When it comes to size, the thin Flip Mino is the iPod Nano to the $140 Flip Ultra's iPod Classic. Clocking in at 3.9 inches long by 2 inches wide by 0.6 inches deep, it's the smallest model in Pure Digital's popular pocket camcorder line. It's also the most versatile, thanks to the company's new video engine that produces great-looking SVGA-resolution (640 by 480) videos. The unit's 2GB flash drive holds an hour of clips.
At $180, the Mino also comes in at some $80 more than Creative's Vado, a pocket camcorder with which it shares some similarities, including an onboard USB connector, direct-to-YouTube uploads, diminutive size, and comparably slick design. Is the Mino worth the extra 80 bucks? It just might be, if you value video quality and Mac compatibility.
If you've used the Flip Video or Flip Ultra, you'll know how to operate the Mino--even its new features are a no-brainer for a first-time user to operate. The Mino adds touch-sensitive controls, which replace all standard buttons (other than the record and power buttons) found on the other Flip models. These four capacitive touch buttons surround the centrally positioned record button; "plus" and "minus" buttons control the zoom and the audio playback volume, while left and right buttons allow you to select videos for playback. The Mino's full set of controls are rounded out by touch-sensitive play/pause buttons and a delete button.
Although we liked the clean, slick look of the capacitive touch buttons, we found it way too easy during our testing to accidentally play back or delete clips by accidentally brushing a finger against the buttons. You can lock the delete key by pressing it down for a few seconds, but that doesn't go far enough; the Mino's touch sensitivity may be a bit too touchy for some users.
That said, the buttons do seem to solve the problem previous Flip models had, where you could accidentally start a recording while the device was in your pocket--and the Mino fits very comfortably into a shirt or jeans pocket.
Also new to the Mino is the integrated lithium ion battery (previous models used AA batteries), and the location of the flip-out USB jack, the magic component that makes the Flip models (as well as the Creative Vado) so plug-and-play convenient. Earlier Flip units had a flip-out USB connector on the side; the Mino's connector instead flips out, switchblade-style, from the top of the device. It makes the Mino slightly less unwieldy to plug in to your computer's USB port. When connected, the Mino can upload clips directly to YouTube, AOL Video, or MySpace; you also use the USB connector to charge the device's battery (it has no power cord).
The Mino holds some key advantages over the significantly cheaper Creative Vado. For one, the Flip Mino's video-management software (which is embedded in the device, so you don't have to install it separately from a disc) works with Apple Mac OS X, while the Vado's software works only on XP and Vista.
Second, even though both shoot 640-by-480-pixel MPEG-4 AVI clips at 30 frames per second, the Mino's video quality is flat-out better than that of the Vado. This is especially true for indoor, mediocre-lighting settings: The Mino still turns out clear, sharp clips, while the Vado's clips look pixellated, murky, or just plain dark in anything other than well-lit areas. The Mino is your obvious pick if video quality is what you seek, even at almost twice the price.
And if you're a MySpace or AOL Video user, the Mino also has built-in integration with those sites' video players; the same doesn't hold true for the Vado, which works only with YouTube and Photobucket.
Still, the Mino has some drawbacks compared with Creative's YouTube-friendly model. On Windows XP, the Flip software failed to upload my clips to YouTube the first three times I tried it. When uploading did work, I found the Mino was slower than the Vado at this task. Pure Digital explains that the Mino transcodes video footage before it uploads the clips to YouTube, which would explain the slower uploading process; Creative's pocket camcorder doesn't convert the video before uploading.
The Vado can also hold more footage despite its identical 2GB flash drive: While the Mino tops out at 1 hour of footage, the Vado can hold 2 hours of clips (but with noticeably subpar quality, to be sure).
Besides the pocket camcorder itself, you get a few other goodies with the Mino's price of admission: a protective pouch, an RCA cable for watching your clips on a standard TV, a wrist strap, and basic but clear documentation.
Creative's Vado has a bargain-bin price, but as Pure Digital's Flip Mino shows, you get what you pay for: The $180 Flip Mino is the clearly the better camcorder of the two. If video quality is what you're after, or if you use a Mac, the Flip Mino is worth the extra scratch.
Senior Editor Melissa Perenson contributed to this review.
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