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Christmas Gift Guide
Culture

Hands-on with the Mintpad

CNET's Donald Bell gets his hands on the Mintpad portable media player from Korea's Mintpass.

Photo of the Mintpad portable media player.
The Mintpad. Donald Bell/CNET Networks

The Mintpass Mintpad is a cute, little, portable media player by way of Korea, offering loads of features in a space about as large as a Post-It pad. Behind its responsive 2.8-inch touch-screen display you'll find extensive file support (MP3, FLAC, WAV, WMA, OGG, DivX, XviD, MPEG-4, WMV), a Wi-Fi-enabled Internet browser (with Flash support), photo viewer, microSD memory expansion, voice recording, a beautiful vector-based drawing program (cooler than it sounds, folks)--plus, there's 1.3 megapixel camera on the back that can record video or stills.

In short: the Mintpad is pretty dang cool. It's also import-only at the moment, with a 4GB model selling for around $170.

That said, even though I found the Mintpad to be a fun distraction to my week, I'm not sure I would wholeheartedly recommend it over a similar product like the Cowon D2+ or Iriver Clix. The Mintpad may have twice the features of the competition, but many of those features just don't seem practical for everyday use--especially considering that the built-in stylus is pretty much a required tool for navigation.

The Mintpad's Web browser, for example, is equal-parts admirable and impractical. I felt a rush launching the browser for the first time and seeing Google pop right up. Elation turned to laughter though, after zooming in to the search bar and engaging the onscreen keyboard. If you can imagine what a touch-screen keyboard would look like on an iPhone with half the screen size, you've got a pretty good sense of how absurd text entry is on this thing. To Mintpass' credit, the team did an outstanding job on the keyboard usability, given the screen size--but short of projecting a hologram keyboard, there's just no way to overcome the screen size limitations.

OK so, just put the Web browser out of your mind. What else do you get? Well, you get a bunch of polished features, but nothing we haven't seen from Korea's iPod-killing powerhouses before (namely: Cowon and Iriver). The music player is organized well, with a glut of playback and EQ options. The video player works handily in spite of the Mintpad's mediocre screen resolution. Photos, memos, calendar are all fine, but nothing worth alerting Steve Jobs over. There is one exception: the built-in camera.

In a few months, were all bound to go ga-ga over Apple's inclusion of cameras in their iPod line-up. Well for Mintpass, the future is now. The tiny-but-mighty 1.3 megapixel camera loaded into the Mintpad is delightful--filled with multiple resolutions and effects settings that put my camera-phone to shame (admittedly, my two-year-old phone is pretty lame). Again, I don't think the Mintpad's camera is reason enough to have one flown over to you from the other side of the globe, but you have to admire the imagination that went into putting it there.

In the final tally, the Mintpad gets big points for its keen UI, solid hardware design, and the ambitious set of features Mintpass has rolled-in to such a small product. Unfortunately, there's not enough here to elevate the Mintpad out of the shadow of similar efforts that mostly seem to fall flat after hitting our shores.

What would have made it for me? Well, the Mintpad feels like an Internet-connected device that doesn't know what to do with itself. I don't want to chat on it or surf the Web, or really ever be confronted with a virtual keyboard on a 2.8-inch screen. What would have been killer--and perfect for the Mintpad hardware--is a way to turn it into a portable Chumby.

In the Chumby, you've got a touch-screen device filled with personalized Flash widgets for checking your news feeds, listening to Pandora, playing games, browsing photos from your Flickr contacts, etc. The only thing the Chumby isn't is portable, which is why the Mintpad platform is so appealing.

So there you go. Those are my two cents on the Mintpad. For more comments and plenty of photos, check out the Mintpad photo gallery.