Thursday, March 25, 2010

Sony Ericsson Vivaz

Mobile phone maker Sony Ericsson's Vivaz falls into its entertainment series of handsets. the same range populated by the Yari, Aino and the 12.1 megapixelSatio camera phone that we reviewed last year.

The mobile boasts a new design format that Sony Ericsson is using for the rest of the year, which is said to fit the natural curve of the hand. Improvements have been made over existing models, with the video capture quality being the most notable enhancement of them all.
On initial inspection the phone has the appearance of a budget handset, as it's very light with a very thin and flimsy removable plastic backing that takes up the whole of the rear of the mobile and doesn't evoke the image of a quality phone. This is bound to pass through many peoples' minds as they first remove the backing plate to place in the SIM card and battery. Look past these initial doubts, as looks can be deceiving, seeing as how this actually is a midrange handset with redeeming qualities. With the weight of the handset being only 97grams, it is one of the lightest handsets we've seen, and it also has a reasonable size at 107mm by 52mm and only 12.5mm at its thickest point. It's not too absurdly small, nor is it too large to fit in the palm of the hand and operate comfortably.

The Vivaz display is a 3.2-inch 640x360 resistive touchscreen, with a sharpness to the display quality of a much higher end phone thanks to the onboard PowerVR SGX530 GPU. This is exemplified in video playback captured from its built-in camera. Unfortunately the Vivaz lacks a precisely accurate touchscreen, although it is much more responsive than cheap resistive touchscreen phones such as the HTC Tattoo. As this isn't a budget phone we would have thought Sony Ericsson would have gone down the capacitive touchscreen route, but it hasn't even ventured down this path in any of its shipping handsets even though plenty of its competitors have quite a few such models in their arsenals now.

The key feature of the Vivaz is its camera, there are no two ways about it. It's not that it's anything special, as it's only an 8.1 megapixel camera and that MP rating is quite common these days. It is the video capture quality that is its redeeming feature. Don't get us wrong, the picture quality is good and the image is fairly sharp but the video is of a much higher standard than is usually seen on 8.1MP camera phones - it's HD quality.

The Sony Ericsson Vivaz can capture video at 1280x720p whereas other handset cameras with the same megapixel count or even higher usually record at just a VGA standard of 30fps. Even the 12.1 megapixel Satio could capture video only at that lowly rate, though we had hoped for so much more. The new video quality is all thanks to software in the handset, which we've been reliably informed will be a feature of other mobiles from Sony Ericsson in the future. Just to hammer home that the video camera HD ability is key to the handset, there is even a dedicated video camera button alongside the regular camera one, which is featured on most mobiles for quickly capturing pictures.
The quality of the video recorded is very good indeed, as expected with the 720p HD media at 24fps. There is a slight lag when recording video, where unless noted the record button can be pressed again whereupon the video abruptly stops recording. After this learning curve is surpassed video capture is very smooth indeed, with a very responsive camera-to-screen link with little lag observed between them. Movement is captured on video very well too, as shown in an example video at the end of this review. The volume button also doubles as a zoom button while recording, which is preferable to using the touchscreen as it isn't that responsive. There is even continuous auto-focusing whilst recording, which isn't commonly seen on mobile phones capable of video but is rather a feature of camcorders.

The Sony Ericsson Vivaz runs the Symbian S60 5th Edition OS, the same OS used by Nokia and which is also featured on the Sony Ericsson Satio and the Samsung i8910 Omnia HD. The GUI is a basic version of the Symbian system, with very few frills added by Sony Ericsson. The icons and menu options are rather basic, apparently targeted at non-advanced users. There is a note taken from the Android playbook, as there are a couple of home screens. These aren't the multiple home screens found on the Google mobile OS, however, as there are only four links to applications and a simple Twitter client, with a fifth page showing multiple shortcuts to apps.

There were some oddities to this version of Symbian, one of the more curious aspects was in text entry. The standard alphanumeric keyboard is present in portrait mode on the screen, only when selecting full-qwerty in landscape the portrait mode isn't available anymore, although it was with the Nokia X6, running the same OS. Also the T9 word auto completion isn't possible in landscape mode, which is a massive missing ability and one that is a feature in other implementations of the same Symbian OS.

Running the phone is a fast Texas Interments OMAP3630 720 MHz ARM Cortex A8 chip, which could have done so much more with a better OS and web browser, both of which we thought were decidedly average to say the least. Sony Ericsson has included an 8GB microSD card, which frankly is needed as there's only 75MB of memory. We clocked a 59 second 720p HD video at 56MB, which gives some idea of how much storage will be taken up when 10 minutes or more of video is recorded.

Sony Ericsson has abandoned the usual connector that accompanied the Satio for something more regular and industry standard. Gone is the proprietary Sony Ericsson Fastport connector for power, data and the audio connection which we've seen on its latest Satio, Aino and Yari mobiles. The Vivaz has a microUSB port for both the wired computer data connection and for charging, which is becoming an EU requirement and is a welcome addition. Also built into the phone is a 3.5mm audio socket for using the rather bog-standard bundled in headphones or others. Using the Fastport connector for audio was one of the most clumsy and ridiculous efforts, with the large bulky adaptor jutting out the side. Now there's a discrete, inconspicuous port inclusion on the side and is a step in the right direction, although having the socket on the top of the phone is always preferable.

Sony Ericsson believes the Vivaz is capable of ten hours of talk time, but we found in our own testing something vastly different. The 1200 mAh battery accompanying the handset lasted for only just over five hours of talk time, which we repeated a couple of times after a full charge.

In Short
The Vivaz strongest selling point is its ability to capture video in HD, at 720p. Other than that there isn't much to distinguish it or stand apart from common touch screen midrange handsets. The OS of choice isn't inspiring nor is its delivery, where Sony Ericsson should have offered better customisation or even thought about Android as the platform. The display, although sharp in quality and colours, is a somewhat unresponsive resistive screen that took several stabs with a finger to elicit a minor response at the best of times. Existing very loyal customers will undoubtedly will be attracted to the good HD video recording quality but other users of a more robust smartphone surely will not. µ

The Good
Video capture in HD, microUSB port and no longer the Fastport for charging and data.

The Bad
Bland Symbian OS iteration, lag whilst recording, short battery life.

The Ugly
Unresponsive touch screen outweighs the attraction of its HD video capabilities.

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