Viliv_s5_review

One of the most highly anticipated MIDs/UMPCs to be released this year is the Viliv S5 Premium, a compact Atom-based device that packs a 60GB hard drive, 4.8-inch haptic touchscreen (1024 x 600), WiFi, Bluetooth, and GPS into a truly pocketable unit that weighs less than a pound. Priced at just $599 at Dynamism, the S5 Premium runs Windows XP Home and features stellar battery life, HD video playback out of the box, and exceptional build quality.

But is it right for you? Find out by reading my full review below.

System Specifications

CPU:
1.33GHz Intel Atom Z520
RAM: 1GB DDR2
OS: Windows XP Home
Storage: 60GB HDD
Display: 4.8” touchscreen (1024 x 600) with haptic feedback
Wireless: 802.11b/g, Bluetooth 2.0+EDR, GPS
Size: 6.1" x 3.3" x 0.96"
Weight: 0.9 lbs. with battery

See my Vilv S5 Premium unboxing to check out the packaging and accessories (supplied and optional).

Design

What I find most striking about the Viliv S5's appearance is the build quality: it's outstanding.

Viliv_s5_des

Even though the smooth matte plastic used for most of the casing isn't as immediately impressive as, say, brushed metal would be, the unit is incredibly sturdy and built very well. Everyone I've shown the device to has made a remark about the quality and how "expensive" it feels.

Viliv_s5_des2

Because the hardware is almost identical to Viliv's X5 PMP announced at CES 2008 (yes, 2008), I wasn't wowed when the S5 first appeared on the scene. To be honest, I'm still not really taken with the design, but I recognize that the all-black hardware, subtle silver accents, rounded corners, and decorative grooves are still stylish. It all looks and feels very finished.

Size

Though the "PMP look" may not work as well on a MID/UMPC for me personally, the "PMP size" is pretty amazing.

Viliv_s5_quarter

The Viliv S5 is one of the smallest full-blown Windows computers on the market right now. Its size may suggest otherwise, but its specs are on the same level as considerably larger UMPCs and mini notebooks.

Here are some size comparison photos from my unboxing:

Viliv_s5_unbox_comp1

Clockwise from top: Sony Vaio P, Archos 5, Viliv S5, BenQ S6.

Viliv_s5_unbox_comp2

Clockwise from top left: Willcom D4, Sony Vaio UX, Viliv S5.

Viliv_s5_comp3

Clockwise from top left: Viliv S5, Sony mylo COM-2, Nokia N800, Nokia N810.

And here's a look at the S5 among a few household/office items to put it into better context:

Viliv_s5_size 

Display

The Viliv S5 is equipped with a 4.8-inch 1024 x 600 resistive touchscreen that responds equally well to styli taps, fingernails, and fingertips. It isn't the brightest display in the world, but it's good and colorful.

Viliv_s5_stylus

There are a handful of ways to improve the touch experience in XP, but the Viliv S5 comes with a stylus (threaded through a handstrap) for a reason. While you can certainly get by with your fingernails, the stylus' fine tip makes hitting the smaller targets much easier. 

Whether you like using a stylus to interact with XP is a matter of personal choice. Me? I don't like it; I'd rather not use my fingers (tips or nails) with XP either. I'll take a joystick/pointer on a handheld device any day! And no, that joystick-looking controller on the left side of the device is not a real pointer (more on this later). Fortunately, if you spend a lot of your computer time consuming content (reading blogs, checking RSS feeds, watching online video, keeping up with news, etc.), then getting around in Firefox with the fabulous Grab and Drag add-on (demos here) without a pointer is a real treat.

Haptic Feedback

One of the most unique features about the Viliv S5's display is that it's a haptic touchscreen. Haptic feedback (screen vibration activated by touch) is more commonly seen on smartphones and MP3 players, but it's a fine fit for a device like the S5.

The feedback can be set to one of three modes: always on, always off, or virtual keyboard only. I prefer the latter option because it's the only time I find it useful (the keyboard is discussed in its own section below). The touchscreen is very responsive on its own, so having haptics enabled all the time is overkill for me; tactile confirmation generally isn't necessary when tapping icons.

Orientation

The display orientation can be rotated in all four directions.

Viliv_s5_rotate

Portrait mode is especially nice for reading eBooks, checking feeds, and reading lengthy articles that require a lot of scrolling.

Controls

Though the touchscreen was perhaps designed as the primary method for controlling/interacting with the Viliv S5, there's a nice selection of hardware controls that can be used (with varying degrees of success) instead.

Viliv_s5_ctrl1 

First up is what Viliv calls the jog button/dial. It's basically a D-pad in joystick form that can be used for highlighting various items/icons in a list, scrolling, navigating through the CubeUI (more on this below), and rotating the screen when the shortcut button on the opposite side of the device is pressed. Holding down the menu button below the joystick for an unspecified "long time" allows the jog button/dial to be used as a four-way mouse that can move, grid-style, across the desktop.

