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Home > MID and UltraMobile Handheld Reviews > Samsung Mondi

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Samsung Mondi

Editor's rating (1-5): rating starrating starrating star
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What's hot: Large display, capable mobile office.

What's not: WiMAX service is in its infancy.

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Reviewed December 21, 2009 by Lisa Gade, Editor in Chief

I get the whole handheld computer and ultramobile device space, from the Samsung Nexio of old to the Nokia N810 to today's Samsung Mondi. I don't believe these devices are the answer to a problem nobody had. There are indeed folks who need lightweight mobile computing in their pocket: in the physical sense and in the OS sense. The Mondi is larger than a smartphone but only an ounce or so heavier. It runs Windows Mobile 6.1 Classic so it's instant-on, unlike netbooks. The 4.3" screen is much better suited to web browsing, document viewing and video playback than small-screened phones. The large hardware keyboard makes email and remote access easier. But here's the dilemma: smartphones have gotten larger and more powerful and now they too can handle the jobs done by MIDs (Mobile Internet Device) and make phone calls too (the Mondi doesn't have a cell radio). Samsung knows this too, and so the Mondi has a trump card: WiMAX 4G for faster wide area networking.

Samsung Mondi

 

Why WiMAX?

Alas, Samsung makes the device but not the network so they're counting on the likes of Clear (Clearwire) and soon Time Warner and Sprint to make that network hum. It ain't there yet, and we're not sure it will ever be compelling now that HSDPA 7.2Mbps is hitting metro areas with HSPA + (21Mbps) coming in 2010 on T-Mobile and LTE looming for Verizon and AT&T. When WiMAX was first touted more than 3 years ago the speeds sounded impressive to a world plodding along on EDGE and EV-DO Rev. 0, but now it's nothing special. Clear's service is currently available in Portland and Salem Oregon, Boise, Las Vegas, several Texas cities including Dallas, Atlanta, the Seattle metro area, Greensboro, Charlotte, Raleigh, Philadelphia, Honolulu and Maui. Though Clear offers home (indoor) and mobile coverage packages, we haven't gotten a decent signal indoors yet in the Dallas and Portland coverage areas. WiMAX requires significant base station density (more dense than cell networks) and at 2.5GHz it's high enough in the spectrum to have trouble with building penetration. Outdoors in a car or at a sidewalk cafe we had no problem getting a 50% signal, but in a house we managed maybe 1 bar with service drops if we wandered too far from a window. Forget hanging out in a large corporate building or big box store unless there's a WiMAX repeater. We hope things will improve, but it's going to take time and money to build out a strong WiMAX network.

Samsung Mondi

Clear has quite a few service plans (and enough overlapping ones to be confusing) but there is a specific Mondi unlimited plan that's currently $35/month for the first 6 months and $45 for the remaining 1.5 years. Download speeds aren't limited as they are on some of Clear's other plans (current max download speeds are approximately 6Mbps (which is slower than WiFi 802.11b's 10 Mbps) and 1 Mbps upload speeds. There is no data cap on this plan. The bad news? They're doing things cell phone style and Clear requires a 2 year contract to get these rates. Month to month rates are higher. Clearly at this point, you're paying a fairly expensive monthly fee for broadband wireless that's not available in many metro areas, nor is it blisteringly fast.

Samsung Mondi

The iPhone 3GS and Samsung Mondi.

 

 

 

 

Deals and Shopping

 

 

 

 

A Closer Look at the Mondi

Enough about WiMAX, let's take a look at the Mondi itself. The device looks and feels well-made though we wouldn't call it chic and stylish. It's solid, the QWERTY slider is robust and the keyboard is quite good. It certainly feels worth the $449 price, which is comparable to a touch screen smartphone price without contract extension. The Mondi reminds us of a larger Motorola Droid, with its black rectangular business looks and slide-out QWERTY. The Mondi's keyboard is much better than the Droid's: it's larger and the keys have more travel and tactile feedback. The devices have similar display resolutions but the Mondi's LCD is larger at 4.3", making text easier to read without zooming in. This is a resistive display rather than a capacitive display like that of the Droid and iPhone. That means you'll need to press harder and there's no multi-touch pinch zooming. The good news is that you can use a stylus (Windows Mobile 6.1 is easier to use with a stylus since it's not touch-optimized) or your fingernail to tap on small links and close boxes.

