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Home -> GPS Reviews -> ClarionMiND Mobile Internet Navigation Device

ClarionMiND

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Review posted February 16, 2009 by Tong Zhang, Senior Editor

There is no question that mobile gadgets such as handheld GPS, Bluetooth car kits, headsets and media players have infiltrated the car. With this trend, more and more automotive product manufacturers are getting into portable devices. Clarion, an in-car audio and navigation product maker, has built the ClarionMind with GPS navigation for road trips and Internet access for indoor use. Part Personal Navigation Device (like TomTom), part Internet device (like the Nokia N810), the ClarionMind aims to cover your life both on the road and off. Built on the Intel Atom processor and Linux, the ClarionMind has an integrated GPS with full navigation software, maps and POIs, built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, the Firefox web browser and PIM applications. It also comes with news, weather, youtube and MySpace plug-ins.

ClarionMind

Hardware and Design

Like today’s trendy small netbooks, the ClarionMind runs on the Intel Atom processor, though a slower version than the 1.6GHz used in Netbooks: the Z500 running at 800MHz with 512K level 2 cache and a 400MHz FSB. The processor feels reasonably fast when running most pre-installed applications such as Navigation, youtube, the web browser and PIM apps. The ClarionMind has 512MB DDR2-SDRAM (400MHz) memory and it seems to be sufficient for the tasks at hand. It has a 4 gig internal SSD flash drive and a microSD card slot for additional storage. For connectivity, the ClarionMind has a USB and a mini-USB port both supporting USB 2.0, built-in Wi-Fi 802.11b/g (no “n” support) and integrated Bluetooth v2.0 + EDR with DUN support. Additional ports include a stereo headset jack, AC/DC charging port and a 36-pin car dock connector. The ClarionMind comes with a sturdy car mount.

ClarionMind

The ClarionMind has a large 4.8-inch resistive touch screen that works with both your fingers and stylus. The wide-screen 800 x 480 LCD is bright and looks good for map viewing, video playback and web browsing. Weighing just over 11 ounces, the ClarionMind feels good with two small handgrips on the back (one is the removable battery). There are three touch-sensitive buttons on the front cover. Though the device includes a stylus, most applications including GPS navigation, contact database, youtube video and more offer finger-friendly menu keys and controls. The ClarionMind has a rechargeable battery that’s integrated to the back cover on the right side and the battery is user replaceable. The machine looks plasticky but feels well built and somewhat rugged. It’s available in three colors: black, red and white.

ClarionMind

 

 

 

 

 

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As GPS Navigation System

The Clarion has a built-in GPS antenna with NMEA-0183 interface. The GPS receives very strong signal strength and gets fixes fast even indoors. The 4.8-inch wide TFT screen is bright and maps look good both indoors and outdoors. The ClarionMind has navigation software pre-installed and can navigate routes, give turn-by-turn directions and voice guidance along with maps and POIs. The ClarionMind has pre-installed maps for all 50 States in the US, Canada, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. One great feature is the selection of International languages that include Spanish, German, French, Danish and many more. Once you change language, the navigation menus, driving directions as well voice guidance all change to that language. Nice!

Route navigation is fast and mostly accurate on the Clarion. As with many handheld GPS devices, the route navigation has options such as mode of transportation (car, motorcycle, pedestrian, etc.), route type (quickest, shortest, etc.) and avoidance (toll roads, highways and ferries). You can enter addresses, select addresses from the POI database, point a location on the map or use addresses from the Contact database. There is a Contacts button in the address entry window for quick launch. Most of the address entry methods work well except one thing we find inconvenient: while most applications use an on-screen QWERTY keyboard, the address entry here offers an alphabetic layout rather than QWERTY.

ClarionMind

Map view

ClarionMind

Navigation menu

Once the route navigation is done, the Clarion will display the maps with the route highlighted. There are several options for the map display: it can follow the route (map in driving direction), align with North or smart display which automatically orients and zooms the map along the route. The maps have 2D and 3D modes and there are some small icons on the map view that help with navigation changes, map zooming and quick menu links to get gas stations along the route, traffic information when available, compass and more. The map view is easy to use while driving and the on-screen button layout and selections are intelligent and not distracting. The ClarionMind also can tell you trip info like distance traveled, speeds and travel time, speed limit and latitude and longitude info.

If you stray from the original route, the ClarionMind re-routes automatically and maps out new routes speedily. The voice guidance has good timing at giving directions and sounds friendly. The built-in speaker isn’t very loud and had trouble combating road noise even when both the device volume and in-navigation volume were turned to max. For those who want real time traffic, the ClarionMind Premium model will have a built-in 3G connection and offer real time traffic reporting. The ClarionMind Premium will come out this spring.

