Viliv S5 Review

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Pros: Good performance for the size ; Long battery life ; Relatively fast boot time ; Optional 3G and GPS

Cons: Expensive ; No slot for included stylus ; Hard to read display outdoors ; No memory card slot

Verdict: Excellent endurance, a good touch interface, GPS, and optional mobile broadband makes this a compelling but pricey mobile Internet device.

The Viliv S5 is well suited for handheld PC users who crave connectivity as much as portability. This mobile Internet device offers 3G, GPS, and Wi-Fi, as well as a full computing experience in a highly mobile form factor. Plus, it gets more than 6 hours of battery life. Sporting a price tag of $799 (available through Dynamism), the Viliv S5 costs $400 more than the best netbooks, and it's even more expensive than many budget dual-core notebooks. However, if you want a PC that can fit (albeit snuggly) into your pocket, and surf the Web from anywhere, it's a solid choice.

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Design

Measuring 6.0 x 3.3 x 0.9 inches and weighing 14.4 ounces, the Viliv S5 falls in between the very pocketable iPhone/iPod touch and a netbook. It's significantly heavier than Apple's offerings, but smaller than mini-notebooks, making it a prime device for two-handed operation, much like a Nintendo DSi or Sony PSP. It's roughly the same size as the 6.6 x 3.7 x 0.9-inch Clarion MiND, another mobile Internet device, but about 5 ounces heavier.

The S5 sports a sturdy build that feels quite solid in hand, and it looks good, too. The all-black device is highlighted by a glossy 4.8-inch display flanked on either side by navigation keys that glow a soft blue. Located on the left side is a small thumb stick that allowed us to navigate menus and desktop icons, and a Menu button that opens Windows XP's Start Menu and brings the toolbar into view (it's hidden by default).

On the right side of the S5 is an OK button (which replicates left clicks), a right-click button, and a button that fires up the transparent virtual keyboard that let us key in URLs and craft e-mail messages. The S5 uses haptic feedback, which provides a rumbling sensation to duplicate the feeling of pressing physical keys, but it doesn't quite replicate the feeling of using a real keyboard. We liked the dedicated Alt, Ctrl, and Win keys that nicely recreate the physical keyboard experience, but the Clarion MiND's larger keys allowed us to press the on-screen buttons with better accuracy.

A pull-out door on the left side of the S5 covers a reset button, a TV-out connection (for exporting video to a larger display), and two USB 2.0 ports. A power port is located on the bottom. On the right is a power switch, and a latch that allows you to pop off the battery pack attached to the back. The top of the device has a headphone jack, dedicated volume keys, and an antenna for increasing the GPS reception. Unfortunately, there's no slot to stash the included stylus when not in use, which means it can be lost easily.

Display and Audio

The 1024 x 600-pixel resolution touchscreen display looks good from a variety of angles. It does, however, kick back heavy reflections when viewing content that's set against a dark background, and when used in direct sunshine it becomes unreadable. When we watched an episode of It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia, we could see ourselves in the display whenever the characters were in a dark environment. Streaming The J.B.'s "The Grunt" through the stereo speakers produced fairly loud and clear audio, though sound was generally a tad lifeless.

Touchscreen Navigation and Dual Interfaces

For the most part, navigating the desktop and launching programs with the touch interface was snappy, responsive, and intuitive. We liked that the physical controls nicely replicated the touchpad/mouse button setup. Our main gripe is that users with sizeable digits will find it somewhat tricky to press the small icons when using Windows XP's default interface. You can easily overcome this issue, however, by either using the included stylus, or by tapping the Cube UI icon in the upper right corner.

Cube UI is Viliv's custom interface that makes it far easier to navigate the handheld device. There are a total of five Cube UI categories (Entertainment, Internet, LBS & Navigation, My Group, and Productivity) that you can cycle between by swiping the touchscreen vertically, clicking on the right side of the screen, or by using the thumbstick.

Each Cube can support up to nine shortcuts on each of its four sides (which you can rotate through by swiping horizontally), so you can have thirty-six shortcuts per category--quite a lot. You can add new icons to the Cube by clicking the edit button in the lower-left corner, then either dragging a desktop icon to an available space, or adding new content via a folder menu. Adjacent to the edit button is an on-screen button that lets you swap the background color from gray to purple with a calendar.

Positioned at the very top of the Cube UI is a taskbar with various icons that lets you see battery life, alter screen brightness and volume, and toggle the wireless connections on and off. At the far left of the taskbar are two icons: Just On and Exit. Just On puts the PC to sleep in 5 seconds (pressing the Start button wakes it up as quickly), while Exit closes out the Cube UI and brings you back into XP. You also can switch back to the standard Windows XP interface by clicking the XP logo in the lower right portion of the screen.

Performance and Multimedia

The Viliv S5 contains one of the slower Intel Atom processors, the 1.33-GHz Z520, which is combined with 1GB of RAM (it's non-upgradeable). However, unlike our experience with the ASUS Eee PC T91, which has the same chip, the S5 was fairly responsive when Web browsing and navigating the PC. Internet Explorer launched in 4 seconds, while the Viliv Player launched in under 3 seconds. The 32GB solid state drive booted the Windows XP operating system in just 40 seconds, which is 14 seconds faster than the netbook average. However, the small storage capacity may not be suitable for those who like to tote lots of media.

