THE GOOD: The Samsung Mondi has generous feature set, an easy-to-use touch-screen, and an attractive design.
THE BAD: The Samsung Mondi uses Windows Mobile 6.1, which results in a schizophrenic user interface. Usage will be limited outside of WiMax markets.
THE BOTTOM LINE: If you're itching for a WiMax device and you can get over the sometimes-frustrating user interface, the Samsung Mondi delivers satisfying performance.
The Samsung Mondi is one device that does not fit squarely into CNET's carefully organized world. So it was left to the cell phone group to give it a shakedown. Equal parts messaging handheld, portable media player, GPS device, Internet tablet, and VoIP cell phone, the Mondi SWD-M100 offers a load of features, a spacious physical keyboard, and a touch screen that's easy to use. Wi-Fi data speeds were zippy and the device packs a lot of power into its user-friendly slider design. Sure, it's big and a bit clunky, but that goes with the territory for gadgets like this.
On the downside, we're having trouble getting past the Windows Mobile 6.1 operating system. Samsung does its best to make WM attractive--like on the Omnia it dresses up the aging and often frustrating operating system with TouchWiz--but at the end of the day, it's still a Windows Mobile device. More importantly, we had trouble picturing just how we'd use the Mondi. Though it does several things well, you can get features like a full Web browser, GPS, and a media player in many smartphones. They may not be connected to the WiMax service, but that will change in the near future. Unless we wanted to ditch a standard cell phone completely, we'd have a hard time paying $349 for the Mondi and agreeing to a two-year contract.
Make no mistake about the Samsung Mondi's size. At 4.88 inches by 3.03 inches by 0.63 inch and 6.39 ounces, it's bigger than any cell phone that's crossed our desk in years. It won't fit in your pocket and it will take up significant space in a purse or a backpack. Some reviewers have rightfully griped that the Mondi is too big, but we don't see any way around it. And in any case, we figure that those who want the Mondi will know what they're getting.
On the upside, the Mondi has a solid construction in the hand, and its slider mechanism has a sturdy feel. It doesn't click into place at either end, but we slipped it open and closed a few times without hearing any squeaks. On the other hand, the kickstand on the Mondi's rear face feels a tad flimsy; it's easy to knock the Mondi down if you hit it from the left side. The battery cover is also a bit tricky to pry off, but that's a minor point.
The Mondi's biggest design attraction is its 4.3-inch display. With support for 16 million colors (800x480 pixels), it's both bright and vibrant with sharp graphics, colors, and photos. You can change the font size and the brightness and you can assign photos from the camera as wallpaper. The touch screen is responsive, and you can align the interface if you wish. Most icons and touch buttons are big enough for you to use your finger, but you'll need the stylus for the window scroll bars. We found it easiest to use the stylus constantly. The touch screen offers vibration feedback and you can adjust the intensity.
As previously mentioned, we're not thrilled that Samsung chose Windows Mobile 6.1. For the uninitiated it can be a nightmare to find your way around, but even longtime Windows Mobile users will find it clunky and archaic. For instance, we encountered our own frustrations with searching for files and accessing certain settings. Samsung masks Windows Mobile somewhat with a customizable TouchWiz widget bar and an attractive top-level "bubble" interface that shows your messages, e-mails, VoIP calls, and appointments. We also like the Samsung-designed menus that display your contacts and Opera browser bookmarks in a Cover Flow-like design that's reminiscent of the iPhone's.
Once past those screens, however, the familiar Windows Mobile interface greets you. Not only is it a letdown, but it's also rather schizophrenic. For example, behind the Samsung-designed menu that you can customize with your favorite features, you'll need to access the standard Programs menu to access additional features. It's the same story with the Settings menu: you can access some options through an attractive Samsung menu, but you must access the Windows Mobile page to get other options. The experience is jarring and somewhat frustrating.
You can enter text in a number of ways. Besides the full physical keyboard behind the sliding face (we'll get to that in a minute), there are two onscreen keyboards and three options for entering text using a graffiti method. The first keyboard comes courtesy of Samsung. It features large buttons that allow you to use your fingers and eight additional keyboards for numbers and symbols. The space bar is small, but we could tap away rapidly. On the other hand, we don't like that the keyboard pops up automatically each time you tap a text entry field. It even appears if you have the slider open. There's also a tiny Windows Mobile keyboard that takes up just a quarter of the display; we can't imagine why you'd want to use it. The graffiti options--Transcriber, Block Recognizer, and Letter Recognizer--are easy enough to use.
External controls are few. There's a home button to the right of the display and a control for opening the TouchWiz interface on the left side. Above the latter is a VGA camera for video chat and a tiny indicator light. On the Mondi's left spine you'll find the stylus port, a 3.5mm headset jack, and a standard Micro-USB port for data cables and the charger. We give Samsung props for not resorting to proprietary connections. On the right spine is a volume rocker and on the top of the Mondi are a camera shutter, the power button, a reset port, and stereo speakers. The main camera lens and flash are on the rear face. The MicroSD card slot is conveniently accessible on the bottom of the Mondi.
The physical keyboard is spacious and comfortable. Letter keys share space with numbers and symbols, but that's not unusual. The keys are flat and the top row is set close to the bottom of the slider, but we could type messages quickly. You don't have to use the predictive text, but we found it to be helpful. Other controls consist of two soft keys, Internet Explorer and messaging shortcuts, a Windows start button, and a rocker for adjusting the volume and scrolling up and down. There's also a navigation toggle and a central OK button, but we rarely used them.
We're pleased that Samsung includes so many Mondi accessories in the box. Besides the instruction manual and software CD, you'll find a wall charger, a car charger, a dash mount, a USB cable, and a headset.
