While I was waiting for my Samsung Mondi last week, I read a number of early-thoughts articles and reviews of the device from mainstream media sites to get a glimpse of what to expect when mine arrived. Rather than fuel my excitement for its delivery, however, they left me feeling rather frustrated, not because the device wasn't being lavished with praise but because the writers didn't seem to understand the point of the Mondi or the MID product category in general.
When it wasn't being called a phone (which it isn't), the Mondi was declared to be "dead right out of the gate" and criticized for sporting a "form factor nobody wants" because it's apparently too big to fit into your pocket. The device was also accused of being unable to replace a phone or a laptop, making it "convenient for nothing" and therefore just an "expensive novelty."
I don't care that something I just spent $450 on wasn't being adored by others. I know some people get insanely peeved when something they like/use gets slammed but since my favorite gadgets are never media darlings or popular with mainstream consumers, less-than-positive write-ups don't bother me. The approval of strangers doesn't impact whether I like, want, or buy something.
No, what frustrates me is the implication that a product like the Samsung Mondi doesn't fill a legitimate need in the market.
Sure, it may not be able to replace a smartphone or a notebook, but it isn't supposed to either. For people whose mobile needs are sufficiently met with a laptop and phone, I understand how the Mondi (and other MIDs that aren't phones) could be interpreted as a device without a purpose. But hold on. Two-device users are not the only consumers out there.
Some of us actually want and/or need more than that. Whether it's to get our work done with as little compromise as possible or to have something more robust and capable in our pockets/bags for other reasons (media consumption, communication, etc.), some of us want/need that "in-between gadget" that others find so useless.
The Mondi, with its 800MHz ARM11 processor and Windows Mobile 6.1 operating system, isn't the best example of a MID, but it's an important device to be in the mainstream consumer's consciousness. It won't be the next "[fill in the blank]-killer" and will probably leave a lot of people who see it at Best Buy and Clearwire stores scratching their heads, but it will at least introduce the possibilities and maybe even the concept of a product category like this to a wider audience than Samsung's target market (business professionals and pro-mobile users). A companion device that bridges the gap between a smartphone and laptop/netbook is probably something the average non-tech consumer (i.e., the one who doesn't read tech blogs and only finds out about new products from TV commercials and magazine ads) has never heard of or seen. And exposure can only lead to good things.
So why did I buy it? Well, aside from my gadget addiction and affection for pocketable gadgets like UMPCs and MIDs, the Mondi was a good choice for me because I actually don't have anything like it. I mean, I do in some ways, but in other ways it's a unique addition to my collection.
I'm usually pretty impulsive when it comes to gadget shopping (the Mondi was an impulse buy), so it's rare for me to actually have an idea of what purpose a new device will serve or to compare it to what I already have to measure the overlap. But after assessing my current stable of mobile devices, I've concluded that although I do have a few items that overlap the Mondi, none of them are exactly right for me in comparison. You can see photos of the Mondi alongside the following devices in my Mondi size comparisons post.
Nokia N810. Although there are many differences between the N810 and Mondi, they also have a lot in common: form factor, 800 x 480 resolution, third-party applications, active OS developer/hacker community, built-in GPS, no cell phone or 3G capability, four-row keyboard, and internal storage plus memory card expansion. But the Mondi is better for me because it's faster, has a 3-megapixel rear camera, and I feel more comfortable in the Windows Mobile environment than the Maemo one. WM isn't consumer-friendly in the same way that, say, the iPhone OS is, but it's more straightforward, easily customizable, and inviting than Maemo to someone who doesn't know much about Linux. I also have a fair amount of WM apps that I really like from previous devices. And now that I've spent some time with it, I know that the Mondi has a brighter, more colorful screen (it's a little bigger too) and a better keyboard that enables me to type faster and more c omfortably.
Sony mylo 2. I know there aren't many mylo 2 users/owners out there and the device isn't as capable as the N810, but I couldn't ignore it when looking through my gadgets for potential Mondi competitors because they offer similar functionality (internet, multimedia, camera with video recording, widgets) in the same slider form factor. But the Mondi is better for me because it's much more open and capable. It also has a bigger screen, better web browser, more internal storage, sleeker design, Bluetooth, GPS, and so on and so forth.
HTC Advantage X7501. When thinking about oversized Windows Mobile devices, the Advantage always comes to mind first. Although it has the standard smartphone functionality that the Mondi lacks, the two are still logical choices for comparison because both run Windows Mobile on a screen size larger than is typically found on WM units. But the Mondi is better for me because it has a higher screen resolution, faster processor, slide-out backlit keyboard, and a more compact form factor.
Sony Ericsson Xperia X1. In addition to sharing a similar slider design, the X1 and Mondi both run Windows Mobile 6.1 on an 800 x 480 touchscreen. Like the Advantage, the X1 is a smartphone (albeit one of "normal" size). But the Mondi is better for me because it has a larger screen that's a better fit for its resolution, faster processor, and a bigger keyboard.
iPhone 3GS. The 3GS is my primary phone right now and what I use as my go-to device for quick web and email access. It's what I reach for when I don't want/need a full-blown Windows OS or a keyboard for extended text entry because it's sufficient for most minor tasks. In other words, although I also use it as a phone, the 3GS can usually function as that "in-between" gadget (the one I consider the Mondi to be) for me. But the Mondi is better for me because it has a bigger screen with a higher resolution (no incessant zooming!), hardware keyboard, more customizable UI, and more complete web experience. And though it doesn't have an app store as polished as the iTunes App Store and the applications are generally more expensive, there are a lot more choices. WM 6.1 may lack the finger-friendly refinement of the iPhone OS, but it gives users the freedom to do what they want.
Intel UMPCs/MIDs. I have a number of "real" UMPCs/MIDs (with a few more on the way) that run full-blown Windows XP or Vista on Intel x86 CPUs and are obviously more powerful than the Mondi. Resume time from sleep mode in Vista (about 3 seconds) is nearly as fast as instant-on in Windows Mobile too, so they're suitable as go-to devices for quick bursts of use with the added benefit of being capable of much more than that if necessary. But the Mondi is better for me because of its size. Until full desktop operating systems can be squeezed onto units as small and light as the Mondi, Intel-based UMPCs/MIDs will serve me better as primary computing devices. Right now, they're just a little too big and heavy for me to use in handheld thumb-typing mode for long stretches of time; I can hold the Mondi for several hours straight without fatigue in my forearms, wrists, hands, or fingers, which makes me reach for it more often. The Mondi also has better standby and in-use battery life.
So that's why nothing else I currently own takes the place of the Samsung Mondi and why I bought it. And so far, I'm really glad I did. It's renewed my interest in Windows Mobile, I want to use it all the time, and I want to carry it everywhere (even though Honolulu doesn't have WiMAX).
Is it the perfect mobile device? No. If I could remake the Mondi today, I'd leave the hardware largely unchanged and put in an Intel processor, install Windows 7, swap the existing control pad for an optical mouse, and add HSPA. If it wasn't possible for something this small to run a desktop OS, then I'd stick with Windows Mobile (version 6.5 or 7, though) and use a Cortex A8 CPU instead.
I'll go into greater detail about what works/doesn't work and what I like/don't like about the Mondi soon, but it won't "ruin" anything if I reveal now that WM and the ARM11 CPU are the device's weakest points. You could have guessed that. They're not deal-breaking weaknesses for me by any means, but they're obviously the bottleneck.
See more Samsung Mondi features and reviews.