Sony Ericsson Vivaz
Symbian snapper with HD video
Review Sony Ericsson's latest style phone certainly cuts a dash with its unique curvy shape. But its focus is on HD video capture, rather than just movie viewing, with its 8.1Mp stills camera also capable of recording moving images in 720p HD. With Wi-Fi, HSDPA 3G, A-GPS and social networking apps, the Vivaz adds up to much more than a mere fashion phone.
Image conscious: Sony Ericsson's Vivaz
High marks for Sony Ericsson on the design front – the Vivaz is stylish sliver of seamless cool. The sloping lines that top and tail the front look good enough and, at the bottom, just a thin curved strip of three buttons: call start and stop, plus menu. From the side, it's all space age minimalism with a dynamic curve running through three sides. SE calls it 'human curvature'. While it doesn't look like any human we're aware of – with its blue-black sheen on the sides and choice of metallic silver, black, blue or red – frankly, it looks gorgeous.
It has a volume rocker, which doubles as a camera zoom, plus two dedicated buttons for both still and video cameras. There's a micro USB slot – yes, SE is steadily saying goodbye to its ill-starred FastPort – covered by a plastic grommet and a 3.5mm headphone jack tucked into the corner. On the back is the slightly recessed camera lens and LED flash set in a perfect circle. It feels comfy in the hand too, not big or heavy at 107 x 52 x 13mm and 97g, yet still feeling substantial.
The 3.2in TFT LCD touch screen promises over 16m colours and a resolution of 360 x 640 pixels. It's impressively sharp and detailed but suffers from that old resistive handicap and has possibly been included to help keep the price down. Then again, the screen choice could be because the phone's been in development since before capacitive established itself as the only type of touchscreen that can consistently deliver the kind of complex functionality demanded by today's smartphones.
That said, we've certainly seen much worse – LG's GW620 comes to mind – and we found it more sensitive than most when it came to distinguishing between our brushes and presses, and though there's a stylus in the box, we never felt the need for it. The screen could have done with an anti-grease coating though, since it tends to be a bit of a fingerprint magnet.
Nifty autofocus but, alas, a digital zoom
The Vivaz runs the Symbian S60 5th edition operating system, though SE has contributed its own home page interface and it generally looks and acts better than many of Nokia's recent implementations of the OS. There's still that annoying thing with Symbian where lists require a double press, while icons need only a single press, which necessitates a bit of a learning curve. The 720MHz processor proved more than capable of handling the functionality though; flitting between apps was generally nippy and we didn't detect any lag when browsing or watching video.
The screen features two menus top and bottom – one includes shortcuts to keypad, media, messaging and web search. The other has links to your favourite contacts, your Twitter account, an animated screensaver, your picture gallery and a customisable shortcuts list. Even though there's a Facebook app on board too, bizarrely you can't include it in the menu bar. You can also access each of the menu features by brushing the screen right or left, so they function as separate home pages. The hard menu button at the bottom brings up your menu in either icon or list form.
Its resistive touchscreen seems rather old tech but is up to the job all the same
Call quality was fine through the onboard speaker, never cracking up or sounding unduly cramped though it could perhaps have gone a bit louder. It's a shame smart dialling wasn't included in the keypad options though (or voice dialling, come to that).
The camera is a major point of interest with the Vivaz, but less for its photo capability – it's eclipsed by the 12Mp Sony Ericsson Satio – than for its HD video recording skills. It takes around five seconds to launch, so it's not the quickest but it offers a maximum resolution of 3264 x 2448 pixels and features include face and smile detection, geotagging, a macro mode and a panorama option that automatically takes three pics through a 45-degree angle and stitches them together, though the joins can sometimes be a bit too obvious.
You can switch between 4:3 and widescreen 16:9 ratio when taking pics, though the latter will drop the resolution to 6Mp. There's also touch focus; just press any point on the screen viewfinder to select as the focal point and it will automatically take a snap. Taking a pic requires a very firm press on the shutter button, and it's easy to make a half press to set the autofocus before you snap.
Picture quality is exceptionally good if you have decent light, though we found a little too much noise creeping in with dimmer conditions. However, there is a night mode option that does it’s best to compensate and can make for some very interesting scenes as the sample shots reveal. Overall, colours are bright and realistic with sharp edges and a minimum of purple fringing. The autofocus is swift and definitely gives the camera an edge when shooting close-up objects.
