The ClarionMind will wow you with its flashy graphics and long list of features, such as Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity, a Web browser with Flash support, multimedia playback options, GPS navigation, and baked-in YouTube and MySpace access. However, there's just one tiny problem; it doesn't actually work very well.
During our testing of the ClarionMind, we ran into stability issues, features that didn't work consistently, and plain old-fashioned design flaws. We think that the main issue is that the 'Mind fits in an odd no-man's-land between an ultramobile computer (UMPC) and a portable navigation device. As a UMPC, the ClarionMind isn't stable enough to live up to its grand claims; yet as a PND, the device is just too complicated to be used with ease while on the road.
To accommodate its rather larger feature set, the 'Mind deviates slightly from the tried and true PND design. The unit sports a wider than average bezel with two raised humps on its back to facilitate easy hand-holding. The unit's removable, rechargeable battery lives underneath one of these humps. Along the top of the unit is a covered port for an optional external GPS antenna, a microSD card slot, the power/standby button, and a stylus stored in a recessed slot. Moving around to the right side, we find a full-size USB port, a Mini-USB port, a power adapter connection, and a headphone jack. Finally, the bottom edge houses a proprietary connection for an optional car dock.
Dominating the front of the device is a 4.8-inch WVGA (800x480 pixels) color touch screen. Along the right edge of the screen are three illuminated touch keys for Home, Menu, and Audio. Graphics are quite crisp, but the screen's glossy finish creates a good deal of glare when used outside. This is bad news for a device that's meant to spend at least half of its life in a car. Another issue that we found with the glossy screen, as well as the rest of the glossy body, is that it's a fingerprint and smudge magnet. Under the hood, the ClarionMind is powered by an 800MHz Intel Atom processor. Its 512MB of RAM provides adequate performance for the 'Mind's applications, as long as you don't try to run too many of them simultaneously. Its 2GB solid-state hard drive holds the operating system as well as media files. After powering on the unit, the user is taken to a home screen where 16 icons are displayed in a horizontal row, running off either side of the screen. The user rotates through these icons by flicking a finger (or stylus) left and right across the touch screen to slide the list in a very Apple Cover Flow-type manner. Along the top of the screen is a status bar that displays the current application, connection information, a task switcher, battery state, and a clock widget.
The bottom third of the screen is occupied by a ticker that displays weather updates, news, MySpace notifications, and Clarion Sync information.
When placed in the included suction cup mount (or the optional car dock) the ClarionMind's interface changes to a simplified car-friendly layout and the navigation application is automatically launched. In the car interface, a GPS map takes up the left half of the screen, while the other half is occupied by weather, news, and music widgets. Along the bottom are icons for address book, Clarion Sync, and MySpace.
We're not really sure what MySpace has to do with navigation. Fortunately, all of the widgets on both home screens can be customized to display almost any function the 'Mind supports. Touching the map launches the full-on navigation application where a destination can be entered as an address or chosen from the preloaded points of interest. If you're connected via Wi-Fi or a Bluetooth to a phone, you can also search Google Maps for points of interest.
The home screen features icons for the 16 major functions the ClarionMind supports. Navigation, Traffic, and Weather are, out of the box, separate applications that do not communicate with one another. The Traffic application only works with a connection to the Internet and pulls traffic data from Navteq's traffic database, while the Weather application pulls data from Weather.com. This data is not used in the actual Navigation application that requires an optional car dock with a separate traffic antenna to receive live traffic data.
MySpace and YouTube are represented as standalone applications. The YouTube application supports search and full -creen playback of YouTube videos. Because the Browser application supports Flash, YouTube videos can also be viewed inline in the browser without switching applications. The MySpace app lets users to check messages and status updates from their MySpace friends.
RealPlayer handles multimedia playback from the unit's 2GB of internal flash memory, the microSD card slot (up to 2GB capacity), or the USB connections. Supported audio formats include MP3 (and other MPEG codecs), RealAudio formats, AAC, WMA, OGG, and WAV. For video, the unit handles WMV, 3GP mobile video, and DivX. The more ubiquitous MPEG-4 video is not supported. The most common photo formats (JPEG, PNG, GIF, and BMP) are support by the image viewer component.
Music Sync is an app that lets users sync up to 2GB of their music library to a server where the media can be accessed online or downloaded to the ClarionMind's internal memory for playback. Notepad, calculator, and contacts manager applications join the control panel and connection manager round out the available applets.