Put a GPS navigation system into an ultramobile PC, and you have a pretty good idea of what Clarion delivers in the MiND. At first glance, with a display measuring 4.8in, it looks like a large personal navigation device (it comes with a car charger and a dashboard mount), but navigation is only one of more than a dozen options on its scrolling, icon-based touchscreen menu. Others include a web browser, email, music and video players, and direct links to YouTube and MySpace.
At £749 for the lot, the Clarion MiND is expensive. Note that you're responsible for providing internet connectivity for the features that depend on it - that's everything but GPS. The device offers numerous connectivity options, both wired and wireless. Parked in the garage, you might get by with a Wi-Fi hookup; but on the road, you'll need a phone with data service (preferably a 3G one) to serve as your modem, and network support for its use that way, either via a USB cable or a recent version of Bluetooth that supports dial-up networking. Some carriers don't support tethering, or charge extra for it, so you need to check with your carrier before spending money on a lot of features you won't be able to use.
GPS is accessible regardless of network connectivity, and the Clarion MiND boasts a pretty good GPS navigation system with Navteq maps. The large display helps, offering plenty of space for useful information such as current speed limit and estimated time of arrival. The device's 800GHz Intel Atom processor makes it fairly snappy in its responses. Another plus is the text-to-speech technology that allows the voice directions to provide actual road names ("turn left on Main Street" instead of "left turn ahead"). This can be a huge aid in unfamiliar territory, even when the computer voice mangles pronunciations.
We liked the Clarion MiND's data entry system, which hones in on possible choices as you select letters on the software keyboard. So, for example, if you type the letter M in the state field, you immediately see buttons with the names of several states that begin with M, and the only keyboard letters displayed are ones that would complete the names of all states beginning with M.
One of the Clarion MiND's coolest features is the ability to instantly receive points of interest (POIs) plotted from Google Maps on any computer. Simply find the place you're looking for and click on Send and then GPS on the options that come up on the map. Clarion appears on the list of GPSs; select it, then enter the e-mail address associated with your device (you set that up when you register). Then, back on the device (once it's been connected), click on a button that updates and synchronizes data, and each of your destinations should appear as a Downloaded POI. It's a good way to enter trip data via a home Wi-Fi connection.
Of course, if you connect the Clarion MiND while on the road, you can use it to perform Google Maps searches on the fly - and you may well want to do so, as the unit's 2-million POI database is skimpy compared with those in other dedicated car GPS devices. Also, searching the preinstalled points of interest was sometimes frustrating. Several times, when we tried looking for a specific restaurant in a specific town, the software keyboard did not show the keys required for entering the name of the restaurant - even when the place turned up in a general restaurant search for the town.
The connected Clarion MiND also delivers news updates from CNN (you can click to read stories), traffic updates and YouTube videos. It also has a microSD slot; Clarion expects you'll use it to load a card that you provide filled with your favourite tunes for playback on the Real Player application (you can also stream from sites such as Music Locker). In general, though, we found multimedia playback to be mediocre at best. The device's speaker, located in the back, tends to become muffled when the device is docked in the car - and even when it's not mounted and set to top volume, it's just not very loud. YouTube video playback was jerky over our Wi-Fi network, and the screen was dark in daylight.
Email, after a somewhat complicated setup routine, worked well. But you can't import an address book into the contacts (as opposed to adding them manually one at a time). The Clarion MiND's browser also worked well - we were pleasantly surprised to see that it supported Flash, but disappointed when we were unable to enter a user ID and password to log into a Flash-based game site (the software keyboard didn't pop up). Clarion says the device supports only Flash media, not interactive Flash apps.
One big minus for many who plan on connecting the Clarion MiND via a Bluetooth phone: even if your network lets you make voice calls while accessing data, the Clarion MiND won't. It doesn't support hands-free calling - which is rapidly becoming a checklist item for a computer in a car.