So, what do I want out of my next laptop and what must it include?
Firebox Flip Mino (Black)
Cheap as chips -- but is it cheap enough?
- Simplistic user interface, small and attractive design, inbuilt USB jack
- Only slightly cheaper than a fully fledged camcorder, limited functions and memory
With its rechargeable battery and ultra-sleek design, the Mino is probably the best Flip cam yet. However, with an RRP of over $300 it is perhaps a teensy bit overpriced for what it offers.
Price$ 322.00 (AUD)
The Flip Mino is the latest addition to Firebox’s range of miniature Net-focused camcorders. Like its popular predecessors, it combines basic video functionality with an affordable price tag, making it an ideal gadget for kids, high school drama departments and skint bloggers. On the other hand, if you especially care about video quality you'd be better off buying a fully fledged camcorder (which in some cases will be nearly as cheap).
In terms of inbuilt features and optics, the Flip Mino is identical to the regular Flip Digital Video Camera, which we reviewed back in June. Apart from a slick new paint job, the main difference is the rechargeable Li-Ion battery which replaces the AA batteries found in the previous unit. This is obviously more convenient than forking out for regular replacements, although it does mean you’re forced to wait around while it charges. Nevertheless, the switch to a rechargeable battery makes the Mino seem less like a toy and more like a proper video camera.
This sense of craftsmanship also extends to the camera design. We much prefer the Mino’s new look to its garish white-and-orange predecessor, which felt cheap and plastic by comparison. With its high gloss finish and chunky oblong shape, the new model reminded us of a classy mobile phone from 10 years ago (although it looks significantly better than that sounds). It’s also a few centimetres smaller than the original Flip, with dimensions of just 100x50x16mm (compared to 104x54x29mm). This makes it ideal for carrying around, with the included carry pouch easily slipping inside your pocket.
Refreshingly for such a small camera, the Flip Mino was actually easy to operate, with no undersized buttons hampering the user interface. If you’re new to video, the absence of complicated menus and fiddly directional sticks is sure to be a plus: all you need to do is switch the device on and point it in the right direction. Of course, the downside is that manual features are extremely sparse. You basically get a 2x digital zoom and that’s about it. (Common features like digital effects and a stills image mode are nowhere to be found.)
Memory is also somewhat limited. With only 2GB of inbuilt storage and no memory card slots, the Flip Mino can only record 60 minutes of video. This is bound to fill up pretty fast for most users, which means you’ll need to make frequent data transfers to your computer (a flip-out USB connection is built into the device for this purpose). We feel that Firebox could have easily doubled the Mino's inbuilt memory without affecting its retail price.
As it is designed primarily for sharing video over the Internet, the Flip Mino doesn’t try too hard when it comes to video quality. After all, practically anything will look acceptable in a small browser window, so why fork out for premium components? The solitary 1/4in CMOS sensor does a reasonable job in bright environments, though you’ll probably want to limit TV playback — especially on large high-def displays. Its output is roughly comparable to a high quality webcam (without the lagging refresh rate). All up, we can see why schools and other learning institutes are fans of Flip cameras — they get the job done with minimal effort from the user, at a price that anyone can afford.
But is it really all that affordable? At $322, the Flip Mino isn’t the cheapest Net cam on the market — or even the cheapest camcorder. The price tag is especially hard to swallow in the face of Kogan’s Full HD 1080p Video Camera: a feature-packed high-def camcorder that costs just $70 more. This effectively trumps the Mino’s main selling point as a dirt-cheap camcorder.
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