In 1998, I began writing a weekly online column called The Travel Technologist. The premise was simple: Review the latest gadgets for travelers. Today I’m reviving the feature after a five-year hiatus, with a slightly different focus. I’ll be covering hardware and software products used by travelers, with a special emphasis on social media. If you have any comments or suggestions on future reviews, please contact me.
Like so many things in life, the latest Flip Ultra is two steps forward and one step back. At $199, this compact HD video camera is less expensive than the sleek Flip Mino. But it’s also bulkier than its little brother, both literally (it’s big enough to accommodate two AA batteries, as opposed to the internal battery the Mino runs off) and figuratively, since it can hold up to two hours of high-resolution (720p) video, twice as much as the Mino.
What I liked: In the tradition of previous Flip cameras, the Ultra is super-easy to use. The stereo mic is a huge upgrade from the tinny-sounding mono mic on the Mino. The camera felt solid in my hand, and even though it didn’t have any discernible image-stabilization technology, I experienced less shake when shooting. The USB port makes a better connection with some PCs — no need to unplug all the peripherals when I’m downloading video. Editing the images on my almost-obsolete version of Final Cut Pro … well, that’s another story.
What I didn’t like: If you’re used to the Mino, you may not appreciate the heaviness of its successor. The buttons take some getting used to; I turned the camera off when I was trying to zoom in on a subject, because I was used to the Mino configuration. A lot of my shots were unacceptably jerky. Flip should consider flipping the switch on image-stabilization when it develops its next generation of cameras. And batteries. Don’t even get me started on batteries. It takes seven hours to charge the internal batteries the first time around. Whoa.
What everyone else is saying: The Flip Ultra is getting a round of reasonably good reviews. USA Today recommended it as a “fun, easy and highly compact video camera to capture baby’s first steps, your European vacation highlights or a family reunion.” CNET gave it three out of five stars, adding that it’s “only worth buying at a reasonable discount off its list price.” Our friends over at Engadget panned the camera because of its image stabilization issues.
Field test: I shot SeaWorld Orlando’s newest rollercoaster, Manta, on both the Mino and the Ultra. I couldn’t have achieved the same angles with a conventional video camera unless it was tethered to me, and that was something the ride attendants weren’t going to go for. (In fact, I had to sneak this camera on the ride … sorry, SeaWorld.) Can you tell which footage was shot on the Mino and which was done with the Ultra?
Give up? The coaster POV shots were done on a Mino, but everything else was shot on the Ultra.
Buy or not? Get one. It’s a useful travel companion.