The pocket cam's claim to fame is being "good enough". The Flip SlideHD strives to be a little more, adding a sliding touchscreen for watching videos on the camera itself. That's biting off more than it can, or should, chew.
The genius behind the Flip pocket cam was simplifying the needlessly complicated process of shooting digital video. The Flip SlideHD, the company's first "shoot and share" camera, extends that simplification to watching the video you shoot. To this end, the Flip Slide adds a 3-inch sliding resistive touchscreen that does double duty for recording and viewing. In its normal configuration, while recording, it lets you see what you're shooting, with Flip's stupid-simple controls reproduced as soft buttons on the screen. When popped into viewing mode, the screen sits proudly at a 45-degree angle, allowing you to set the camera on a table and watch your videos in wide screen.
That's all well and good in theory, but the sacrifices made to accommodate the sliding screen are huge. Both in spirit and in practice, the Slide seems like a perversion of Flip's essential simplicity.
The Thick and Thin
Under the hood, the $US280 SlideHD has the same image sensor as the MinoHD, one that we thought could stand an upgrade when we reviewed it last October. Like the Mino, the Slide shoots 30fps HD video at 1280x720; it looks like pocketcam footage you've come to expect: good, not great. The SlideHD has 2x digital zoom, HDMI out and, like the Mino, lacks image stabilisation, but it has twice the memory - 16GB - and four hours of record time. In terms of what it offers as a camera, there's not a whole lot of new ground to cover.
As for its design, there's quite a bit to say, and not a lot of it is good. The Flip MinoHD, which came out late last year, is, in terms of design, a pocket cam masterpiece. It has a sleek, aluminium body, and it feels solid in your hand. It seems like a very deliberate device. Here, the Flip SlideHD is a painful slide backwards, almost a year backwards to thick, boxy Flip UltraHD. The Slide replaces the Mino's aluminium face with a glossy white plastic, and the spring-loaded screen takes away from the assuring solidity of the device. The Mino feels like a gadget; the Slide feels like a toy.
Worse yet is the size. The SlideHD is at least a third thicker than the MinoHD, and because of the curvature of the device it feels even thicker. When you're making things that go in pockets, that's a big difference. The Mino is so thin, and its aluminium curves so smooth, that you can easily slide it into a pocket that already has a mobile phone or a wallet without much trouble. The Slide, on the other hand, has a stubborn, boxy build, and its curves are decidedly less sensual than the Mino's. The Slide demands its own pocket, and even then, it's at that threshold of thickness that borders on being too big to even be comfortably pocketable at all. So what is it, then, that we get for this fat, transforming slab of gadget?
A Theatre In Your Pocket
These days, it's not that silly to think that users would be interested in watching video on a pocket cam's screen. Plenty of people watch stuff on their phones, and the unexpanded YouTube clips we watch on the web every day are about the same size as the Flip Slide's display. So size isn't the problem. It's the presentation that doesn't make much sense. In playback mode, the SlideHD is designed so that you can place it on a table so it can stand freely while you share videos with your friends and family. A 3-inch screen is barely suitable for a personal media player. For group viewing, it's borderline comical. So, designing a pocketable camera around the idea that a group of people is going to crowd around its 3-inch screen to watch the video isn't very sound to begin with. But even on its own terms, the SlideHD isn't especially convincing.
Videos played back on the SlideHD don't look bad by any means, but they don't look remarkably good, either. Users accustomed to the vivid, dynamic displays found on the today's better smartphones certainly won't find much to be impressed about with the SlideHD's display. The interface for playing back videos is simple enough: you can tap the touchscreen to cycle through them, or slide your finger across a capacitive touch-sensitive strip that is revealed when the screen is slid into viewing position. But neither the screen nor the strip are very responsive; sometimes they won't register your swipes at all, sometimes they send you flying past the video you wanted to watch. The SlideHD's speakers are repositioned to flank the screen in viewing mode, adding to the pocket theatre experience. They sound fine when the device is nearby, though a headphone jack is offered if you really want to listen in carefully.
Just a Touch
Adding a touchscreen to a pocket cam isn't fundamentally a bad idea, but the SlideHD doesn't really take advantage of what such a screen has to offer. While the Flip UltraHD had hardware buttons, the Mino's, besides the central record button, were all touch sensitive, so that aspect of controlling the Slide isn't anything new. But adhering to layout of the Mino's buttons so closely, when the Slide has so much more real estate to use, seems strange. What's even more frustrating is that the 3-inch screen can't be used in its entirety to preview what you're shooting. It feels natural that, while recording, turning the Slide sideways would give you a nice big look at your shot. But it doesn't. When you turn it sideways everything remains static - the buttons stay where they are and the column showing what you're recording remains frustratingly small. In a way, that's representative of the whole Slide experience. There's more here, but what's it really good for?
The 3-inch screen is a comfortable size for checking out your Flip videos on the go.
Design-wise the Flip Slide is a major step backwards, adding significant bulk.
The image sensor is the same as the MinoHD, which was due for an upgrade.
Sharing videos instantly isn't that compelling to begin with.