Clarion MiND Review

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Pros: Large, easy-to-read icons ; Good performance ; Lightweight ; Loud, clear audio

Cons: Hard to see display when outdoors ; Small storage capacity ; Short battery life ; No video-out

Verdict: Clarion's affordable mobile Internet device puts GPS, multimedia, and the Web in the palm of your hand, but we wish it offered longer battery life.

Part navigation system, part entertainment machine, the Clarion Mobile Internet Navigation Device (or MiND) is a highly portable handheld that can serve as a media player, GPS device, or secondary PC. Available for just over $200, the MiND is a solid and relatively inexpensive mobile companion device, but we wish it were a bit more pocket-friendly and lasted longer on a charge.

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Design

Measuring 6.6 x 3.7 x 0.9 inches, the trapezoidal Clarion MiND is roughly the same dimensions as the Viliv S5, and too large to easily slide into a pants pocket. However, at just 9.6 ounces, is almost 5.0 ounces lighter than the S5. The gray and black plastic shell (it also comes in red or white) is quite sturdy, giving the device a solid in-hand feel.

The face of the device is made of a glossy plastic that picks up its fair share of fingerprints. Three illuminated, touch-sensitive keys let you tinker with system options (such as Bluetooth, screen brightness, and Wi-Fi), adjust the volume, and return to the home screen. Unfortunately, there's no kickstand to keep the MiND propped up when on a tabletop, which would have been useful for extending viewing sessions.

On its right side you'll find two USB 2.0 ports, and headphone and power jacks; the top houses a power button, and a built-in microSD Card reader. The back has a slot for storing the bundled (and chintzy) stylus, a speaker, and rubber feet for keeping it from sliding when placed on a tabletop. Unfortunately, the MiND lacks video-out functionality, so you have to watch your favorite content on the display (the Viliv S5 , on the other hand, has a TV-out port).

On the bottom you'll find an expansion port that can be used to attach such devices as the NK1U car dock. At $299, this docking station costs more than the device itself, but with it you get free lifetime traffic information, the ability to hear voice guidance from your car's speakers, and automatic day/night screen switching.

Display and Audio

The 4.8-inch, 800 x 480-pixel resolution touchscreen looks good from a variety of angles, but like early netbooks that sported the same resolution, some annoying horizontal scrolling is required in order to take in the full width of a Web page. This isn't an issue with the Viliv S5, a MID that sports a sharp 1024 x 600-pixel resolution display (although that device costs a much steeper $799). Video playback when watching an MPEG-4 video at full screen was smooth, but colors lacked vibrancy. It seemed like there was a slight white film over everything; the blue in a person's shirt looked faded, and skin tones were washed out. When taken outdoors, the MiND's screen becomes nearly unreadable in direct sunlight; we had to keep the device positioned squarely in front of us.

However, the touchscreen responded well to both stylus and finger input. We liked that the keys on its virtual keyboard were larger than those on the Viliv S5, which made it easier to accurately press buttons. We would've liked the inclusion of the Alt and Ctrl keys that the Viliv S5 possesses, but their omission isn't a huge loss.

The MiND's built-in speakers delivered surprisingly loud and clear audio, but low-end sounds were lacking. Its Bluetooth 2.0 + EDR radio came in handy, letting us wirelessly send music to a pair of Samsung BS300 headphones; Gil-Scott Heron's "We Almost Lost Detroit" was clear and fairly loud, but much like the experience of listening through the speakers, the tune lacked significant bass.

Interface

Upon booting the MiND, you're presented with the home screen, which is sectioned into two major parts. The majority of the display consists of five easy-to-read blue and green icons displayed in a Cover Flow-like fashion, which we were able to swiftly page through using our fingers. These menu selections provide fast connections to e-mail, MySpace, navigation, news, Portal Sync (an application that lets you download software upgrades), weather, YouTube, and a tweaked version of the Firefox 3 Web browser.

Above this content section is a toolbar that allowed us to check the time and battery life, raise and lower volume, check wireless connectivity signals, and change settings. Despite the plethora of icons and information areas, the interface was surprisingly easy to read and navigate.

Storage

Packing a tiny 4GB solid state drive, the MiND doesn't offer much in the way of storage for anyone who's amassed a sizeable multimedia library. The system's microSD slot officially accepts 2GB cards, but cards as large as 8GB may also work. If you'd like additional storage, sign up for an MP3 Tunes account (www.mp3tunes.com), which will allow you to to stream up to 2GB of music for free via the MiND's Music Sync application. Music that you upload to the account streams to your device when you connect to a Wi-Fi signal and launch the Music Sync app. You can purchase additional MP3 Tunes storage in 50GB ($4.95 per month/$39.95 per year), 100GB ($7.95 per month/$74.95 per year), or 200GB ($12.95 per month/$139 per year) capacities. Regardless, the paltry amount of onboard storage is frustrating.

Performance

Even though the MiND has a low-powered 1.6-GHz Intel Atom processor and a scant 512MB of RAM, the Red Flag Linux operating system moved along at a brisk pace. We had no problems surfing the Web, launching the e-mail application, or navigating the file system (even with multiple programs open). When we connected a 250GB Seagate FreeAgent Go portable hard drive, the MiND's file manager automatically launched, allowing us to rifle through data on the drive. A taskbar at the bottom of the screen let us copy and delete files without a hitch, but we found it odd that we couldn't double-click on a file to open it; we had to first click the file, and then tap the Open button.

