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Saturday, April 16, 2011

A 10-Point Flip Review for Beginners - As We Kiss It Goodbye

EXPERIMENTAL POP THAT ROCKS: I caught up with Matthew, Grant, Steven and Oliver of Behind Sapphire an hour or so before their March 29, 2011, gig at the Exchange Community Church in downtown Winnipeg. Missing is Lindsay. Video was taken with my Flip Ultra HD just before dusk, largely with available light through large windows.

Look, I'm in love with my Flip Ultra HD. Can you blame me?

Sure, Cisco killed this little one-function wonder this week just a month after I got mine. Guess they figured 15% growth wasn't good enough - or maybe they just weren't cool enough, I'm not sure. But I'm definitely in hello mode: and nowhere near abandoning it yet.

I heard about these simple camcorders from following teachers and PR people on Twitter. Grabbing quick interviews seemed so easy: get in close, push the big red button, get your subject to speak up, and voilá - clean, no frills video for your blog, website or social networks.

So, thanks to some Air Miles points that had been languishing in my account, I took delivery of this magical little machine about a month ago and have been testing it ever since.

I'm so impressed.

Oh, the Flip is not perfect. Plenty of nits to pick at a time when just about everyone can shoot video with their smartphones. But for someone wanting to cut his teeth on video, it's perfect enough.

Here are my observations on this hard-working gadget whose untimely demise won't keep me from enjoying it:

1) The first thing that strikes you is how a little box with no moving parts can deliver such great video. When you first flip the USB out and attach the the Flip to your computer, you can instantly appreciate the quality.

2) Natural light is by far what you want to shoot in. The colours are great and the images are sharp and clear. Life is good - and good lighting makes it even better.

3) Results in hotel lighting are a mixed bag. In dimly-lit rooms, you'll get results that are less focussed, grainy, and complexions turn ruddy. Brighter lighting in lobbies and hallways will alleviate some of this, but nothing comes close to the beauty of natural light.

4) Use the modest zoom sparingly. Image crispness drops off sharply on maximum.

5) If you're shooting very close - desktop stuff for example - the Flip's fixed focus will give you fuzzy results. (How's that for alliteration?) If you want to shoot a demo of an app on your iPhone or iPad, the blurriness is frustrating. The solution is to simply hold a decent magnifying glass in front of the lens. Graceless yes, but it works.

6) There is no direct jack for an external mike, so you're stuck with the one on the camera. But if you're interviewing subjects up close, the Flip balances the sound in front of and behind the camera rather well - much better than the iPhone's biased mike.

7) There are two workarounds for sound, though. One is to buy an external stereo mike that plugs into the bottom of your Flip. You can plug an external mike into that. The other is to buy the FreedomMIC from Scosche. This little beast plugs into the bottom as well, but receives sound from up to 100 ft. from its wireless lapel mike. The Freedom Mike is a bit of a unicorn, though. There was plenty of talk about them during a Sept. 10 newser last year, but no one has yet seen the mythical mike instore. Hmm, did they get wind of the Flip's impending demise?

8) I love the fact that there is no DVD to pop in. The Flipshare software is uploaded from the camera to your computer through the unit's USB. No need to carry around a charger either. Just plug the USB into your laptop or desktop.

9) As for juice, The Flip comes with a rechargeable battery pack, but in a pinch you can snap in three lithium AAAs - so practical.

10) The editor that comes with the Flip Share software is simple and limited. The titles, for example, are big and dumpy and the editing features are primitive. But the software does make it easy for you to upload your videos to social networks and share them with family and friends.

Even though I sense a more sophisticated around the corner for me, I'm still in the honeymoon phase with this simple, single-function gadget. Prices have already dropped on the website making them a great buy for beginners like me. And to supplement my baby steps in video with the Flip, I'll be buying Sony Vegas Movie Maker HD or Final Cut Express to cut my teeth on editing.

Hey, you can still learn a lot without breaking the bank, right?

Check out Behind Sapphire on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube and iTunes.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Why I Can't Be Faithful to One Twitter App

I can't be faithful to just one Twitter app. Sure I can point to a favorite depending on the platform, but I would never stick with just one.

I love Echofon on the iPad because of the way it displays the lists of people I'm following and who are following me. People I follow are listed in alpha order making it easy to scroll through and find exactly who I'm looking for. My followers are listed chronologically. No other app presents this info better - it's a must see.

The whole Echofon experience is simple, easy, a pleasure to use - and I love the bright theme.

But I rarely use Echofon on my iPhone, though, because I just can't bump up the font size big enough for my tastes (can you please fix that, guys?). A larger font feels like my visual home, and Echofon just can't take me there on the iPhone.

TweetDeck is awesome on my laptop and desktop, because I can run those great notifications in the background. It's the undisputed powerhouse when it comes to features and ideal for participating in #edchat and other education-related discussions. When you first graduate to TweetDeck it's pretty heady stuff seeing that flight deck with multiple columns and fancying yourself a power user.

On the iPad, though, TweetDeck takes much too long to load. I can't fit as many columns on it as on the desktop and I'm much more limited to the amount of tweets I can see at once.

TweetDeck for the iPhone is a complete wash for me. What it does so brilliantly on the laptop or desktop, just isn't possible on the smaller screen - so why bother?

I love Twitter on my iPhone, and use it almost exclusively. I can kick the font size up, I feel comfortable with the pull-down-to-reload feature and I love the translation option which lets me follow Japanese speaking astronauts or tweets from Arab countries and actually find out what they're saying.

On the iPad, I don't know if it's Twitter's dark theme, the horizontal swiping or what, but it just doesn't turn my crank. I know I'm not alone in feeling that the iPad iteration wasn't as brilliant as the one for the iPhone.

And the Twitter desktop app? Despite the new look and functionality, it still remains the least efficient way to tweet. Its only value, in my books, is when demo-ing Twitter at workshops. There is little point using anything else because it really is the entry point for newbies and the interface most will use to start tweeting.

Switching Between Apps
That having been said, I have switched and will continue to switch between these apps depending on the need and the mood.

All of which has me worried about Twitter's objective of buying up the universe of third-party apps with which to tweet.

I don't want one app, built by one group of people, however brilliant, to be THE Twitter experience for me and the only tool I will ever be able to tweet with. I love the variation in looks, purpose and function.

After letting the genie - and the genius - out of the bottle by initially making the Twitter API open to everyone, why would you want to lock up all of that power and diversity and shove it back into just one container?