Gadget Review: Flip Video Ultra Series

Flip Video Ultra Series

Summary: Totally unsuitable for a wedding videographer, but a total blast for a wedding guest.

I’m on my way to a conference next week, and I want to take a small video camera with me.  After reading the Wall Street Journal’s review, I picked up the Flip Video Ultra Series today.  w00t!

Unboxing the Flip was pleasant–their packaging engineers obviously took notes from Apple’s group, since the experience was evocative of unboxing an iPod.  When you remove the inner packaging, you’re greeted with the question “What will you see today?”, which makes you feel creative, or at least feel like trying to be creative.

Immediate gratification nuts will be pleased that the Flip video is powered by two AA batteries, which are included in the box.  Not only can you start playing with the camera immediately, if you find yourself short of power, but far from a plug, you can usually find AAs nearby.

Recording your first video is almost too easy.  Find the dog or the baby, turn on the device, aim it, and press the red button to start.  You’re recording!  Press the same red button to stop.  When you have a video or two, you can play it back on the small screen on the back of the camera.  Or, it’s time to connect the Flip to your computer.  Simply turn it off, pop out the USB connector (it opens with a sexy switchblade type of action), and plug it in to the USB port on your computer.  You might want to think about a USB extension cable here, if your USB ports are in an awkward location or closely packed (honestly, nearly all of them are).

I plugged the Flip in to my laptop’s USB port, and it was recognized instantly, even on a very old laptop running Windowx XP SP2.  It showed up as an extrernal drive, so I could copy the AVI file from the Flip to my laptop.  However, when I tried to play the video, Windows Media Player needed to downlad a codec, which failed.  I was prompted to download an update to WiMP, which started the lengthy process of downloading and installing WiMP 11.  Even on cable internet, this takes a while, and requires a reboot to finish.  If Windows Media Player gives you problems, just avoid it.  The good news is, the wonderful Gomplayer worked like a charm.  And, being free, I’d recommend checking this out, rather than diddling around with Windows Media Player.

The Flip Video also includes its own software, which I tried after my experiment with Gomplayer.  The software lives and runs on the camera, so there’s no installation.  On PCs with the autorun feature turned on, the software should automatically start when you connect the camera.  The camera’s software allows you to play videos directly on the device, copy them to your computer, share them with  others via e-mail, YouTube, AOL Video or shrink the viideos for uploading to other sites yourself.  Also included is Muvee, which you can use to make video mashups with what you record.  There is software for both Mac and Windows.  For uploading, videos are converted to WMV from AVI, and shrunk to a smaller screen size.  Even still, on a computer monitor, the compressed videos had enough detail so you really knew what was going on.

This is a device meant for small-screen recording, and fairly close to the subjects.  The zoom is only 2x, so this isn’t a device you’d want to use to record a seminar from the back of the room.  It might work in a classroom to record lectures, but it’s really better designed for carrying around and shooting in close social environments.  The condensor mike is internal and on the front of the camera, and doesn’t pick up sounds too far away, which can also be a good thing since there isn’t a lot of background noise.  What’s really impressive is the way the camera automatically and quickly adjusts to light conditions.  You can point the camera at a TV or window, and in around a second, the camera has adjusted itself so you have a clear image of what’s on TV or going on outside.  Pan back to a darker area, and again in about a second the camera has readjusted itself so you have a fairly clear view of what you’re aiming at.

Included in the package is a cable you can use to connect the Flip Video directly to a TV (the standard 1 video/stereo audio cable, nothing fancy).  I did the experiment, and hooked my Flip up directly to a 34” Sony Bravia HDTV.  On this TV, the picture quality is lower than an analog TV signal, but still good enough to share party or vacation videos on.  I recommend sticking to lower resolution PC monitors, but on a standard TV, you probably couldn’t tell the difference between the Flip and the TV signal.

While talking to the sales guy, my buddy Jon Palmiero of Honda North walks by, and starts ogling the Flip Video I’m carrying.  He was picking up a new point-and-click for an upcoming vacation, and I promised he could play with my Flip when he gets back.  Watch for some little videos on their blog ( after we’re all back from vacations.

Overall, I’m really impressed.  I wondered about the video quality and the light adjustment, but both seem to be quite good.  I’m not sure if I’d hand this to a very small child, but older children would have a blast with this camera, and even your grandmother could use it.  There’s nothing fancy about this camera—it’s just a little device which works.


  1. Unbelievably incredibly easy to use.
  2. Very compact–almost the identical size as my Treo 700w (minus anntenna).
  3. Decent image quality with good automatic exposure compensation, but meant for the smaller, lower resolution screens.
  4. Tripod connector, for stability
  5. The software is carried around on the device, so no matter what computer you plug into, you can compress and share the videos you make, right from the camera.
  6. 2 GB of onboard RAM, no cards, hard drives, tapes, etc.


  1. Tough to plug in on my laptop with a second device (such as the wireless mouse fob), and when it is plugged in, it hangs a little awkwardly from the USB port.  I recommend purchasing a USB extension cord.  It would be really cool if they’re include even a short one in the package–I tink that would be more useful than the cable to connect the camera to your TV.   I would have happily paid a few bucks more to have a short cable included in the package, and avoid the PITA (and wait) of obtaining one myself.
  2. Since the software lives on the device, you will need something else to play/edit your files when the camera is not connected.  Use your favorite, or check out Gomplayer to play, and find an editor on this list of open source video editing software.  If you’re really into the portability aspects, you can find portable versions of a couple of tools at Portable Apps.
  3. No lens cap.  Be really, really careful with the camera.
  4. No pause function.  You start and stop, but can’t pause a recording.
  5. You get 60 min, and then you need to move some videos to your PC.  You can’t simply switch out a tape or a memory card.