First impressions of the mintpass mintpad

Mintpad_impressions

It's been a bit busier than usual here at Pocketables HQ, so I haven't been able to spend some serious quality time with my recently unboxed mintpass mintpad. I have been using it fairly often since it arrived, though, so I've put in enough time with the tiny device (full specs here) to at least share my first impressions and shed some light on what the mintpad is all about.

Before I lay out a bulleted list of the notes I've taken while using the unit these last few days, let me first say one thing. The mintpad is not designed to rival/compete with the iPod touch. So if you're anti-Apple and are looking for a "touch killer," then don't look at the mintpad. I'm not sure you would anyway since the devices look nothing alike and have more differences than similarities, but I've been hearing about comparisons from various people for months now and want to try to nip such thoughts in the bud. I understand that just about anything that has a touchscreen and WiFi runs the risk of being pitted against the ever-popular iPod touch, but if you're considering the mintpad for yourself, please take it for what it is.

Now on to the list:

  • Great build quality. Player is solid, nicely sized, lightweight, and feels good in the hand.
  • Responsive touchscreen. On-screen targets are big enough for the finger (nails only) but the included stylus works just as well.
  • Good display. The 2.86-inch screen is bright and colorful (262K colors). Side viewing angles aren't very good, though the screen size isn't conducive to shared viewing anyway. Photos, video, and text look great and are on par with other DAPs/PMPs with small QVGA screens.
  • The 1.3-megapixel digital camera (still photos and QVGA video recording) is better than expected. There's no flash or zoom, but there are various white balance settings and photo effects (black and white, sepia, negative, sketch). Photos/Videos can be saved to the internal memory or a microSD card. I'll include some samples in my full review.
  • Memo function is one of the mintpad's highlights and strongest points. It runs on a "vector-based memo engine" that enables smooth and fast writing/drawing. It can also be used on top of other features (music, video, etc.), sort of like an overlay.
  • Mono speaker on the back produces adequate sound when volume is maxed out. You won't be hosting a party with the mintpad as your speaker system, but it's suitable for personal listening of podcasts/audiobooks/music and watching videos.
  • Colorful UI supports swipe gestures and themes. The interface can be displayed in thumbnail view so you can see all of the menu items all at once (press-and-hold to launch item) or in single-item view, where swiping up/down brings up the next item and swiping left opens it. There are a handful of alternate themes available for download on the mintpass site.
  • G-sensor is a nice, though odd, addition. So far, the only things I've found that it does is enable you to shake the device to view a webpage in full-screen mode and save handwritten memos and sketches. I associate shaking something with erasing, not saving, so it doesn't feel natural to me. I'm not sure what else the G-sensor does, though I suppose its functions could be enhanced through firmware updates.
  • Sapphire (file management system) isn't ready yet, but content can be easily transferred to the mintpad via simple drag-and-drop. My Vaio TZ recognized the device immediately, installed the necessary drivers, and let me drag content into the pre-existing folders (Music, Pictures, Prgram, System, Text, Theme, Videos). When using the drag-and-drop method, you need to restore the database (Settings -> Misc Setting -> DB restoration) in order for the transferred files to appear.
  • Support for Windows CE applications is a nice touch. The mintpad ships with a file browser, Internet Explorer, CE Player, Windows Messenger, Freecell, and a screen rotate utility already preinstalled. This function (labeled Program) is still in beta so there are still some kinks (e.g., I haven't found a way to bring up the on-screen keyboard in IE, which makes browsing pretty impossible). Users can install additional WinCE apps, though there's no guarantee that every single app will work correctly.
  • Web browsing is better than expected but obviously more suited for consuming content rather than creating it. Load times are quite fast and rendering is excellent. The browser (proxy-based?) uses an engine made by Logicplant and features Flash support, zoom, favorites, and a few other options I'm not sure of yet because they're still in Korean (as stated previously, the English firmware is expected to be fully complete by June 30th). Screen resolution is only 320 x 240, so you definitely need to adjust your expectations accordingly before firing up the browser for the first time. There's a viewing mode that displays more of a website's full width, but of course text becomes pretty unreadable. Panning/Dragging is supported, which is good, but I recommend sticking to mobile versions of websites. Navigating a full site, while certainly possible, is tedious. I'll delve more deeply into the web browsing experience in my full review when the English firmware is complete.
  • On-screen keyboard is fine. Nothing out of the ordinary, really: designed for hunt-and-peck tapping with the stylus, several layouts for numbers/symbols, etc.
  • Great sound quality. I haven't had a chance to listen critically yet, but my ears and Ultimate Ears triple.fi 10 Pro canalphones (which cost about three times as much as the mintpad itself) report good things so far. There are 12 preset EQs and 3 user EQs with a whopping 12 bands! Since mintpass has iriver roots, they know what they're doing: sound quality and all the extra features (A-B repeat, play modes, scan speed, sorting options, ratings) are no surprise.
  • Internet video streaming. I don't watch streaming videos so I don't know any URLs off-hand, but I find the mere addition of this feature to be quite impressive. I'll test it out later. Anyone have any website recommendations?
  • I'm not sure yet how strict the mintpad is on video specs. I've tested 320 x 240 DivX videos with no problem, but since iriver often supported higher resolutions than that (despite what was listed in the official specs), I'm wondering if the mintpad can play higher quality videos too. Another thing to test later.
  • No hardware volume buttons. Rats.
  • Button at the top of the mintpad is called the Smart Button. A quick press brings up a handy status bar that displays the current time, WiFi status, volume, battery meter, and multitasking icon. A press-and-hold brings up one of four user-assigned options: main menu, memo, camera, or WiFi connection.

There's still quite a bit of features I haven't looked at yet, but those are my notes on the mintpad so far. It's a nice device, even in its current unfinished English firmware state, and brings some unique elements not often seen in a DAP/PMP.

I'm waiting for the English firmware to be complete (which is still on track for June 30th, as of today) before writing up my full review, so I'll have a lot more to say then. In the meantime, let me know in the comments if you have any questions/requests for other mintpad articles.

Full specifications of the mintpass mintpad in the database.

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Jenn K. Lee

Jenn K. Lee is the founder of Pocketables. She loves gadgets the way most women love shoes and purses. The pieces in her tech wardrobe that go with everything are currently the Samsung Galaxy Note II, Sony Tablet P, and Nexus 7, but there are still a couple of vintage UMPCs/MIDs in the back of her closet.

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