Used alone, the menu button is the Windows key on your PC keyboard that brings up the Start menu. It can be also be used in combination with the volume keys to control brightness and the shortcut button to launch the utility manager.

Viliv_s5_ctrl2 

On the right side of the screen are three buttons separated by decorative silver bars:

  • OK button (top). Quick press to select items, press and hold to turn LCD on/off.
  • Right-click button (middle). Press to perform the same function as a computer mouse's right-click.
  • Shortcut button (bottom). User-defined; set to launch on-screen keyboard by default.

Other hardware elements on the front of the Viliv S5 include stereo speakers and an IR receiver for use with a remote control.

Now on to the ports and other things the MID has to offer . . .

Viliv_s5_left 

Beneath a covered door on the left side are a multi-I/O jack used for VGA and component/S-VIDEO output, USB 2.0 port, and miniUSB link port to enable the S5 to be used as an external storage disk when connected to another computer. Beside all of that are a power port and the only LED indicator (red = charging, blue = charged) on the device.

Viliv_s5_right 

On the right side are a handstrap loop, power/hold switch, and battery lock/release switch. The rectangle you see at the far right is where the external DMB antenna port would be on Korean models.

Viliv_s5_top 

At the top of the unit are a 3.5mm headphone jack, one of three vents (the other two are on the bottom), and a volume rocker. The rectangle next to it is where the built-in DMB antenna would be on Korean models.

Notable hardware omissions include a webcam, microphone, memory card reader, HDD status indicator, true mouse pointer/joystick, and kickstand.

Virtual Keyboard

Earlier I mentioned that enabling the S5's built-in haptic feedback is most useful when using the virtual keyboard. The reason is that relying on the visual feedback alone isn't enough.

Viliv_s5_kb1 

Viliv_s5_kb2 

The keyboard itself is made up of two sets of layouts that each take up a little more than half the screen. The keypads are split to eliminate any awkward thumb stretching and the individual keys are well sized for finger tips.

Unlike something like DialKeys, for example, the Viliv on-screen keyboard's style and opacity are both fixed, and the function keys are missing.

Viliv_s5_kb3 

When a key is pressed, it lifts up a bit and glows blue to let you know that it's been hit. Though this sounds like it would be adequate visual feedback in theory, it falls short in practice:

  • It's inconsistent. Sometimes a key will lift up and turn blue; sometimes it won't.
  • The keys don't raise up high enough to see them easily, especially when you're using your thumbs and not the stylus (as pictured above).

Typing

So what's the typing experience like on the Viliv S5?

Viliv_s5_typing 

It's better than a lot of other soft keyboards preloaded on UMPCs/MIDs, but it's far from being as good as a hardware keyboard to me. That may seem like an unfair statement, but I think the virtual keyboard on the iPhone and iPod touch has proven that the gap between on-screen and hardware keyboards doesn't have to be that wide.

Though others may disagree, I personally wouldn't use Viliv's virtual keyboard for anything more than entering URLs, usernames, passwords, and very short messages. I honestly wouldn't even use it to post an update on Twitter; it just takes too long, especially because key presses don't always register when relying solely on haptic feedback to attempt to type at a natural speed.

How well you get along with the virtual keyboard largely depends on your normal thumb typing speed. I'm not a speed demon on a thumboard, but when I can't type as quickly as my thumbs can move solely because of inaccuracies and missed letters, the experience is unpleasant. But that's just me.

Connectivity

The Viliv S5 is equipped with 802.11b/g WiFi, Bluetooth 2.0+EDR, and GPS.

Viliv_s5_vmanager 

WiFi and Bluetooth can be turned on/off via the Viliv Manager, a simple control panel utility preinstalled on the unit.

Internet

Whether connected to a wireless network or tethered via Bluetooth to a cell phone, the Viliv S5 is an excellent device to surf the web. Its high resolution screen eliminates horizontal scrolling on most websites, its processor enables speedy page load times, and since it's a full-blown Windows computer, it can do everything a desktop browser can do (Flash, Java, download/upload, copy-and-paste, save images, etc.) with no problem.

Viliv_s5_fastweb 

In addition to the default Internet Explorer installation, the S5 ships with a proxy-based browser called fastweb. As its name implies, websites load very quickly, reportedly fives times faster than IE (YouTube demo here).

Viliv_s5_web 

My browser of choice is Firefox with the Grab and Drag add-on, which makes the browsing experience very finger friendly with kinetic scrolling, pan-and-drag, and flick gestures.

GPS

Housed inside the S5 is the SiRFstarIII GPS chip. Navigation software is not included, but StreetDeck (video demo here), Garmin Mobile PC, and Microsoft Streets and Trips are some of the more popular choices among users.

