Review: Flip Mino HD v Nokia N95 v iPhone v everything else

I’ve managed to have a quick and dirty test with the Flip Mino HD and compare it to what I call the PR/journalist mobile workhorse, the Nokia N95, but which comes out better? Or should you stick with an iPhone? (Yes, I know, including the iPhone was cruel.) Heads-up, lots of YouTube video in this.

I’ve already compared the N95 to the iPhone as a practical multimedia device for PRs and journalists (and parents), so after getting my hands on the Flip – which was used to fantastic effect by the Sunday Mail reporter (and Scottish reporter of the year) Charlie Lavery in AfghanistanI thought I might post my thoughts with some side-by-side examples.

    First thoughts:

In terms of weight and ease of use, there’s nothing between the two of them. If anything, the Flip is a tad lighter. It’s also a little easier to use in that you press the ‘on’ button, wait a second or two and off you go. On the N95, startup (from off) takes a good 30 seconds. If the phone is already on, going into video camera phone can take up to 10 seconds.

Both are straightforward point and shoot efforts. You point at what you want and you digital zoom in if you need to be closer. On both the digital zoom is average at best and best avoided.

The thing to bear in mind with what you see below is that how they look after YouTube is not how they look on my machine. I’ll let you judge what the YouTube codecs has done to them yourself when I talk about colour and sound on the clips, it will be as how they appeared on my machine.

On that note, the first thing worth pointing out is this:

Size of Flip image versus N95 on desktop

Size of Flip image versus N95 on 15inch laptop screen

(click on the above for a full-size image – 1.3MB though)

That was the first surprise -when you set them to actual size to show on your machine the Flip is quite happy to more or less take up the full screen – and looks decent too – while the N95 takes up a smaller space and still looks a little blocky (machine used was a MacBook Pro 15-inch)

    Picture and Sound Quality:

This actually surprised me. I was expecting the Flip to romp this, but it wasn’t that cut and dried.

Interior, dark
I won’t bore you with the video from this as both were awful (if you insist – that was the Flip). Darkness just doesn’t work for either of them, so strap on a torch if you want to re-enact the Blair Witch Project.

Interior, average light
Here’s the shots from my living room. The child in the video when sitting was around six feet from me and when doing starshapes at the end was about two feet away from me. If you want to sync the videos up, the N95 one should be started at 1:00 while the Flip one should be at 1:57 – but you get to see some sound/audio before that if you want to watch the lot.

N95 Living Room

Flip Living Room:

I thought the Flip would romp this but the N95 actually had the better colours. Sound was equal on both.

Flip Goldfish
(Goldfish in this start at about a minute in.)

N95 Goldfish

In the Goldfish, I didn’t think there was much in it – the Flip seemed to have a slight edge, but nothing I would say was significant. (The noise in each shot is the fishtank filter)

Overall for the house shots, I was surprised on this because while the Flip seems to have the better shot and perspective, the N95 actually had better colours. The Flip’s colours appeared a little more washed out, while the N95’s were more realistic.

Exterior shots

N95 Flowers

Flip Flowers

For me, the Flip was the winner here. The colours looked just a tad more vivid and real. Sound was more or less equal on them both. However, after YouTube has done what it does, the N95 actually appears to have better colours online.

N95 Uddingston External

Flip Uddingston External

The Flip was the winner here again. There just seems to be a little bit of sharpness, contrast and better colour than the N95. The perspective also seems a little better – judge the oncoming car in both for example.

    Conclusions and Notes:

For all I’m a fan of the N95, I fully expected the Flip to wipe the floor with it. It didn’t and that surprised me. Don’t get me wrong, it has a lot going for it – better perspective, better outdoor colours, HD at 720 – but I wasn’t blown away as I would have expected. They were both 50/50 when used on a Standard Definition TV – perhaps some slightly better colour on the Flip.

Where the Flip does score is in convenience – the USB plug pops out, plug it in and off you go – the software’s even built in. The N95’s file structure on the other hand is horrific – and slow if you decide to use Bluetooth.