Samsung Mondi

The Mondi has stereo speakers on the top edge that sound reasonably good for a mobile device, a mic, a 3.5mm stereo headset jack (handy not just for music but also VoIP calls), a dedicated camera button and an easily accessible microSD card slot under a plastic door. The Samsung has a micro USB port for syncing and charging and like any Windows Mobile device it can sync over USB to Outlook and wirelessly to MS Exchange servers. A pop-out arm functions as a stand so you can watch videos with the Mondi on a desk or tray table (the Mondi supports a wide variety of video formats including Flash 8) and there are volume controls on the right side.

Though the Mondi is larger than today's bigger smartphones, it's clearly much smaller than a netbook and is pocketable if you have roomy pockets in loose-fitting garments. At 5.39 ounces, it weighs less than you'd expect of a device this size.

The Mondi is not a phone and it doesn't have a cell radio. That means no voice calls unless you use VoIP services like Skype. We tested the Mondi with Skype over both WiMAX and WiFi and it worked fine, even when using the built in speakers and mic (your caller will hear their voice echo back if you don't use the headset though). To use Skype on Windows Mobile you'll need to download and install the application. Each time you wish to use Skype you'll need to run the app and sign in-- there's no turnkey integration with the phone app as there is on the Nokia N900 since there is no phone app on the Mondi (once again, this isn't a phone).

Video Review

Here's our 8.5 minute video review of the Samsung Mondi that shows off the hardware, Samsung custom user interface, WiMAX speeds, the Opera web browser and more.

 

Performance and Horsepower

The Mondi uses Samsung's own ARM11 family S3C6410 CPU running at 800MHz. That's a lot of high-end processing power and the Mondi makes good use of it when playing back fairly high resolution video in MPEG4, DivX and other formats. We were surprised that the device sometimes lagged in Samsung's custom home screen, whose UI is attractive, finger-friendly and intuitive but not so full of eye candy that it should drag on performance (see our video review to check out the home screen UI). TouchWiz, Samsung's UI for touch screen phones is also on board and we have to wonder why: it really doesn't add to the experience and really slows down the device (fortunately, you need not run it).

After using the HTC HD2 with a 1GHz Snapdragon processor, and noting how that CPU helped speed Opera rendering times (making its EDGE connection feel much faster) we're surprised that neither the 800MHz Mondi nor Samsung Omnia II show much speed improvement in Opera Mobile 9.5. Opera runs about as quickly as on the average 528MHz Qualcomm CPU-- decent but not seriously fast. Samsung customized the Mondi and Opera to support Flash 8 content in the browser (no need for an external player). YouTube uses Flash 8 but Hulu uses Flash 9, so that means YouTube but no Hulu for you. Even over a fast WiFi connection, YouTube standard resolution video played jerkily at about 12 frames per second-- not ideal, but maybe better than nothing. Opera supports a max of 3 windows and oddly it won't let you run Opera and Internet Explorer Mobile concurrently though the OS and device otherwise support multi-tasking.

Samsung Mondi

The mobile equivalent of Windows programs that are standard on Windows Mobile are on board. Office Mobile and Outlook run quickly enough, and the high resolution screen makes reading and editing MS Office documents a pleasure. As a mobile office, the Mondi does the job. For those of you who are still very new to mobile computing, Windows Mobile runs mobile versions of Microsoft applications that have many but not all features of the desktop versions. You can't install programs meant for true Windows PCs and notebooks on a Windows Mobile device. You can download and install additional programs made for the WinMo platform, but you'll need to do that minus the Windows Mobile Marketplace which currently only supports Windows Mobile 6.5 (the Mondi runs 6.1 and there's no word of an upgrade).

The Mondi has 4 gigs of internal flash storage (nice) and an SDHC microSD card slot so you can carry plenty of business documents, maps and multimedia content on the device. It has 256 megs of RAM with 81 megs free at boot, which should be enough memory to keep the device running smoothly. We did notice instability when heavyweight applications were running. For example, we switched out of Route 66 navigation to turn on the WiMAX connection so we could look up POIs and the Mondi slowed to a crawl and had difficulty drawing the home screen background and Start Menu icon.

