INTEL HAS BEEN touting its MIDs for a while now, but Atom chips have mostly been going into lots of netbooks instead. The few MIDs out there were fairly uninspiring, that is until I saw the Clarion Mind.
Front and back, red and black
Whenever we point out the lack of cool MIDs to Intel, they tell us to wait for the Clarion device. That refrain got old after a while, but when we finally saw it, all I can say is that Intel was right, this device has serious potential.
As with everything in its class, the devil is truly in the details, you can tell that by playing with any of a dozen similar but half-baked devices out there. The Mind, however, seems to have really sweated the details, and it shows.
Before we get ahead of ourselves, the Mind is a combo Web browser, nav system, entertainment device and information storage unit. The technical term for it is 'thingy', as in "that thingy does a bunch of stuff", it kind of defies catagorisation. The mind is useful in both handheld mode and docked in the car as a nav system.
The base box is an 800Mhz Atom – the Silverthorne variant, not the 945G one – comes with 512M of memory and 4GB of flash storage. It connects to the net with Wi-fi or bluetooth via dial-up, but there is a 3G version coming in a few months. This 'premium' model will also have 8GB of flash, and there is a micro-SD slot if 8GB isn't enough for you.
Some of the UI
The UI is where the magic happens, and the Mind has an interface literally designed for it, with a lot of emphasis on ease-of-use and linking things together sanely. It starts out with Red Flag Linux, and builds on top of that. Clarion put Firefox in it for a browser, but most functions just work on their own, not in a browser window.
You can look at Youtube videos, RSS feeds, weather and Google Maps in their own windows, not in a browser. Same with IMing, digital TV, and navigation. They simply work. If you plug the Mind into the car dock, it changes the UI to one more suited to use while driving. Clarion didn't have to do that, but it shows the attention to detail that went into this device.
That detail becomes very obvious when looking up places and services. The search has convenient links to route information and maps link to Web searches for reviews. Like the Palm OS of old, when you say 'I think this should do X', X is usually right there where you intuitively thought it should be. That is the hallmark of a well-designed interface.
Clarion also has a Web portal that you can send info to, download widgets from, and use as a direct conduit to your PC. The idea is to send things to the portal and sync the Mind to that portal, not to the PC. It also has a way to tag sites and sort of cache others for offline browsing. The short demo we had looked very nice.
That, however, is the big open question. Like most products, the demos usually look quite good, but it isn't until after you buy it that the problems become obvious. The Clarion Mind is unquestionably a cut above the average device in this class, but it is impossible to say how close they got to nailing the UI with a 15 minute demo. So far, two cautious thumbs up.
The Mind is on sale now for $799 or so MSRP, with the car docking station for an additional $199. The premium 3G version will be out sometime this summer, you pick whatever 3G service you want. There are no additional fees or premiums, just the hardware.
Intel was right, it looks really good.µ
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