Both machines use mp4 file format – h264 if memory serves – so they are easy enough to edit in external applications. The software that comes with the Flip is very basic in that regard – but it does the job if need be.

if I had any other phone, I think a Flip would be a no-brainer but if someone has a N95 I don’t know if there’s any great need to fork out extra cash. If you only had an iPhone, a Flip would be a great addition.

I see Flip have updated their range to include a two-hour HD camera that appears a little bulkier but also a little cheaper, which may be an acceptable trade-off for some.

For a person caught needing quick web-ready video, either of these would do. If I suddenly needed a video quote off someone and only had the N95 with me, I wouldn’t panic as I know it would do the job. Similarly if I’m a reporter running about with space for only one bit of kit, the phone wins it as it does more than just be a camera. Both are capable and competent for the job of YouTube-sized web video. It just so happens that one can also do audio, calls and a million other things – and is cheaper.

There are other cameras that some consider including the Creative Vado HD and Kodak Zi6. Here’s some links to other reviews of them – Flip Mino HD (vs Creative Vado HD and Kodak Zi6) and Flip Mino HD, Kodak Zi6, Griffin Clarifi. Those are both video reviews but a fantastic text review (with screengrabs) can be found here.

Anyway, if anyone has decent examples of what these pieces of kit can do, feel free to post examples in the comments section.

Nokia’s chance to be the next Apple of journalism and PR – roundup of media phones for 2009

I’ve made no secret of my admiration for what the Nokia N95 can do as a reporting tool (or PR for that matter) – and the material gathered by the Manchester Evening News‘ Nicola Dowling validates that even further but the Nokia N97 looks like it could take things to the next level.

However it won’t be alone – though I think Nokia has a chance with the N95 and N97 to become to journalism and media gathering what the Apple and the Macintosh (along with Adobe and Quark) did to desktop publishing.

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What the future of journalism should be (AKA journalist makes new media work for him)

Jim Macmillan is a reporter (and other things) over in Philadelphia and he recently had a call to a fire. The rest of the tale is in the piece Just f8 and be there but basically, armed with an iPhone he was able to go and cover a story, file pics and be paid all before leaving the scene. 

This is the sort of thing newspapers should be looking at. When papers talk about training staff up for the new future of journalism, they should be getting in touch with Nokia and getting N95s for all staff (reason I say the N95 is that the N97 isn’t out yet and I think the N95 has more features than the iPhone as I showed in a review where I used the N95 as a reporting tool for covering T in the Park.)

Nokia N95 as a reporting/PR tool at T in the Park

I was up at T in the Park last month, helping out the Scottish Sun lads cover a few of the acts and I thought that it might give me a chance to properly evaluate Nokia’s N95 (the original, not the 8GB) as a tool for covering events.

I know Reuters had a fantastic kit for their N95 trials but I wanted to try it a little more basic, ie – the phone on a full charge and nothing else.

So how did it do? Let’s break this down into five areas: text, video, audio, pictures, phone in general.

As well as filing for The Sun, I wanted to be able to capture moments over the weekend and found Tweeting to be perfect for that. I used Twibble and it did the job – 95% of the time – perfectly. There was the odd Tweet dropped, but I don’t know if that was because of the network 3G connection or the software.
But sending Tweets worked as a great way of posting and maintaining the live feel of the event instead of writing after the event. It also gave me a great aide memoir when it came to writing the larger copy (indeed, the sub editors could have just copy and pasted from my Tweets if time had been a factor) as well as seeing what others, like Shaun Milne, were doing at T in the Park.

On the Sunday, time did become a factor in filing, but the N95s notes worked perfectly. I was able to write the review for Primal Scream as it was happening and file by email (sending notes as an attachment) instead of watching band and then heading back to the media area to file. It may have only saved 20minutes or so, but being able to hit ‘send’ the second the band went off-stage at 10.50pm made life a little easier for the subs back in Glasgow.

So for text – and none of your predicative texting for me – and writing tweets/copy, it was a definite winner. But I would consider a folding keyboard next time, which would save me a laptop at all.

