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.
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).
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.
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.