It’s cool, but not easy to define. Straddling the line between mobile Internet devices (MIDs) like its predecessor, the S5, and touchscreen tablet netbooks, such as the ASUS Eee PC T91, this $799 device manages to incorporate aspects of both product categories, but not always with success. The addition of a keyboard would be welcome if it were a bit more usable, and the screen’s touch capabilities need work. Still, the Viliv S7 will catch the eye of those looking for something more robust than your everyday handheld device.
The 9.1 x 5.6 x 1.0-inch Viliv S7 is sort of a like a cross between the Sony VAIO P’s long and skinny chassis and an oversized Nintendo DS. At 1.8 pounds, it’s almost half the weight of most netbooks, and light enough to carry and forget—though not skinny enough to fit in most pockets. It’s not as stylish as the VAIO P, but the S7 avoids looking utilitarian, and strikes a balance between aesthetics and functionality. As a tablet, the S7 is narrow enough to hold comfortably in one hand, and didn’t feel awkward or heavy (even after half an hour of use).
The 7-inch screen has a swivel hinge, allowing the user to turn it 180 degrees and lay it flat on the keyboard with the screen facing up. When folding the display down, we felt and heard a click as it snapped into place, making the unit feel solid and sturdy.
Keyboard & Trackpad
When attempting to type on the S7’s keyboard, we were reminded of the original 7-inch ASUS Eee PC 701. Where one could get used to the 701’s cramped layout, the S7’s seems designed to ensure you never do. The keys are not only small, but they’re shorter than they are wide. Many keys are awkwardly located, shoved into the lower right and left of the layout seemingly without thought to usability, only inclusion. Small keyboards always present challenges to touch typists, but even those who hunt and peck will have a hard time being accurate and speedy on the S7.
To accommodate the smaller form factor, Viliv placed the touchpad above the keys and to the right. This small, narrow 1.8 x 0.8-inch strip is useful for getting the mouse arrow into small corners or precision clicking, but not much else. The mouse buttons flanking it are responsive and springy, and given the design and purpose of the machine, it makes sense that they aren’t underneath the touchpad. The overall effect isn’t ideal, but that wouldn’t matter if the S7’s touchscreen was up to snuff (more on that below).
On the left side of the display are two buttons: Pivot and Menu. Menu activates the Start menu, and Pivot rotates the screen counterclockwise in all directions; you can hold the S7 in four ways, depending on preference. There is no accelerometer for automatic switching, as there is on the CTL 2go Convertible Classmate PC.
Like the ASUS Eee PC T91, the 7-inch screen (1024 x 600 pixels) on the Viliv S7 recognizes both the pad or tip of a finger and a stylus. Moving the pad of our finger across the screen as we would on an iPod touch often didn’t result in moving the cursor at all. We had some success tapping the screen to bring the arrow where we wanted it, but nothing like what we’ve experienced with any decent touchscreen MID or laptop, such as on the Lenovo ThinkPad X200 Tablet (Multitouch).
The S7’s screen responded much better when we used our fingernail or a stylus. Here we experienced the responsiveness we expected: the ability to move the cursor smoothly, highlight text, and click on menus or small elements on the screen.
Unfortunately, the S7 doesn’t come with a stylus—we used a universal pen/stylus combo we had in the office. And while we’re glad the screen responds to both types of input, the finger-touch function needs to work more consistently and accurately, especially since not everyone has fingernails.
Viliv includes its custom Shuffle user interface overlay that provides users with large icons grouped into five categories (Entertainment, Internet, LBS & Navigation, MY Group, and Productivity) for easy navigation. Users can access any program from the Shuffle UI, and customize which applications show up in each category. The larger icons were better for navigating with the pad of our finger than XP proper. Still, we needed to use the stylus to access the settings along the top of the UI.
The Shuffle UI isn’t as robust or as much fun as using Touch Gate on the Eee PC T91. ASUS’ offering gave the impression of a more integrated touch mentality, while the Shuffle UI feels undercooked and less intuitive.
An on-screen keyboard is included for tablet-only use. We like that the keys are big for more accurate typing with the pad of the finger, but since the screen is so small, the keyboard covers about half of it. Clicking the Hide button dismissed the keys and placed an unobtrusive icon on the lower right that can be used to launch the keyboard again.
Audio and Video
Because it’s light, small, and features a fairly large screen, the Viliv S7 has the makings of being a good portable entertainment device. A standard definition video clip of Torchwood: Children of Earth played smoothly, but the image was pixilated. Streaming an episode of The Office from Hulu looked better, with only a bit of stuttering when we played it at full screen. Just don’t try high-def content; a downloaded 720p WMV video had plenty of detail, but the slow frame rates make it look like a slideshow.
The glossy screen kicked back reflections during dark scenes when we watched video in a well-lit room. Vertical viewing angles were great in dim light. Horizontal viewing angles were also good; we didn’t see color distortion until just past 45 degrees. Unfortunately, we couldn’t see anything on the screen while standing in direct sunlight.
For such a tiny system, the Viliv S7 has excellent internal speakers. They’re quite loud—capable of filling a small room on just 25 percent volume, and easily heard over a running air conditioner at just over half volume—and even though the sound was somewhat tinny, we were impressed with the amount of bass we could distinguish in Superchick’s “One Girl Revolution.” Listening with headphones, the sound was fuller and much less tinny.