Camera and GPS

First: the good news. Samsung includes all the hardware you need to use the Mondi as an in-car GPS system: windshield mount and car charger. In fact, these items are handy if you work in a vertical market and need access to your device for any reason while in the car. The Mondi ships with Route 66 navigation software with maps of the US and Canada. Route 66 is more popular in Europe than the US but it nonetheless gives good turn-by-turn directions and has sharp maps. The bad news? The Mondi's GPS seems weak and we had difficulty getting a satellite fix. Indoors there was little hope but outdoors we could get a position fix. Tall buildings and heavy tree cover caused problems for the Mondi on the road but with clear skies it managed to keep up with our location.

The 3 megapixel main (rear) camera has an autofocus lens and it takes reasonably good shots for a camera of that resolution. The camera has face detection, smile detection and panorama mode as well as geotagging. It can shoot decent quality video with audio at VGA 640 x 480 and QVGA 320 x 240 resolutions at approximately 25 fps. The front-facing VGA webcam is for video conferencing though we couldn't find an application to make use of it.

Samsung Mondi

Conclusion

The Samsung Mondi is a powerful handheld, but it feels a bit behind the times now that PDAs have been eclipsed by powerful smartphones that are smaller and equally as capable. The Mondi is the first 4G handheld and that should give it a leg up: it might not have a cell radio but it's capable of fast data connections. Unfortunately, the Mondi is a bit ahead of its time in that respect since WiMAX 4G is currently available in very few metro areas and the download speeds and connection reliability suffer due to poor building penetration. But if you want a very large-screen Windows Mobile handheld to be your mobile office, the Mondi fits the bill and adds a good QWERTY keyboard too. It has WiFi for local area connections when WiMAX isn't available, but if you want Internet anywhere and not just at WiFi hotspots, check the WiMAX coverage maps carefully before taking the plunge.

Pro: Solid build quality, large and sharp high resolution display that's easy on the eyes. Plenty of built-in storage. As always with Windows Mobile, you get excellent MS Exchange support and desktop syncing to Outlook too.

Con: Gets sluggish at times, GPS isn't the strongest, hard to find a good WiMAX signal indoors. WiMAX coverage areas are currently very limited.

Price: $449

Web Site: www.samsung.com

 

Specs:

Display: 4.3" resistive touch screen. Resolution: 800 x 480 pixels. Has an accelerometer (used mainly in the Opera web browser) and haptic feedback. Has Etiquette mode (turn the device face down to silence alarms).

Battery: Lithium Ion rechargeable. Battery is user replaceable. 1500 mAh. Claimed WiMAX usage times: up to 4 hours. Claimed WiFi usage time: up to 5 hours.

Performance: 800 MHz Samsung processor (ARM11 compatible S3C6410). 256 megs RAM with approx. 81 megs free RAM. 4 gigs internal flash storage.

Size: 4.88 x 3.03 x 0.63 inches. Weight: 5.39 ounces.

Camera: 3MP autofocus main camera, front-facing VGA camera. Main camera features smile shot, panorama mode, anti-shake and face recognition.

GPS: Has GPS and comes with Route 66 navigation software and pre-loaded maps for the US and Canada.

Audio and Video Playback: Built in speaker, mic and 3.5mm standard stereo headphone jack. Voice Recorder and Windows Mobile Media Player 10 included. Video codecs supported: DivX, XviD, FLV3.1, 3GP, AVI, WMV, MP4, H.263,H.264, MPEG-1, RealVideo. Audio formats: MP3, WMA, AAC, AAC+, AMR, AWB, M4A, MP2, RealAudio and WAV.

Networking: Integrated WiFi 802.11b/g, Bluetooth with A2DP stereo and headset/handsfree profiles and WiMAX.

Software: Windows Mobile 6.1 Classic operating system. Microsoft Mobile Office suite including Mobile versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint (view only), Internet Explorer, and Outlook. Also, Terminal Services, MSN Instant Messenger for Pocket PC, Windows Media Player 10, Solitaire, Bubble Breaker (game), Voice Recorder as well as on-screen keyboards. Additional applications: Opera Mobile 9.5, Camera, WiMAX connection manager, JBlend Java VM, Fring, Smart Converter, PowerCalc, GyPSii, ShoZu, Photo Slides, TaskSwitcher, Samsung custom home screen and Samsung TouchWiz UI.

Expansion: 1 SDHC microSD card slot.

In the Box: Mondi, battery, charger, stylus, headset, software DVD with ActiveSync 4.5, Windows Mobile Device Center and Navigation software, car charger, car mount and printed guides.

 

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