Given the nature of the event, you aren’t going to get a large tripod onto a N95, so I’ll let people judge the video for themselves. At various points on these videos, I’ve zoomed in and out to/from the maximum to give you an idea of the phone’s capabilities.

What’s quite apparent is that you couldn’t use it on an IMAX screen but for rough and ready footage on handhelds/laptops, it would do. It’s also convenient for the reporter/VJ as they aren’t carrying around anything bulky.

The sound was the surprising thing for me. I’ve certainly had worse bootlegs than what the N95 managed to record.

A BBC lad trying to film…

The Bacardi Breeze Dance Tent

Amy Winehouse plus crowd shots

Amy Winehouse with gradual zoom in/out

Primal Scream – in a tent

Two tests for the N95 in this area – as a dictaphone and as accompaniment for the video. On the latter, as I said above, it certainly did the job decently enough and as a dictaphone, it also did the job. I can’t provide a sample for a ridiculous reason but suffice to say that it was as good as anything else I’ve used in the field (T or any other) in the last 15 years.

Here’s an example of the sound quality from a recent (indoor) bash:

Joan Burnie at the 2008 Scottish Press Awards – m4a format
Joan Burnie at the 2008 Scottish Press Awards – wavformat

(Thanks to Lynn Hunter, formerly of Macdonald Hotels for the invite to that event)

I’m rubbish at pictures, so I’ll let others judge these. What I would say is that at times the N95 felt slow to get the picture that I was going for and other times I had no idea it was taking pictures (but we can put that down to user error)

12072008121Punter at T in the Park

(more pictures here.)

My feeling was that you could perhaps use it to capture general pictures but it wouldn’t be any use for catching a quick moment – someone jumping off stage, punching someone, that sort of thing – but again, you wouldn’t be asking the snapper to go out with it.

I wanted something that would do the job, saving me having to carry a notepad, pen, pencil, recorder and various other gadgets (still carried a notepad and pen/pencils though – always need the backup!) and it worked really well. I was able to stand during acts and fire off notes or Tweets, that could be used later as part of the larger write-ups.

The battery life was fantastic. It was charged up on the Friday and that lasted until the Monday morning (4am) and that was with video and audio recording, 3G hammering, phone calls, Tweets, the lot. In fact my biggest worry, and still is, is how much Orange is going to thump me for using the 3G. I’m on their £35 a month tariff and it certainly doesn’t compare to the iPhone O2 tariff.

I’ve used the N95 at a bundle of events now and it’s just a fantasticly rugged device. Every journalist/PR should have one.

N95 v iPhone
In case anyone was wondering: would the iPhone have been better for the event? In all honesty – and this is speaking as someone who wants an iPhone – not a chance. While the keyboard, screen and UI may have made life a lot easier, there would have been no audio recording (this was pre-App Store), definitely no video and I would guess – but that’s all it is – that the pictures wouldn’t have been as sharp.

And then there’s the battery issue. It would never have lasted. And yes, there may have been charging points at the media village and back at the hotel, but in journalism/PR it’s not outwith the realms of possibility to be on the go for a long period of time. Given that T in the Park started on the Friday night and there were incidents over the weekend, it’s entirely possible that a reporter/PR operative may not have got back to a place to charge. A spare battery is one solution – but not for the iPhone.

There’s also the issue of sturdyness. I dropped the N95 a few times and was never worried. If I had dropped an iPhone I would have been calling the cops to get it back safe.

The N95 is a far from perfect phone, but for people who like the option of catching a lot of data – mobile journalists, web 2.0 PRs and so on – it can do a lot without you needing to carry a lot of gear. And when I pick up an iPhone, I’ll be keeping the N95 as my mediaworkhorse.

O2 cock up iPhone 3G Launch?

There’s a PR point to this one: According to The Register and the comments people are leaving O2 stores and an Apple store after waiting up to two hours for their new phones – and leaving not only empty handed, but also giving negative interviews to reporters.