Ports and Webcam
The S7 comes with a decent port spread; on the left is the VGA, Multi I/O (for connecting A/V cables), headphone, mic and power ports, and on the right is the SD Card slot, two USB ports, a mini-USB link port, and the Power/Hold switch. Instead of a push button, users slide the power switch forward to turn the S7 on. Click it to the Hold position and the unit will remain on, but won’t accept input from the screen, keyboard or buttons.
Images from the 1.3-megapixel webcam were decent for the hardware. Colors are true, if not very rich. Quick movement, such as when we waved a hand in front of the lens or shook the unit slightly, revealed blur, motion trails, and wobble. The vilivCam software doesn’t offer much in the way of settings: users can adjust the resolution from 320 x 240 to 1280 x 1024, yet can’t adjust brightness, contrast, or color saturation.
Though the S7 runs Windows XP Home Edition, we weren’t able to run most of our usual benchmarks on the system. The 1.33-GHz Intel Atom Z520 CPU and 1GB of RAM earned it a score of 714 on Geekbench, a bit below the netbook average of 826. Even though it booted in just 44 seconds, the S7’s 32GB solid state drive took a surprisingly slow 30 minutes and 4 seconds to complete the LAPTOP Transfer Test, for a very slow score of 2.8 MBps. Even the Samsung Q1EX-71G tablet (with a 4,200-rpm hard drive) completed the test faster: 12:44.
We didn’t experience slowness on the S7 when opening programs or performing such simple tasks as Web surfing, checking e-mail, or writing documents. Internet Explorer 8 and Microsoft Word 2007 both opened in 3 seconds, and the vilivPlayer opened in 1 second.
More advanced and graphically demanding tasks and programs didn’t fare as well. When we visited four New York City locations in Google Earth, each took more than 20 seconds to render fully with 3D Buildings turned off; it took more than 45 seconds for the Empire State Building to load with that feature turned on. Plus, flying from location to location wasn’t as smooth as we’re used to on netbooks.
Casual games on the S7 caused noticeable lag and hanging. We attempted to play Bejeweled Blitz and Pet Society on Facebook with limited success. Bejeweled Blitz ran slow, and didn’t react quickly to finger or stylus input; our creature in Pet Society moved like a snail.
After 15 minutes of playing Bejeweled Blitz with the display folded down over the keyboard, we measured the temperature between the G and H keys at 92 degrees Fahrenheit. The bottom of the S7 got up to 107 degrees; hot enough to be uncomfortable to the touch, but not enough to render the system unusable.
Battery Life and Wireless
As with the Viliv S5, the S7 impressed us with its endurance. It lasted 6 hours and 58 minutes on the LAPTOP Battery Test (continuous web surfing over a wireless connection), 48 minutes longer than the six-cell netbook average and almost 3 hours more than the Eee PC T91 (4:10).
The Viliv S7 doesn’t have the best wireless strength. At 15 feet from our router, the system managed a throughput of 14.4 Mbps, which is far below the netbook average (19.7 Mbps). The S7’s data rate of 12.6 Mbps is also below average. When surfing in different locations, Web pages took a bit longer to load than we’d like, and streaming video often needed extra time to buffer before being able to play a video without pausing.
Our S7 premium configuration is 3G HSDPA-compatible, and designed to work with AT&T’s network. Adding a SIM card is easy: simply remove the battery to reveal the slot, and slide the card in accordance with the arrow and icon located underneath.
Software and Warranty
The S7 comes with much of the same software you’d expect to see on a netbook, and (thankfully) isn’t bloated with a lot of trial or crapware. Viliv-specific utilities include the vilivCam, vilivSoftKeyboard, Viliv Music Studio, vilivPlayer, and the FastWeb browser. Higher-end S7 configurations come with Viliv’s Mobile Partner software for connecting to AT&T’s 3G wireless network. The interfaces of these programs have larger, more touch-friendly elements, including the minimize and close buttons at the top of the window.
A trial of Microsoft Office 2007 and the free Windows Live Essentials suite is also included. We were pleased that the K-Lite Codec Pack was preinstalled, as it allowed us to play DivX video in Windows Media Player right out of the box.
Dynamism covers the S7 with a one-year warranty and toll-free tech support between the hours of 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. (EST), Monday through Friday.
The Viliv S7 is available in two other configurations. The S7/60 ($629) has the same CPU and RAM, but comes with a 60GB hard drive instead of a solid state drive. The $659 S7/32ssd is identical to our S7 Premium configuration, but doesn’t include the 3G modem. If you can do without ubiquitous wireless access, the $140 difference brings the S7 down to a more reasonable price.
The $799 Viliv S7 Premium is more than $350 more expensive than most netbooks, and a few dollars above some full-size ultraportable notebooks. The higher price does come with benefits, including portability, a good display size, and long battery life. The addition of a physical keyboard makes the S7 more usable than the S5, but both key and touch input are half-baked. Nevertheless, if you want a touchscreen PC you can take anywhere, the S7 is worth a look.