Editors' note: The Samsung Mondi is designed for Clearwire's WiMax markets. At the time of this writing, service is limited to Las Vegas, Atlanta, and Portland, Ore. Customers also can access Sprint's WiMax network in Baltimore. WiMax is not yet available in the San Francisco Bay Area, so our review will focus on all other Mondi features.
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.