The Mondi holds as many contacts as you can fit on the available internal memory, which is a generous 4GB of shared space. Each contact stores multiple phone numbers, e-mails, street addresses, and URLS; a job title, department, and company name; manager and assistant names; spouse and children names; and an anniversary and a birthday. Organizer features include two calculators, a notepad, a task list, a unit converter, an alarm clock, a stopwatch, a world clock, and a calendar. You can sync your Outlook contacts, tasks, and calendar over the air. The Mondi also has a Document Viewer for e-mail attachments, and you can edit Word and Excel documents.
E-mail options are plentiful. In addition to Outlook IMAP4 accounts, you can also sync most POP3 Web-based services. We synced our CNET e-mail and a Yahoo account without any issues. Just remember that if you don't have WiMax in your area you'll need to go through Wi-Fi (see below). You also can send text and multimedia messages and instant messages using Windows Live Messenger. You can personalize the sounds and notifications for arriving messages.
Since we didn't test the Mondi in an area with Clearwire WiMax, we used CNET's Wi-Fi network. In just a few seconds we were able to connect to the network and start browsing the Web thanks to the Mondi's convenient Wireless Manager. The manager also lets you activate Bluetooth and turn on the device's Airplane Mode setting. Other options include ActiveSync and USB mass storage. We were able to establish a PC connection to retrieve photos we snapped with the Mondi's camera. More-advanced users can establish a modem connection through an ISP and connect to a VPN.
The Mondi offers multitasking for most features. You can't open the Opera and Explorer Web browsers at the same time, for example, but we could keep options like the media player, a browser, and the instant-messaging app running simultaneously. A Task Switcher gives you convenient access to all open applications, while the Task Manager shows which applications are running and how much memory they're using. If you need to search for files you can use the File Explorer or a generic Search option.
The Mondi offers both Internet Explorer and an Opera browser. We preferred the latter for its design, ease of use, and features, but in either browser you can scroll around pages, zoom, and click on links easily. Most sites open to their full HTML glory, thus bypassing their mobile versions. What's more, a screen-rotate feature lets you view pages in either landscape or portrait mode.
You get full GPS capabilities with Mobile 8 from Route 66. You'll need to install and activate the maps separately using the included software CD, but the download is free. Check back in the next couple of week's for a full test of the Mondi's GPS performance. For more GPS fun, an app called GyPSii can pinpoint your location on a map and find the location of nearby friends who are using the service.
For music and video there's a standard Windows Media Player and a separate MultiMedia Player from Samsung. We preferred to interface on the latter, but both players offer generally the same features like playlists, shuffle and repeat modes, and album art. You can load music on the Mondi using a microSD card, and you send TV signals out to a monitor. The Mondi supports the major audio and video file formats and it offers an Airplane Mode for playing tunes and movies with the wireless radios turned off.
The Mondi's 3-megapixel camera takes pictures in seven resolutions, from 2,048x1,536 pixels down to 640x480 pixels. One of those is a "wide" setting that allows for a more expansive frame. Editing options rival those on a point-and-shoot camera. You'll find three quality modes, an autofocus, a macro mode, five color effects, exposure metering, four white-balance settings, a brightness setting, an adjustable ISO, a 10x digital zoom, eight "scenes" (night, landscape, action, and so on), a self-timer, an adjustable ISO, and five shutter sounds. The Mondi also features three shooting modes (multi, panorama, and mosaic) and a "smile shot" option that promises to detect when a subject is smiling. There's no flash, which is disappointing, but there is a self-portrait mirror.
The camcorder shoots clips with sound in two resolutions with a set of editing options similar to the still camera, if a bit slimmed down. You can mute the sound while recording, if you wish; video length is limited by the available memory. For both the still camera and camcorder, the interface is informative and easy to use, and the outside controls are well placed.
Photo quality was acceptable. Colors were a bit flat, but our images showed good definition with no visible noise. Video quality is decent, but not spectacular. Our clips were slightly blurry when trying to capture action. When finished shooting you can save your photos and clips to the phone or transfer them off the Mondi using Bluetooth, e-mail, or a USB cable. The photo viewer app offers a nifty slideshow option for viewing your work.
The Mondi comes with a few applications with access to more. Out of the box you get an RSS Reader and Shozu, PowerPoint Mobile, Word Mobile, Excel Mobile, and four games (Pangya Golf Touch, Solitaire, Sudoku, and Bubble Breaker). If you want to make VoIP calls, you'll need to download the Fring app separately. The Mondi offers separate organizers for keeping track of all downloaded and running applications. If you need space for storing downloads, the Mondi can accommodate microSD cards up to 32GB.
We tested the Mondi using CNET's Wi-Fi network. Most Web pages loaded in about 10 seconds, which is more than acceptable. We tried sites like Yahoo, The New York Times, CNET, and United Airlines, and waited about the same length of time for each page. Sites that are busy with heavy graphics like Wow.com took about twice as long to load, but we were quite satisfied with our browsing experience.
The Mondi's internal performance was relatively fast, though we encountered a few problems from time to time. Some menus took a few seconds to open, and more than once we had to tap an icon twice to get the app to open. We managed to crash it completely once during our testing period.
Multimedia quality is satisfactory. Music over the external speakers is loud, but our tunes lacked warmth and sounded rather tinny. Deep bass was lacking, as well. You should use a headset for the best experience. Video is fine; it's not exceptional, but we imagine it wouldn't be bad to watch a movie on the Mondi.
The Mondi has a rated battery life of 4 hours on WiMax, 5 hours on Wi-Fi, and 41.6 days standby time on Wi-Fi. Keep in mind that large displays are big battery drainers and that the fewer apps you have open, the longer battery life you'll get.