Surely after last year, someone saw this coming? Yes, the phone didn’t launch great here last year but this was the version – and at a price point – that everyone could get behind.

The PR response seems quote interesting though – more or less a denial that there’s a problem while people are going online and saying there is a problem, but from O2 there appears to be no attempt to counter the online moaning. Surely they have a team monitoring and countering this stuff? That’s basic in this day and age. If I was them I’d have someone right now logging on to every blog and forum where there is a moan and countering it. Or at least be honest and upfront with people.

iPhone gets media friendly with iPhone 3G

Well, the new iPhone is out (let’s be honest, we don’t need hyperlinks for this one) and while the 3G and unlimited data plans will make it a winner for most, there’s a couple of other add-ons available via the Apps Store (via iTunes as with all things Apple) that make it an improvement on what has gone before for media types (and, as far as I know, most of these work on the original iPhone).

There appears to be at least three voice recorders – ranging in price from 99p to £6 – which is such a basic omission I really don’t know why Apple left it out. The only questions remaining are what audio format they use (and quality), if they sync over to your mac/PC for editing and if they also record phone calls as well as chats.

There also appears to be a form of file manager, which goes a long way to address the concerns of those who moan that they can’t use their iPods/iPod Touches as a storage device. Again, there’s a couple of questions involved in how it works, but again, it’s an improvement on something Apple inexplicably removed from these iPods.

The NY Times has also managed to bring out a nice iPod-friendly version of its paper, which begs the question of why no paper from the UK thought about doing the same. Given the size of the code, I can’t imagine it was a programming nightmare to do and it would have been nice bragging. (and yes I know a few online editors think that the size of the screen means most people will surf about. I think for a year or two yet, it might be nice to have mobile only versions).

The one thing that surprises me by not being there is a version of MS Office. I really thought MS would have had something in there for kick off in a friendly style format.

For me though, it’s still a no-buy for a few reasons:

1) My N-95 has a built in video camera and 5M camera. The ‘JesusPhone’ doesn’t. Now the video may not be HD quality, but it’s decent and there are a lot of impromptu times in my life where I need a video camera and regardless of what some people say, you just can’t always lug about another piece of kit.

2) Why would I go from a decent 5M to a decent 2M camera? That makes no sense at all. This is the one area of the iPhone where you can tell it was designed for the US market and not abroad because everyone on this side of the world left 2M cameras behind ages ago. Heck in Asia they are on to 8M.

3) Stuck on an Orange 18 month contract (1 year to go). Even if I wasn’t I probably wouldn’t for the above reasons, but as I’m going to go into a rant about this lot soon, let me just say that anyone who isn’t an Orange customer: you lucky gits. There has never been a company so awkward and hellish to deal with as a customer.

(and for those of you sick of the iPhone, The Register has a list of competitor phones here.)

AP suddenly gains 10million reporters thanks to the iPhone

Well, how long before the BBC nab this idea? As part of the iPhone 2.0/iPhone 3G release, it’s been revealed that AP has an app ready for it which will let you submit pics and text to them (which has been greeted by some) but how will these people get paid or is web2.0 being used again to drive nothing more than some free pics and text? And who’s the poor soul who will have to wade through all of the content for quality?

And never mind the current rows over net neutrality and the iPlayer eating bandwidth. Once the iPhone does video, that AP link will get swamped – especially as by the time we get to v3 of the iPhone – there may well be 15million plus people using it.

(thoughts on the upgrade to the iPhone: it’s a nicer piece of kit now at a far more sensible price, but I’ll stick with Nokia’s N95. The UI might be an absolute dog, the GPS may be horrific and Orange may be complete ripoff pricing merchants with a terrible sales service – in store and on phone – but the ability to forward emails, attach a keyboard and record video/audio make it the better workhorse for now.)

I wonder though…is there a future in this for newspapers. Say, a newspaper did a tie-in with Apple and a mobile network. Joe Punter gets a free iPhone and cheap rate in return for filing stories…I wonder if that could work. Would the paper get a boost if you tied in hard-copy sales to keeping your phone?