The light next to the lens only works with video capture
Video is even better served. At 24fps the frame rate will suit some, but not others, nevertheless, the quality is among the best we've ever seen on a camphone. Movement is smooth and the continuous autofocus feature means it will constantly readjust to keep what you're aiming at sharp and clear at all times, though there can be a little delay if you move too quickly. As is the norm, the digital zoom has its shortcomings regarding pixellation, but with higher resolution of the stills faring better than video.
Video camera lighting turns dog into wolf: still from 720p HD video
Click for a full-resolution image
Still from 320 x 240 video for e-mail
Why did they bother? Still from 176 x 144 video for MMS
The Symbian browser is less impressive, with its ugly menu bar on the right. The onboard accelerometer automatically flips the screen to landscape mode but, while you can tap to zoom or use the scroll bar, the zoom function seemed a little eccentric and wasn't available with all pages. It didn't always render pages as we'd expect to see them either, but it does have multi-page views, magnifying window, word search, Flash video support and the option to save log-in details.
A decent range of productivity apps, plus all the usual social networking options
There's a BBC iPlayer app on-board that worked well with our Wi-Fi connection and offered the Beeb's recent glories in slightly fuzzy, but perfectly acceptable resolution. There’s also a YouTube app too. The screen's stretched proportions mean you can view movies in widescreen 16:9 format, as the director intended – though he/she probably imagined it would be a bit bigger. In any case, movies look terrific on the sharp screen, but it will only show MP4 format, no DivX or XviD support – boo!
If the video resolution doesn't match the screen's widescreen dimensions, there's an option to stretch it, although you lose some resolution, but it still looks better than cramped between black bars. Playback is simple stop or go though – there's no slo-mo or screenshot capability.
The Walkman music player does a good job of organising and playing back your MP3, AAC and WMA tracks with decent sound through the supplied headphones too. There's none of the fancy listing features you got with the dedicated Walkman phones of yore, and we'd have liked a graphic equaliser included too. There's also an FM radio with 20 preset stations but no RDS, though it does have SE's rather lovely TrackID service for identifying mystery tunes.
There's a negligible 75MB of memory on board, but fortunately it comes with an 8GB micro SD card. It’s inserted under the cover, but you don't have to remove the battery to get to it and the Vivaz can accept up to 16GB. For social networking, the Twitter app we touched on previously is decent enough, if a little basic – it offers a page view of all the recent Tweets you've been following and a box to load up your own instant thoughts, though there are no options for grouping or searching. There's a Facebook app on board too, which is fine, though it won't let you merge with your contacts or push updates to you.
Push email is an option, as is instant messaging, and there are options to use a full-screen Qwerty keyboard, mini Qwerty – so tiny you'll need the stylus to use it – or predictive text on the alphanumeric keypad.
The merging of photography with telephony continues apace
There's a trial version of QuickOffice, allowing you create and view Word, Excel and PowerPoint docs, as well as a PDF viewer. You'll need to pay extra for the full QuickOffice app though. Using RoadSync, you can sync your important info while you're on the move using your phone network or Wi-Fi Internet connection. Other apps include the WorldMate travel advisor and a spirit level.
The A-GPS functionality is supported by Google Maps and WisePilot satnav. This has all the usual sat nav features including voice guidance, route planning, 3D map views, POI and speed camera alerts but it won't allow you to store maps – you have to download them as you need them. Battery life proved to be reasonable rather than spectacular, granting us around a day and a half of fairly heavy use, so pretty much on a par with most modern smart phones.
The Vivaz is a beautifully finished style phone that's backed up by a wealth of smart phone functionality and a genuinely marvellous camera. The HD 720p recording is quite possibly the best we've seen and the still camera is no slouch either, though we missed Cybershot goodies like the BestPic option.
Symbian, which has been suffering recently in comparison with Android and even Windows Mobile, is far from the lame duck it once was, and Sony Ericsson has done a good job of sexing it up with an attractive UI and easy usability. We'd have liked a capacitive screen, but otherwise, it's a terrific mix of style and function. ®
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