Sitting on the Samsung Mondi

John Walton
Cell Phone Editor
| August 17, 2009

I've been sitting on the Samsung Mondi for nearly a month now. In that time I've played with the device on two occasions. Each time, I wished for WiMAX coverage, and each time I went without. Samsung can hardly be blamed for poor Clearwire service in Portland, so I'll try not to let it get in the way of my review. But it is difficult to justify the purchase of a mobile product for which there is virtually no data outside of Wi-Fi. Obviously, WiMAX will come into its own one day, but by then I hope there are some better options in terms of the products that will work with 4G.

The Mondi is a cool idea. It's a 4.88" x 3.03" x 0.63" Mobile Internet Device (MID) with VoIP. It comes equipped with software like Fring so you can make pretty decent phone calls over Wi-Fi or 4G. The 4.3 inch touch screen and custom Windows Mobile UI make for a fairly pleasant user experience, but there are just as many cons as there are pros in this area. The interface consists primarily of a three-dimensional rectangle that you flick up or down so you can look at different faces. Generally, once looking at a face, you can swipe left or right to make your way through whatever is available on that face. It's a brilliant and effective method for navigating the device, but there are aspects that work against you.

For instance, certain elements of the UI - such as the nearly microscopic list scroll bar - require you press right up to the edge of the screen, This would be fine except that the plastic around the screen is raised. I found my self struggling to get my finger into that tiny little nook on several occasions. Similarly frustrating is the grid-style, sliding hardware QWERTY, the top keys of which are blocked by the screen that protects them when closed. It doesn't slide far enough past the keyboard, so whenever you try to hit Q through P that sliding panel plays strong defense. The virtual QWERTY isn't much of an alternative.

The two most positive aspects of the custom UI are the much needed makeover of the Windows Task Manager, which is accessed by a dedicated button (thank you, Samsung!) and the aforementioned three-dimensional rectangle that your homescreens sit on with customized widgets. The interface is smooth and lovely, and the Mondi definitely gets some points in my book for taking some cues from HTC and making Windows Mobile 6.1... (can I say it?) sexy. (cont.)

Samsung Mondi

The Mondi ships with a suction cup mount so it can easily be used as a GPS navigation device. This is great and cool, but I can't stand the navigation software, Route 66. It was clunky, inaccurate, and sluggish when I tried to use it. Considering the odd niche I suspect the Mondi is trying to squeeze into, I don't think GPS is an area where Samsung should be skimping. After all, this thing is way too big to comfortably lug around in your pocket on a daily basis. However, If I was going on vacation to a *well covered* WiMAX city (non-existent), I'd love to have a Mondi in the car - assuming I could install a better Nav program.

Is it ready to replace your cell phone? No way. Even if 4G were blanketing the nation right now, I couldn't recommending dumping a slim phone for something so bulky. But I don't think that's what Samsung was going for here. Sure, this thing can make calls, IM, send emails and sync your Outlook Calendar, but the 4 Gigs of internal memory, 800 X 480 screen, kickstand, and tv out make this one a media device. Bundle that with the car mount kit, and it feels like a road-tripper to me.

In the end, Mondi isn't quite right for me in terms of something I'd use on a daily basis to get things done. However, if I had some coin to *spare* (non-existent) and wanted a toy for the road, I might consider it. That is, if 4G were in place with strong, broad coverage. If I did get one, it would stay in the car, sitting in the handy windshield mount. Because, as Sascha Segan put it in his review for PC MAG, The Mondi is a "full-featured handheld computer in a form factor nobody wants." I'd agree with that to a certain extent. It's not a form factor I want in my pocket - that's for sure. And at $450, I'm not sure it's something I'd feel safe leaving in my car. I'd also feel like I wasn't getting my money's worth because I'd need a phone as well.

I was really excited about the Mondi when I first laid eyes on it. Maybe that's what I've been waiting for in procrastinating this review: a return of the enthusiasm I felt when I first held the device. But it hasn't returned. And while I have had fun playing with the Mondi, it wasn't $450 worth of fun. If you don't mind spending $450 to occupy your kids for several hundered miles at a time, check out some other reviews - this one might be right for you.

Mondi represents a strong jumping off point for a series of 4G MIDs(?) But like Clearwire's 4G service, concept does not a product make. Fill in the holes, polish the rough edges, and I'll be back for another shot, Samsung. This time around, I'll have to pass.

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