Correction to This Article
ยท The June 26 Fast Forward column incorrectly said that Apple's iMovie '08 cannot open videos recorded with the Flip Mino camcorder. Apple released a software update this month (iMovie 7.1.2) that enables that program to edit Flip movies.

Do One Thing, and Do It Okay

Fast Forward columnist Rob Pegoraro uses the Flip camera to record the traditional "President's Race" that takes place during Nationals baseball games. Video by Rob Pegoraro/The Washington Post
By Rob Pegoraro
Thursday, June 26, 2008

Technically speaking, Flip camcorders have no reason to exist.

These cheap, lightweight devices do only one thing -- capture short video clips. But most digital cameras and cellphones already handle that job, sometimes with much better-looking results.

And yet Pure Digital Technologies' family of soap-bar-size, $130-and-up video cams has lodged itself in the bestseller lists of Amazon and other retailers. The Flip might not be the iPod of camcorders, but no other model can even pretend to compete for that honor.

Earlier this month, the San Francisco firm -- which also makes single-use cameras and camcorders sold in CVS stores -- shipped a new, lighter, smaller model, the $180 Flip Mino. Like the earlier Flip Video and Flip Ultra models, the barely three-ounce Mino combines cheap video circuitry, baked-in movie software and a few simple online services.

The Flip Mino is also one of the tragically small number of devices that demand no memorization of manuals. The only configuration a model loaned by Pure Digital required was to set the date and time, a task made brainless by prompts on the small but bright (and daylight-tolerant) screen.

From there on, it was a matter of aiming the lens toward the subject, pressing the large red button below its screen to start recording, then pressing it again to stop. You zoom in and out by touching plus and minus signs above and below the red button. (You can tell those symbols do something because they light up when recording while other buttons stay dark.)

After recording, you can quickly browse your videos and delete ones that didn't work out. Pure Digital says the Mino's rechargeable battery lasts four hours, but because the Mino only holds an hour of video, you're unlikely to run it down.

Many of these things could be said about the video modes of the better cameras and phones out there. But those competing gadgets don't act anything like the Mino when you connect them to a computer.

For one, the Mino, like earlier Flip models, doesn't require a separate cable or cradle. A regular USB plug flips out of its top, allowing you to connect the thing to a PC or Mac to recharge its battery and transfer videos.

For another, Flip cameras don't require a separate software CD. Each one's editing application comes preloaded in its memory, though the first time you connect it to a Mac (Mac OS X 10.4 or 10.5) or PC (Windows XP or Vista), you'll need to install some separate supporting video software.

This bundled software barely counts as an "editing" tool -- it only lets you trim the start and end of a clip and stitch together separate videos into a mini-movie. You can try editing these files in other movie programs, but many, such as Apple's iMovie '08, can't read them. Instead, Flip's software focuses mainly on sharing your videos online.

With it, you can e-mail a link to a video or a "video greeting card" that incorporates the clip. Or you can upload a clip directly to AOL Video or YouTube. The software also touts MySpace support, but it only prepares a video for that site, leaving it to you to switch to a Web browser and upload the file.

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