If you’re getting tired of squinting at your video iPod’s small screen – or if you’ve been put off purchasing a video iPod by the small screen – Memorex’s new iFlip 8.4in portable video system for iPod (also known as the Mi8000-BLK) might be the solution.
The iFlip is a portable video player featuring an 8.4in LCD that works with fifth-generation iPods. The 2.5lb unit enables you to watch your iPod’s videos on a much larger (if not sharper) screen, and can also serve as a video conduit between an iPod and a TV. It has two external speakers, but it’s designed primarily with video viewing, not music listening, in mind.
The iFlip includes cradle adaptors for the 30GB and 60/80GB iPods. After plugging in the appropriate cradle, the iPod slips into it and docks with the iFlip. The cradle then folds down so that the iPod is flush with the iFlip’s body. This makes it awkward to access video controls – although screen controls such as contrast, brightness, and aspect ratio are accessed via buttons on the iFlip’s right side, all video-playback functions require the use of the iPod’s own click wheel.
Apple’s video-capable iPods pack a 320 x 240-pixel viewing area into a 2.5in screen. However, the iPod itself is capable of outputting to 640 x 480 on an external device (usually a television). The iFlip’s screen, although much larger than the iPod’s, doesn’t up the quality ante all that much – its 480 x 234-pixel resolution provides approximately one and a half times the iPod screen’s pixels. Despite the higher resolution, some videos actually appear less sharp on the iFlip than on the iPod, because the pixels are spread out over a much larger area. Thus, some videos downloaded from YouTube, which are usually very pleasant to watch on the iPod’s small screen, are almost unwatchable on the iFlip – in some cases sharp contrast is exaggerated, in others the images are much too pixilated, and in others the colours are washed out.
However, watching short, low-quality videos is not what the iFlip is really designed for. TV shows, movies, and shorts and video podcasts downloaded from the iTunes Store look fine – the widescreen short film The Shovel starring David Straithairn, for example, looked beautiful on the iFlip’s screen. On the other hand, watching a Malcolm Gladwell TedTalks podcast revealed a splotchy background; what should have been solid black was interspersed with whitish pixel clouds, which is not a trivial concern if you view a lot of talking head-style videos on your iPod.
The iFlip also has a few design problems. When we first received the shiny black unit, which has a clamshell case, it was unclear how to open it, because there are no release slides or buttons. We tried just lifting the lid, but it didn’t want to go very far, and we didn’t want to break it. It took us a while to figure out that the stuck lid was simply a stuck lid, and some force allowed us to open it in a herky-jerky way. A spring release – or even some good old WD-40 – would have made for a more pleasant experience. We didn’t like the feeling that we might be breaking the screen off a fairly expensive product.
Starting videos is also an odd experience (especially if you have headphones on), because the unit emits a bleep and then a loud spinning noise upon startup of your iPod. It’s a very analogue sound for an all-digital setup. We also noticed an audible hiss while playing most videos. Sometimes this hiss was quite pronounced, and it was quite annoying while watching music videos.
The iFlip has its charms, though. For example, it’s small enough for comfortable in-bed viewing. You can watch videos in either widescreen (16:9) or regular (4:3) aspect ratios. The unit also boasts two headphone jacks, an S-Video-out port (mini-to-S-Video cable included), an audio line-out port (stereo cable included), and a rechargeable lithium-ion battery that powers the iFlip for almost six hours. (The battery takes about five hours to charge via the included AC adaptor.) Memorex has also made it easy to connect the iFlip to a TV, making your iPod a nifty video server, and the video output can be superb when used this way.
The iFlip isn’t a jack-of-all-trades product, but as an early starter in the video-iPod accessories game, it does a fair job of making iPod viewing more pleasant. A higher-quality display and less audio noise would go a long way towards making this a must-have gadget.