Review of the Mintpass Mintpad MID / PDA / MP3 Player

Ah, the Post-It note... a mainstay of organizers everywhere.  Sitting atop your desk merely waiting to be peeled and stuck, the iconic yellow squares (or tabs, or rectangles) have been around seemingly forever, and to date, haven't met with an adequate electronic replacement.  Computer desktop "stickies" don't really seem to emulate the feeling of jotting down a quick note.  It's for this reason that the beguiling Mintpass Mintpad called my name, begging my compulsively organized self to give it a try.

What is the Mintpad?

With its cute name and arguably cuter exterior, the Mintpad is certainly a chic little device.  About the size of, you guessed it, a Post-It, the Mintpad is simple and elegant.  It feels solidly built and it's apparent that it is a quality device even before you turn it on.  Indeed, the masterminds behind the Mintpad are former iRiver employees (reportedly) so this isn't surprising.

At its core, the Mintpad is a "MID," or Mobile Internet Device.  It's not really big enough to technically be an MID, but it's a lot more than an MP3 player and has a wireless connection and browser, so most people choose to refer to it as one.  You could also call it a PDA, of course.  It has all the standard functions you would expect, including an Internet browser, calendar, MP3 player, camera, audio recorder, video player, memo function, and more - but each with a unique twist.

Remember that the Mintpad is available in Korea only at the moment, although it's been widely publicized that the device will be available in the U.S. shortly.  This makes sense, as they have developed an all-English firmware for the device, as well as an English localized website supporting their proprietary Sapphire file transfer system and device registration (more on this later.)

Getting Started with the Mintpad

The Mintpad is easy to set up, assuming the previous owner un-registered it.  I'm really hoping they eliminate this in the future.  Registration is locked by serial number, and when you plug in the device, it will attempt to automatically connect to the Mintpass website (through Internet Explorer, as it uses ActiveX) and either log in or register you.  This is a problem is the previous owner is still marked as the current owner.

Anyway, assuming you have an untainted 'pad, you can easily register and download the latest "Funware" (their special name for firmware, why, I don't know) and get ready to rock and roll.  The interface of the Mintpad is built atop Windows CE 5.0, but it all feels custom and nothing like Windows in any way.  You "swipe" your way through and it all feels very smooth, responsive, and intuitive.  It's hard to describe unless you've tried it - the video above might help show you more.

Mintpad Memo - The Core of the Mintpad

The Mintpad really defines itself with the memo function.  The focus here is on simplicity and finesse and providing note-takers with any and every function they could dream of in an electronic sticky pad.  One can easily and quickly generate multiple notes in various colors and store them on the main note panel.  Simply pull up the program, scribble away, and shake the Mintpad to save your note.  (It has an accelerometer to save on shake.  It's pretty cool.)  Also unique to the Mintpad is it's vector based note rendering, which makes your stylus strokes look much more realistic than you would expect - much neater than you would expect.  Also of note is the ability, introduced in the newest firmware release, to add notes from any program.  For example, let's say you are listening to an MP3 file and need to jot down a note - simply swipe to the right, write it down, and save - and you will go back to what you were doing seamlessly.  Later, you can pull up your "MP3" notes in a separate section in the Memo function.


Sweet Media Player

The Mintpad has a really stand-up media player built in.  It read the album covers and song tags perfectly.  The interface is easy to navigate and feels very iPhone-ish with its "flick to scroll" sensibility.  The best feature is that it not only has a full EQ, but it just sounds awesome on the "Mint Sound" EQ setting.  I did a side-by-side comparison with Sony studio headphones between the Mintpad and my iPhone 3G, and found the Mintpad to be superior in each test.  I'm not an audio engineer, but the Mintpad sounded more detailed and richer in the midrange.  Frankly, the full EQ is a huge benefit to anyone who frets over customizing their stereo, or for those who want to use the MP3 player to get the best sound in their car.

You can also play videos, although to be completely honest, I didn't try out this feature.  The screen is just too small for it to be truly useful as a mobile video platform in my opinion.

Internet Browser

Yes, the Mintpad can browse the Internet, but don't expect it to become an iPhone or laptop replacement, 'cause it's just not.  Sadly, you're stuck with their own proprietary browser.  It isn't bad and scrolls adequately through pages, but it can't render small fonts well and is relatively slow.  In addition, it reportedly filters through a Korean proxy.  You can tell... try accessing Yahoo.  It will forward you to the Korean portal, which isn't bad if you're Korean, or course - but for most U.S. users this would be pretty annoying.  It also slows down page access.  All in all, for basic browsing it is functional.

