Even in handheld gadgets, sometimes bigger is better. The new Flip UltraHD is bulkier than its recent kin, but the tradeoff is better batteries and a bigger screen, and worth it.
The UltraHD is one of two new models from Pure Digital, the company that created a new class of popular videocameras with their small size, inexpensive price and simple software. The $200 UltraHD is joined by a second-generation Flip Ultra that doesn't shoot in high-def and costs $50 less.
I'll admit I was taken aback when I unboxed the UltraHD. The camcorder seems a departure for the Flips, which had gotten slimmer and sleeker with recent Mino models. The newest pair keep the larger size of the Ultra line. They're roughly the same size as the original Flip model of several years ago -- though the original's design looked almost industrial compared to the more polished Ultras.
Also like the previous Ultras, the new generation keeps the AA batteries and real buttons. The Minos have rechargeable batteries that can't be removed and electronic touch pads instead of physical buttons.
I like that I can put in AAs, even simple alkalines that can be bought just about anywhere. You'd probably want rechargeables because cameras chew through alkalines, but the latter are great in a pinch. The UltraHD comes with a rechargeable battery pack that can be removed for AAs.
I find the touch pads on the Minos to be awkward -- it's too easy to hit the wrong button. I've come close to deleting videos that I wanted to keep. The Ultras have real buttons and a rocker that are easier to see and more intuitive.
Another benefit of the Ultras' larger size, which is still pocketable, is that they're easier to hold steady for shots. Still, some may prefer the Minos' smaller size and sleek look. The Minos' smaller size comes at a larger price -- about $30 more for either HD or standard definition models.
The new Ultras double the recording time of previous Flips to two hours. They also add larger and brighter LCDs. But those improvements will likely show up on the smaller Minos, as well.
The Ultras keep the simple USB connector and built-in software that have helped make the Flips the most popular videocameras in unit sales. The UltraHD adds a mini HDMI port for easy connections to modern HDTVs, but you'll have to buy the cable separately.
The Flips all shoot suprisingly good video for their size and price. But they should be seen as secondary cams. Parents would still want a mainstream model with a bigger zoom for soccer games and better sound for the school play.
But the Flips remain a great buy for teens or even younger kids, and for families with the budget for a second and ultra-convenient videocamera.