Video Review: New Flip Features Touch-Screen, Disappoints

Cisco (s CSCO) just added a new Flip camcorder to its line of consumer products which aims to close the gap to touch-screen cell phones and other mobile video viewing devices. The Flip SlideHD features a 3-inch wide-screen touch screen that slides out to watch recorded and shared videos, and it also comes with 16 GB on-board memory, enough to record up to four hours of HD video. Check out my quick video walk-through (embedded below) as well as a few pictures provided by Cisco for some first impressions.

I’ve been playing with a review unit provided by Flip for a few days, and frankly, I’m a little disappointed. The fact that I can immediately show others recorded clips are nice. At the same time, the screen leaves me longing for more, and ultimately wondering whether I’d spend $280 on a camcorder in 2010 that feels like it was designed in 2005.

The SlideHD looks and feels very much like Flip’s UltraHD camcorder. Same size, similar product design, and even the interface of the touch screen is similar, complete with an emulated red button to start and stop your video recordings. It’s minimal, which is what made the original Flip camcorders a success, but this is a three inch touch screen, and the video preview is still the size of a stamp. Feels a little bit like a wasted opportunity, if you ask me. Maybe a rotating screen could have provided a bigger preview?

Well, this screen doesn’t rotate, but it slides, transforming the camera into a mini video viewing device. Having the option to preview videos this way is actually really nice, even though it feels a little goofy the first time you do it. It’s a good way to show a clip to a number of friends without everyone bumping heads and getting their fingers on your touch screen.

Speaking of the screen: Call me a snob, but a touch screen that doesn’t support basic swiping in cover-flow mode shouldn’t even be sold in 2010. It’s just how we consume media these days, be it on the iPhone, the Nexus One or the iPad. Swiping through the list of videos on a SlideHD won’t get you anywhere, as the device only supports as much touch screen action as your average ATM. A separate slide bar that basically works like your notebook’s track pad aims to make up for this, but it feels a bit awkward, to be honest.

Here’s my final reason to nag: If a camcorder already has a sliding screen, shouldn’t you be able to turn it 180 degrees in order to preview the recording while you’re filming yourself?

Of course, Slide’s strength has always been its minimalism. It didn’t capture more than 20 percent market share in three years by competing on features, but through simplicity. Flip cameras just work, and you don’t have to read a manual, or even think, to start shooting. That’s why it is so important to get it right when adding new features, and I feel like Cisco and the Flip team could have done a better job.

Cisco recently came to town to do press briefings about the new camcorder, and I asked them how they want to compete with touch screen phones like the iPhone or the Nexus One, which are increasingly catching up in terms of video quality. Their answer was, in part, that the company has been thinking about touch screens even before any of these smart phones were introduced to the market. Unfortunately, the new SlideHD feels like they haven’t done enough thinking since.

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