When we connected a S-Video cable to the S5 and attached it to a 32-inch Samsung monitor, we were able to enjoy episodes of Strike Force streamed from Hulu on the big screen. The mixed martial arts action was smooth overall, but when fists and feet started flailing, there was a hint of blurriness and stuttering. Home videos played back smoothly on the device, but a downloaded 720p Terminator 2 trailer stuttered throughout the length of the 1:59 clip. When we exported the video to our 32-inch Samsung monitor, we encountered the same problems. As the device is powered by Windows XP Home, it's compatible with the usual multimedia formats (BMP, JPEG, MP3, WAV, and WMV).

GPS

Unlike the Clarion MiND, the Viliv S5 doesn't come preinstalled with GPS software; you have to install your own, such as Google Earth, Microsoft Streets and Trips 2009 ($39.95), or StreetDeck ($39 to $99). Downloading the 1.2GB Microsoft Streets and Trips took 30 minutes using the S5's built-in Wi-Fi. Once installed, the software plotted our office address on a map in about 3 seconds. Plotting a route (complete with points of interest) from our location to a Brooklyn apartment took 4.8 seconds. Extending the antenna had no effect on the times.

Wi-Fi, 3G, and Battery Life

While the Viliv S5's 802.11b/g Wi-Fi was good for surfing Web pages, it had trouble providing enough throughput for streaming media. When we watched a scene from Troll 2 on Hulu, the video stuttered for approximately 10 seconds before playing back normally. A similar occurrence happened when we streamed an episode of 30 Rock. On the other hand, Michael Jackson's "Beat It" played back without a hitch when we streamed the tune from Slacker.

For times when you move outside of hotspot range, you can fire up the S5's Mobile Partner software, which lets you connect to AT&T's 3G network (in order to insert the 3G-enabled SIM card, you must first remove the battery). Downloading a 7.7MB Firefox 3 install file in our Manhattan office took 2 minutes and 9 seconds (488 Kbps), which sped up to 1:52 (563 Kbps) when we sat in a nearby park.

While in the park, we surfed over to CNN.com. Using Firefox 3, it took an average of 11 seconds for the page to fully load, but we were able to begin reading the home page after just 8 seconds. Uploading a 6MB file from the S5 to Flickr took 3:13, a rate of 326.3 Kbps. This is far slower than the AT&T USB Connect Mercury, which had a download speed of 737.9 Kbps, and an upload speed of 465.2 Kbps in the same location.

The S5 lasted a lengthy 6 hours and 49 minutes on our LAPTOP Battery Test, which was nearly two hours better than the 4:56 UMPC average and 30 minutes better than the six-cell netbook average. When we looped The Dirtbombs' "I Hear Sirens" MP3 (at 50 percent volume) while the S5 was connected to our office Wi-Fi signal, the handheld lasted just over 5 hours and 30 minutes before needing a charge. That was more than 4 hours longer than the Clarion MiND endured when performing the same task.

Software and Warranty

As the Viliv S5 is a pint-size PC, it features many of the applications that you'd expect on a Windows machine, such as Adobe Acrobat Reader 9, Internet Explorer 8, a 60-day trial of Microsoft Office Home and Student 2007, Windows Live Mail, and Windows Live Messenger. Viliv also includes its own music player (Viliv Player) and Web browser (FastWeb), which let us play back files and surf the Web without any hiccups. With its ability to play back music and video, Viliv Player served as a solid alternative to Windows Media Player, but FastWeb was noticeably slower than the bundled Internet Explorer 6 browser; the former loaded CNN.com in 18 seconds, while the latter did so in 12 seconds. Firefox 3 bested both with a 10-second load time.

Dynamism covers the system 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.

Other Configurations

The S5 is available in three other configurations: $599 (60GB hard drive), $649 (32GB SSD, no 3G or GPS), and $1,299 (128GB SSD, 3G, GPS, and Windows Vista Home Premium (with Windows 7 upgrade). A larger 7-inch, 1024 x 600 model, the Viliv X70 (starting at $599), sports many of the same features, but adds a webcam, mic, an SD Card slot, and PC data transfer capability via USB.

Video Comparison: Viliv S5 and Clarion MiND

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Verdict

Priced at $799, our configuration of the Viliv S5 is pricier than the $299 Clarion MiND, and twice as expensive as most netbooks. With that premium, however, comes a highly portable design, GPS, a sharp (though reflective) display, optional 3G connectivity, and impressive endurance. Touch and stylus novices may be put off by the lack of a physical keyboard, but if you want a pocketable PC and don't mind the two-handed operation--or the price--the Viliv S5 will satisfy.

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Laptop Mag & Tom's Hardware
CPU 1.33-GHz Intel Atom Z520
RAM Included 1GB
RAM Upgradeable 1GB
Storage Drive Size 32GB
Storage Drive Type SSD
Display Size 4.8
Display Resolution 1024x600
Graphics Chip Intel GMA 500
Graphics Memory
Wi-Fi 802.11b/g
Has Bluetooth Yes
OS Microsoft Windows XP Home
Ports Headphone
Ports TV-out
USB Ports 2
Warranty / Support One-year limited/toll-free tech support, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. (EST), Mon to Fri
Size 6.0 x 3.3 x 0.9 inches
Weight 14.4 ounces
Company Website http://www.dynamism.com