Camera, Pictures, and Video

The Mintpad can snap photos in resolutions up to 1280x1024 and record video in 320x240, and it all works quite well.  Due to its diminutive size, it's hard sometimes to avoid covering the lens with your finger or fumbling about with it, but works well overall as a camera.  I was impressed with the color balance and nice photo viewer in the Mintpad, and to boot, you can write notes (or moustaches and dirty words, if you like) right on top of your photos. Cool!

Other Functions

The device has lots of other goodies, including the ability to load other Windows CE progams (your mileage may vary,) a calendar system in which you can hand write the entries, a "name card" section which functions much like an address book, an audio recorder, and a text viewer.

Transferring Files

You may be wondering how you get files on and off this thing.  There are two ways: the ActiveX Sapphire program or manual copying.  Manual copying is self explanatory - simply plug in the Mintpass to your PC (it won't be recognized on a Mac, what's up with that?) and it will show up as an external drive.  Copy files into the appropriate folder, refresh the DB's on the device (yeah, you have to do it manually) and you're set.

Alternatively, you can use the Sapphire file transfer system.  Sorry, Mintpass - but I'm not a big fan of Sapphire.  At its core, it's a file manager based on ActiveX (shudder) which means it will ONLY run in Internet Explorer - a major oversight for anyone on a Mac or Linux system.  Sapphire is slow and cumbersome; while functional, I'll stick with the manual way for now - and I'm guessing most others will as well.

Note that the only problem is that as far as I know, you need Sapphire to back up your handwritten memos.  This is where my requests come in below!

My Thoughts (Also: What Mintpass Should Do BEFORE This Is Released In The States!)

In short, I really love the Mintpad.  It's a nifty, affordable (about $157 USD now, but should be cheaper when it comes stateside) device, but needs lots of tweaking.

Of course, the device is still in its fledgling phases for the English conversion, so we can't be too harsh.  We can't even be certain it will be released here, but man, I want it to be.  If I could have the features below, I'd be in Mintpad heaven.

1.  Mintblog!  I want it!  In short, lucky Korean Mintpad owners get to have their own Mintpad "liveblog," in which their photos or handwritten notes can be instantly whisked away to their own private page.  How sweet is that?  I can see myself using my Mintpad to take all my "sticky" notes, keeping the liveblog open in my web browser so I always have them.  This service really differentiates the Mintpad from other devices, and if we don't get it, what's to make it different from other devices?  I'm really in love with the idea of having my own Mintblog!  See what a Mintblog looks like here, at Mintpass's Korean site - just click on one.

You can also find an overview here.

2.  Social Networking Support.  This is a no-brainer.  Give us a Twitter and Facebook app.  Let us post to Facebook or Twitter with a shake of the device.  Or, alternatively, program the Mintblog to autopost to other services.  This will make it a viable alternative to other devices that can already this easily.  Also, if there's no plans for a Mintpad "App Store," then these would need to be included in the firmware.  Being able to install them later is fine, but they should be available and optimized to the unit.

3.  Better Internet Browser.  Opera? Minimo?  I don't care, just something better.

4.  Wireless File Transfer.  Make it easy to get files on or off the Mintpad without having to connect it to a computer.

5.  Multi-OS Support.  It isn't even detectable as a drive on a Mac, which seems like a major oversight to me.  I should at least be able to manually copy files to it without breaking out my PC.

6.  Backup and Sync WITHOUT Sapphire.  Binding people to an ActiveX based system, again, seems really short sighted and will alienate a lot of users (and potential buyers.)  Don't forget about the millions of PC owners (on Windows) who boycott Internet Explorer... and what are those on alternative operating systems to do?  

7.  Built-In Email Client.  It seemed strange to me that the Mintpad doesn't have a native email client.  Why, I wonder?  It would handle email really well; the smooth scrolling lends itself well to that sort of thing.

Note that all of these changes are software, not hardware based.  I think the hardware is excellent and doesn't need any changes.  The small size is perfect, the camera is more than adequate, the built quaity is great.  All the changes are in software.

If you're interested in learning more about the Mintpad, hit up their site at or the forums at

See detailed specs here.


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