Multimedia

The Clarion MiND includes a handy app to convert images from JPEG into BMP or PNG formats; after clicking the Image Convert icon, we were able to convert a 1.8MB JPEG into a BMP or PNG in 12 and 10 seconds, respectively. Unfortunately, the device lacks a similar program to convert videos in the same fashion.

The MiND is compatible with a nice variety of audio (unprotected AAC, MP3, OGG, Real Audio, unprotected WMA), video (H.264, MPEG-4, VC-1, unprotected WMV), and photo (BMP, JPEG, PNG) formats. The included RealPlayer software allowed us to access the music, photos, and videos that we had transferred to the device. Clicking on the Music icon let us sort our songs by artist, album, and most frequently played; tapping Video displayed all of the stored video files; Photo showcased all of our pictures. We liked that we could flick our finger across the surface of the touchscreen to page through images.

Web Browsing and Streaming Video

Unlike the majority of Web browsers, the one included with the MiND has its toolbar positioned on the bottom, which was designed for ease of use when the MiND is brought on car trips. Although it was initially confusing, after a few minutes we were surfing the Web as though it were second nature. Icons in the toolbar allowed us to open new tabs, key in URLs using an on-screen keyboard, and zoom in/out using either a sliding bar or clicking the plus and minus keys.

As its browser is based on Firefox, the MiND also supports Flash, so we were able to access sites such as Hulu. While streaming an episode of Family Guy, we saw occasional stuttering, but it wasn't enough to sully the experience. However, at full screen, the stuttering increased to the point where it became distracting.

Navigation

After we clicked the Navigation icon, the MiND quickly found our midtown Manhattan location, and prompted us to either input a search query (to find a local point of interest) or input an address. We typed in "Thai Food," and the device returned results of several Thai places within a few blocks of us. Each result was accompanied with a phone number, star review rating, and an option to plot out a path to the location, complete with turn-by-turn voice directions. (You can customize the directions based on whether you're walking or driving.)

The MiND's maps--both 2D and 3D--looked basic, but brightly colored. We liked that gas stations had branded icons, but wish that other points of interest were displayed in a similar fashion. However, even if you click directly on the icon, only the general address appears; you don't get specific information, such as a phone number or Web address.

If you sign up for a free MyClarion account, Google Maps destinations can be sent to the device (when you're connected to a Wi-Fi hotspot) by clicking GPS, selecting Clarion, and entering your MyClarion account information (you must launch Portal Sync, the software update application, to retrieve the map).

The free Traffic service--available only when you purchase the optional dock--rates various roads near you on a congestion scale of 1 to 10 (with 10 being the worst). When we fired it up during New York City's 5 p.m. evening rush hour, we discovered that the westbound Sunrise Highway to Belt Parkway connection on Long Island was severely backed up (10), but the MiND didn't present alternate routes, which would have been helpful for drivers unfamiliar with the area.

Wi-Fi

Although the Red Flag Linux operating system wouldn't allow us to run our standard Wi-Fi test, the MiND performed well in our time with the system. It was a snap to connect to a Wi-Fi signal, but Hulu's main page took a lengthy 18 seconds (on average) to fully load during multiple visits. Fortunately, the MiND took less time to render other Web sites: An episode of Family Guy took 8 seconds to load, CNN.com took 15 seconds, NYTimes.com took 11 seconds, and ESPN.com and Laptopmag.com each took 13 seconds.

Battery Life and Warranty

We suggest keeping a power cord handy when using the MiND. Our standard LAPTOP Battery Test wouldn't function within the Red Flag Linux environment, but the MID lasted 1.5 hours with frequent use throughout the day. When we decided to loop The Dirtbombs' "I Hear Sirens" MP3 (at 50 percent volume) while the MiND was connected to our office Wi-Fi signal, the handheld lasted a paltry 1 hour and 13 minutes before needing a charge. The Viliv S5, on the other hand, lasted just over 5:30 on the same test. Users can purchase an extended battery for $149; Clarion says this will extend endurance for up to 4.5 hours.

Clarion covers the MiND with a one-year warranty and 10:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. (EST), Monday to Friday (except holidays) tech support.

Video Comparison:Clarion MiND and Viliv S5

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Verdict

At $210, the Clarion MiND is cheaper than most netbooks, but is $70 more than the 8GB iPod touch, which has a wider array of applications, as well as available GPS. Whether you'll find the MiND a better investment depends on whether you can overlook its small storage and short endurance for its larger screen. If you prefer a pocket-size PC that can run Windows, check out the $799 Viliv S5, which can run nearly six hours on a charge. Still, if you're looking for a GPS device that can do a lot more than your typical navigator, the MiND is a solid choice.

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Laptop Mag & Tom's Hardware
CPU 1.6-GHz Intel Atom Z500
RAM Included 512MB
RAM Upgradeable
Storage Drive Size 4GB
Storage Drive Type SSD
Display Size 4.8
Display Resolution 800x480
Graphics Chip Intel GMA 500
Graphics Memory
Wi-Fi 802.11b/g
Has Bluetooth Yes
OS Red Flag Linux
Ports Headphone
USB Ports 2
Card Readers microSD
Warranty / Support One-year warranty/toll-free, 10:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. (EST), Monday to Friday, except holidays
Size 6.6 x 3.7 x 0.9 inches
Weight 9.6 ounces
Company Website http://www.clarion.com