Review: Clarion Mind's GPS features nice, but MID is still a hard sell


As a GPS navigator with capable entertainment and computing features, Clarion's Mind justifies its $650 price tag. But it's otherwise a difficult hybrid that excels at nothing. Like a smartphone without the phone or a netbook without a keyboard, it doesn't quite nail the sweet spot assumed to lie between the two forms.

A mobile internet device (MID) with extras, the Mind is a handheld computer built around an 800 MHz Intel Atom CPU. It has 512MB of RAM, 4GB of storage, Wifi and bluetooth. It has a 4.8" touchscreen with an 800x480 display resolution. There are two USB ports, a microSD card slot, a standard headphone jack and three one-touch buttons to help navigate the system quickly. The battery lasts between 90 minutes and 2 hours depending on settings: a double-capacity one is available. It comes with a dashboard mounting kit.

It's jacket-pocketable, and runs a well-tailored cut of Linux that makes menu navigation a snap.

First, the good. Firefox with Adobe Flash shows the web the way it should be seen. GPS is fast, smooth and high-res, if not as polished or feature-packed as dedicated GPS devices in its price range.

Apart from Firefox, there's email, RealPlayer, YouTube, a weather tracker, a text editor, calculator and file manager. It displays news from CNN and the BBC. All work well enough, though the news and email apps lack advanced features.

Google Earth is particularly impressive, thanks to the extra horsepower. The Mind's touchscreen is OK, but you'll need the stylus to get at tiny scroll bars and such.

Then there's the bad: it's boxy and lacks the panache of the fancy GPS devices and media players that it combines into one box. There are no applications or other add-ons to download or buy. There's no Windows-like desktop to switch to: "appliance" is coded in its DNA. The on-screen keyboard is basic, making complex text entry a pain.

Though a 3G version will be offered next year, the Mind is currently limited to WiFi unless you hook it up another way via Bluetooth. This further limits its appeal: without always-on internet, there's less reason to leave the car, house or hotspot with it. The battery life is poor.

Against sleek smartphones or netbooks that have 6-hour batteries and real keyboards, it's hard to see the Mind's appeal. That said, if you've been waiting for a convergence device that properly handles turn-by-turn GPS, media and the web, you're running out of excuses.

Product Page [Amazon]

Published by Rob Beschizza

Follow Rob @beschizza on Twitter.

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