As Internet Device

With built-in Wi-Fi and Linux OS (Kernel 2.6.22.18 by Red Flag), the ClarionMind enters a relatively small space where devices like the Nokia N810 rule. The ClarionMind has a number of applications pre-installed and they include many key Internet applications and connectivity managers. These include the Firefox web browser that’s fast over Wi-Fi and finger-friendly to control. For MySpace and YouTube fans, the ClarionMind has clients for both web sites. Other tools include an email application, contacts, note pad, file manager and calculator. You will also get weather (weather.com) and news (CNN) plug-ins. If you are away from Wi-Fi access points, the ClarionMind also supports Bluetooth DUN (Dial-up Network). You can use your Bluetooth-enabled phone (it must also support Bluetooth DUN) as a wireless modem for the Clarion.

ClarionMind

Firefox web browser

ClarionMind

YouTube

For multimedia functions, Clarion bundles RealPlayer for music and video playback. You can load MP3 or non-DRM iTunes music to a microSD card and play them on the ClarionMind. We tested a high capacity microSD card (4GB card) with the ClarionMind and all worked smoothly, although Clarion’s web site states that it doesn’t support SDHC. The built-in speaker sounds tinny and volume isn’t terribly loud. YouTube videos play reasonably smoothly on the ClarionMind with a good WiFi connection. The device comes with a small desk stand for watching long videos.

The ClarionMind has some bugs that occasionally hang the device. When that happens, you will need to take the battery out and reboot the machine. Luckily Clarion offers Portalsync which allows the ClarionMind to connect to Clarion’s online services including firmware update (hopefully will include bug fixes), sending POIs from Google Maps and future Clarion services.

ClarionMind

Battery Life

The ClarionMind has a built-in rechargeable battery that’s 850mAh in capacity which is absurdly small for an Intel Atom device with a large screen. The Nokia 7510 feature phone on T-Mobile has a higher capacity battery, to give you an idea. The device shows its automotive roots where devices are always plugged into a car’s power source. The claimed usage time is 1.5 hours and the ClarionMind didn’t last that long in road tests with navigation or Internet browsing via Wi-Fi at home. You really need to plug the device in as much as possible, and luckily the ClarionMind comes with both an AC wall charger and a DC car charger. Should you need longer battery life, Clarion will offer a larger battery (sold separately, not yet released so no pricing yet) that can extend the claimed usage time up to 4 hours.

ClarionMind

Conclusion

It’s always good to see two industries come together as they each bring their own expertise to the table. The ClarionMind is a competitive GPS device with a larger screen than many found on today’s PNDs. The upcoming 3G model will be competing with TomTom and TeleNav connected PNDs, and the current model has strong GPS performance. The Internet features and performance are solid thanks to the Intel Atom processor and on-device applications. However the ClarionMind isn’t exactly competitive with customizable Internet Tablets like the Nokia N810 that supports 3rd party application download and installation. We see two more obstacles the ClarionMind faces: horrendous battery life with the standard battery and the $700 price tag in a weak economy.

Pro: Lightweight device that’s easy to carry around. A large display that’s great for viewing maps and watching video. Strong GPS performance and navigation. Comes with maps for the US, Canada, Puerto Rico and Virgin Islands. Browser has desktop quality and pre-installed software work well. Comes with a car mount and a desk stand.

Con: Not easy to install 3rd party Linux software. Built-in speaker isn’t loud enough to overcome road noise. Battery life is very short. Has some bugs.

Price: $699

Web site: www.clarion.com

 

Specs:

Performance: Intel Atom Processor, 800MHz. 512K 2nd Cache, 400MHz FSB. Memory: DDR2-SDRAM, 512MB, 400MHz. 4 gig SSD flash drive.

Display: 4.8-inch Wide TFT color LCD resistive touch screen. Resolution: WVGA 800 x 480 pixels.

I/O ports:
USB 2.0 and Mini USB 2.0
Stereo headphone Jack
DC-in
Dock I/F (36pin, for Car Dock use only)

Memory card slot: microSD card slot, supporting SDHC but not SDIO card

Audio: Intel High Definition Audio, Built-in monaural speaker (0.8W)

Connectivity: Built-in Wi-Fi IEEE 802.11 b/g, Bluetooth 2.0 + EDR with DUN support.

GPS: NMEA-0183 Built-in antenna.

Battery: Rechargeable Lithium-Ion battery, 850mAh in capacity. Claimed usage time: up to 1.5 hours. Extended battery: up to 4.5 hours.

Dimension: 167.8 x 96.0 x 26.45 mm (6.7 x 3.78 x 1.05 inches).

Weight: 325g (11.7 ounces) with standard battery.

Operating System: Linux Kernel 2.6.22.18 Distributor: Red Flag.

System Language (OS): American English, Canadian French and Mexican Spanish

In the box: The ClarionMind machine, AC charger, in-vehicle charger, car mount, stylus, desk stand and printed registration and warranty info.