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Side-by-side: Flip UltraHD vs. iPhone 4

Is the iPhone 4 a Flip killer? That’s a question we’ve been asking ourselves ever since Apple (s AAPL) CEO Steve Jobs introduced the latest iPhone generation with HD recoding capability in June. Well, it looks like Cisco’s (s CSCO) line of consumer camcorders isn’t going down without a fight. The company has just released an update to its device lineup, and its top-of-the-line camcorders now feature 720p HD recording at 60 frames per second, as well as image stabilization. The iPhone 4 on the other hand allows recording of 720p at 30 fps.

So how does the iPhone 4 stack up against this new and improved Flip camcorder? We decided to find out by recording some footage with the new Flip UltraHD 8GB and the iPhone 4 side by side. Have a look for yourself:

The iPhone actually competed fairly well in the first part of the clip, which was shot outside our office in downtown San Francisco. The iPhone’s footage is a lot brighter, but the Flip does a better job at times of capturing rich colors. The Flip is also better at adjusting to sunlight, and it captures details that are lost in the iPhone’s overly bright footage. Pay extra attention to the signs of the Italian restaurant around 0:26, and you’ll see what I mean.

Things look much more decisive in the second part of the clip, which I shot in the hallway and elevator of our office building. The Flip especially shines after entering the elevator, as it gracefully adjusts to the low-light conditions. The iPhone’s footage, on the other hand, has a noticeable yellow tint throughout the elevator ride, and it seems incapable of capturing details like the structure of the elevator floor around 1:34 as clearly as the Flip. The phone’s camera does recover quickly once the elevator doors open to our office, even though the footage at the end of the clip looks a little out of focus.

The final verdict: The iPhone 4’s recording quality isn’t quite up to par with the new Flip. However, on a sunny day, you won’t notice that much of a difference, especially if you’re just shooting a quick YouTube clip. The Flip still clearly has the upper hand in low-light situations, and it¬†adjusts better to changing light conditions as well. These are essentially the same challenges that plagued the HTC Evo 4G’s camera when we took it onto a similar elevator ride back in June.

A few words about the recording experience: I appreciated the iPhone’s vibrant 3.5-inch screen — until I tried to record something with it in direct sunlight. Of course, the Flip faces its own challenges on this front. The screen worked much better in sunlight, but its tiny two inches still made my eyes hurt.

Flip is also trying to make its cameras more attractive by adding accessories via a new proprietary port at the bottom of the camcorder. Some of the accessories will include additional battery packs, external microphones and an adapter for Seagate’s (s STX) GoFlex hard drives, making it possible to download footage without a computer.

Of course, the iPhone one-ups the Flip in this area, offering its users the ability to not just backup footage without a PC, but actually upload it to YouTube and even edit videos on the device with the new iMovie app. Flip hinted at WiFi integration when it was acquired by Cisco in early 2009, but we’re still waiting for this feature. I asked Flip representatives about this when they recently came to town to show off the new camcorders, but they didn’t want to comment on any plans to add WiFi to their cameras.

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8 Responses to “Side-by-side: Flip UltraHD vs. iPhone 4”

  1. The HD camcorder technology has a long ways to go. I think the Flip camcorders are very impressive considering their price. The iPhone is an amazing piece of technology but the Flip UltraHD makes for a great gift. Affordable, stylish, super easy to use and upload to facebook.

  2. Thanks. I watched the video first and then went back to 00:26 and only then did I notice. Was the sound from the iPhone or the Flip? For me, it’s taking a good video, importing to Final Cut and making adjustment. Just like I do with my simple D5000 DSLR, I try to take the best picture I can and then rely on Photoshop to help tighten it up. So for me a smaller video camera is needed when a true video camera is not available therefore, I think the iPhone solves that “wish I had a camera / video camera right now” problem better than most. Really enjoyed my first visit to your site…I’ll be back! Thanks and keep up the good work.

  3. The iPhone4 video here looks surprisingly wider than that of the Flip (even though I find the iPhone cam not wide enough most often!) I’d still consider iPhone4 better than Flip because I can surf the web, use it as a gps, ipod, photo frame.