saturation, and details are sharp for 720p resolution. Here’s how the SlideHD performed under continuous fluorescent lighting, which is about the equivalent of daylight:
And in low lighting, which is about the equivalent of a bar or bowling alley:
It’s unsurprising that the SlideHD struggled in low lighting; you can barely even see the skunk’s red tongue. But it’s common since most pocket HD camcorders have the same trouble with details and color.
The SlideHD doesn’t have a dedicated audio jack, but it records stereo sound. I still stand by my earlier assertion that camcorders should have external mic options. The lack of an external audio input is a knock against the device, despite the fact its audio quality meets the low standard set by other devices in its class and Flip owners probably wouldn’t use it anyway.
Operation and Extras
Shipping with the SlideHD is a wrist strap, microfiber cloth, and a short instruction manual. That’s it. No AC power adapter, no HDMI cable and no lens cover. Other camcorders that exclude the HDMI cables at least ship with component connections, but the SlideHD doesn’t even have an AV port. So barring an additional purchase of a mini-HDMI cable, which of course Cisco sells on the Flip’s website, playback is limited to the SlideHD screen or a PC.
PC playback is not so bad though. Plug the SlideHD into a PC or Mac for the first time and it will install FlipShare, the company’s proprietary software. Here you can upload videos, grab stills from the clips, trim footage, add titles, set up DVDs and create a Flip Channel that allows friends with FlipShare and the FlipShare iPhone app access your videos. You can also access friends’ Flip Channels and download their videos directly to your device. For friends without FlipShare, you can also quickly email clips, send them in a greeting card wrapper, and post them to YouTube, Facebook and MySpace. Finally, you can reformat old Flip movies to a smaller file size and put them back on your SlideHD, which can hold 12 hours of reformatted footage.
Users can also simply drag and drop videos onto a computer, but I suspect FlipShare will be a popular option. It’s an impressive and intuitive application, hands down the best piece of proprietary camcorder software I’ve ever seen.