There have been few times in my life where I’ve been shocked by a gadget; where I’ve held it my hands and thought “holy crap I’m holding the future.” The first time I held a Windows Mobile PDA, the first e-reader I used in sunlight, my first AMOLED screen, these were all “WOW” moments.
Lately there’s been a push towards connecting our homes to our devices. It’s early yet. Honestly, current solutions are kind of clunky. Getting phones to talk to TV’s, for example, involves jumping through hoops and proprietary app solutions. Even when you go out of your way to buy phones and TV’s specifically for their compatibility (or from the same manufacturer), often the experience can be incomplete or flaky. It only takes the “connected” solution ONE failure before you’re back reaching for traditional remotes.
It’s maybe why I’m so shocked that my next “WOW” moment came from a fairly unassuming radio…
The Grace Mondo is a portable digital streaming WiFi radio about the size of a fancy loaf of wheat bread (which technically makes it smaller than a bread box). The face of the unit features a 3” sub and 1” tweeter next to a 3” LCD surrounded by customizable preset buttons and a selection knob. The Mondo supports Aux in from MP3 players, RCA jacks allow you to hook up other speakers, and there’s a USB port to connect mass storage devices. Lastly, the device can be powered via AC or an optional rechargeable battery which provides up to 6 hours of playback.
Right off the bat, audio quality is solid. For such a small unit, you get a surprisingly full sound. It wont unseat a dedicated audiophile set up, but it’s not designed to. Put it in a room, take it with you to a party on the beach, it’ll provide the soundtrack for any medium sized environment.
The WOW isn’t in the sound quality though, it’s in the performance and connectivity of the device.
The Mondo connects to WiFi, and then gives you access to just about any form of digital audio you can get your hands on–even Sirius/XM satellite radio (for an additional subscription fee). Primarily, Pandora Integration is simply fantastic. Setting up a Grace online account will tie the unit to your Pandora account, and you’re off and listening with full access to all of Pandora’s features including thumbs up-ing songs you like.
Logging into your Grace account also gives you the ability to subscribe to any local radio station that has an online streaming feed (YAY! KCRW!), or the RSS feed of your favorite podcasts. That’s where the preset buttons on the Mondo come in handy, and it only took a couple minutes to fill up all ten options with a combination of traditional radio stations, podcasts, and Pandora stations.
The main WOW of this device, however, comes from how well it plays with other devices. You can control every feature of the Mondo from an iOS or Android device through Grace’s app if the device and the Mondo are on the same wireless network. This is maybe the first time I’ve ever had a partnership just work. I was expecting to have to jump through hoops, enter in a password, or go through a pairing process–I didn’t. I was shocked. I started the app. It turned on the Mondo. I listened to music.
I’ve had zero issues with any of the devices I’ve used to control the Mondo. None. It’s sublime. The Mondo comes with a dedicated remote. I can’t tell you anything about it. I haven’t picked it up once since putting batteries in it. To be honest, I haven’t touched the Mondo since loading the app on my Android devices.
You know how i said it wouldn’t unseat an audiophile set up? I kinda lied. Because mine has. Sure, if I want to sit and experience a wonderful album I’ll still turn to my fancy stereo; but most of my daily listening is either talk radio or “soundtracking” while I do other things. The Mondo’s convenience factor is formidable, and it only took a couple of days before reaching for a phone, selecting a station, and going back to work was second nature. The idea of walking to my stereo (using my legs like a sucker) has already become passe…
The cool factor is surprisingly high here, and showing this thing off is disgustingly fun. Casually poking around my phone for a second to produce audio has already garnered curiosity from friends. At a street price of less than $200, this is an easy recommend, and one of the most cost effective WOW moments I’ve ever had. Maybe that’s the last WOW this thing has to offer…