Viliv_s5_carkit

With the optional car kit (above), the S5 becomes one of the most powerful and versatile GPS units on the market. Take a look at Pocketables Forum member Ddj Ozone's in-car setup (posts #4 and #10) to see what I mean.

Performance

A common complaint about the 1.33GHz Intel Atom Z520 processor (also used in the Sony Vaio P, Kohjinsha SC3, and Willcom D4) is that it's too underpowered for Windows Vista. Because of that, one of the first "projects" done to computers with the unfortunate CPU/OS combo is to downgrade to XP. I happen to be a fan of Vista and honestly prefer it to XP, but I understand why many prefer the leaner operating system.

What the Viliv S5 has going for it out of the box, performance wise, is that it ships with Windows XP. And just about no one (except maybe Linux or Apple people) can find fault with that. The system is very responsive and quiet, applications launch and lists populate quickly, only about 30 processes are running in the background, and having several programs open at the same time doesn't bog things down too much.

The Viliv S5 isn't extraordinarily powerful, as you can see in the benchmarks below, but it runs well and doesn't test your patience. Here are some timed tests to illustrate my point:

  • Into standby: 2 seconds
  • Out of standby: 4 seconds
  • Into hibernation: 27 seconds
  • Out of hibernation: 22 seconds
  • Shut down: 28 seconds
  • Cold boot: 41 seconds (to CubeUI)
  • Restart: 1 minute, 3 seconds (to CubeUI)

Benchmarks

Viliv_s5_crystalmark 

Viliv_s5_diskmark

CubeUI

Viliv_s5_cubeui 

The MID comes preinstalled with the CubeUI (YouTube demo here), a finger/stylus-optimized overlay that provides quick access to various Windows XP applications. It's not the same as Microsoft's Origami Experience, but it's somewhat comparable.

Though the CubeUI is a decent utility, it isn't something I ever use. While it does make application icons more finger friendly, I can get by just as well by using the "large icons" setting in XP. And besides, once an application is launched (whether via the CubeUI or not), you're still back to the standard not-made-for-fingers Windows XP.

Productivity

Because of the Viliv S5's slate form factor, I consider it to be better suited for consuming rather than creating content.

Viliv_s5_prod 

That's not to say that the device can't be used for serious work, howeve r. Simply connect a few Bluetooth-enabled peripherals and you've got yourself a highly portable office that can run all of your desktop applications.

The screen size and resolution may cause some eye fatigue after an extended period, but with workarounds like increasing the DPI, using full-page zoom in Firefox, and enlarging text size in various programs, it isn't a major problem.

Entertainment

When "PMP" is printed on a piece of hardware that has roots in an actual PMP, it's tough not to look at the S5 and expect quality multimedia playback.

Viliv_s5_pmp

Though it uses the Poulsbo chipset (Intel SCH US15W, GMA 500) that has failed to deliver on its promises since last summer, video playback out of the box is actually quite good.

Using the default driver (version 6.14.10.1093) with no additional tweaks, 720p HD videos play exceptionally well in a variety of media players, including WMP. Full-screen online videos (YouTube, Hulu, Vimeo, Ustream, etc.) encounter no problems either. And I haven't tried it myself, but an S5 owner has reported the successful playback of even a 1080p 40Mbps H.264 Blu-Ray rip with 800MHz FLAC audio (using PotPlayer, internal PowerDVD8 H264 decoder, DXVA mode).

Note: CyberLink PowerDVD 8.0 SE, Direct Show Ogg Vorbis Filter, and K-Lite Codec Pack 4.5.3 (Full) are all preinstalled.

Battery

Viliv_s5_batt 

A thin 6200mAh removable li-polymer battery acts as the back of the Viliv S5. Power management is impressively optimized, as a single charge (3.5 hours for 85% charge, 6 hours for full charge) provides up to 200 hours (!) of standby time and 6 hours of operational time. Actual runtime varies according to usage and settings, of course, but the estimates are pretty accurate.

Conclusion

Mobile computing is about personal choice. We all have different wants and needs, so no single device can satisfy us all; a dealbreaker for one person could have no affect on a purchasing decision for another.

Viliv_s5_final

The Viliv S5 Premium has so much going for it (build quality, performance, battery life, size/weight, versatility, price, etc.) that at a glance, it would seem almost impossible for anyone not to love it, want it, and buy it. But here I stand, fully aware of how remarkable the S5 is and why so many consumers can't wait to have one as their own, yet still not wanting one as my own. The dealbreaker for me, personally, is the form factor. I just prefer slider and clamshell UMPCs/MIDs with hardware keyboards: simple as that.

If, however, the slate style appeals to you, then you'd be hard-pressed to find anything better than the Viliv S5.

:: Visit the Viliv S5 forum to connect with other owners, share tips, and troubleshoot. ::

The Viliv S5 can be purchased from Dynamism for $599. A special presale that includes a free car kit, leather case, and spare battery will begin on April 27th at 1 p.m. EST; the first shipment is expected on May 8th.