Friday, March 21, 2008

Camcorder Brings Zen to the Shoot

David Pogue on a great user experience ...

"Well, this is a little embarrassing. One of the most significant electronics products of the year slipped into the market, became a mega-hit, changed its industry -- and I haven't reviewed it yet.

Lately, my guilt has deepened every time someone whips this thing out to show off. "Look what my first grader did with it all by herself," one guy told me. "We're using them in schools to teach narrative structure," said a teacher at a conference. "I bought two of 'em: one for my 80-year-old grandmother," said a neighbor, "and one for my 5-year-old."

O.K., wait -- what?

It's the Flip: a tiny, stripped-down video recorder the size of a digital camera (but you hold it vertically). And in the year since its invention, it has taken 13 percent of the camcorder market, according to its maker, Pure Digital. The latest model, called the Flip Ultra, had its debut six months ago with slightly improved video quality, greater capacity, a tripod mount and better looks (available in white, black, orange, pink and green). It's been the best-selling camcorder on Amazon.com since the day of its debut.

Now, understanding the appeal of this machine will require you not just to open your mind, but to practically empty it. Because on paper, the Flip looks like a cheesy toy that no self-respecting geek would fool with, let alone a technology columnist.

The screen is tiny (1.5 inches) and doesn't swing out for self-portraits. You can't snap still photos. There are no tapes or discs, so you must offload the videos to a computer when the memory is full (30 or 60 minutes of footage, depending on whether you buy the $150 or $180 model). There are no menus, no settings, no video light, no optical viewfinder, no special effects, no headphone jack, no high definition, no lens cap, no memory card. And there's no optical zoom -- only a 2X digital zoom that blows up and degrades the picture. Ouch.

Instead, the Flip has been reduced to the purest essence of video capture. You turn it on, and it's ready to start filming in two seconds. You press the red button once to record (press hard -- it's a little balky) and once to stop. You press Play to review the video, and the Trash button to delete a clip.

There it is: the entire user's manual."    (Continued via Good Experience, New York Times)    [Usability Resources]

Flip - Usability, User Interface Design

Flip

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