Viliv S5 Premium

In search of a handheld that bridges the gap between netbook and Apple iPhone? The Viliv S5 Premium strives mightily to straddle that divide.

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Viliv S5 Premium

Pros

  • Fast Win XP device with 3G, Wi-Fi, GPS, Bluetooth, battery life seems decent

Cons

  • Software keyboard can be awkward, skimpy documentation, 3G performance spotty

Bottom Line

As UMPCs go, the Viliv S5 Premium delivers on many of its promises, although the disappointing 3G performance will deter some people and the software keyboard makes it a poor choice for anyone who frequently wrangles Office documents. For this price, you can get a nice, lightweight netbook or even notebook. We recommend checking out the Viliv S5 Premium only if you absolutely must have a 500g Windows PC that works well with Wi-Fi, and you're not expecting to do a lot of typing.

Would you buy this?

Note: Pricing for this product is in US$.

The Viliv S5 Premium UMPC is speedy and well connected, but disappointing 3G support and an awkward software keyboard make it less than ideal for everyday use.

In search of a handheld that bridges the gap between netbook and Apple iPhone? The Viliv S5 Premium strives mightily to straddle that divide - and it does so with some success - but some drawbacks (including an awkward software keyboard) will probably preclude mainstream acceptance.

Styled as a portable media player, the Viliv S5 Premium is a small but loaded touchscreen (tablet-style) Windows XP Home Edition UMPC. Based on a 1.3GHz Intel Atom processor (from the chip family that kick-started the netbook craze), the Viliv packs not only Wi-Fi and Bluetooth but also GPS, although you'll have to supply your own software to use it. And some models offer a slot that accepts a SIM card for a 3G cellular-data network.

Design

At first glance the Viliv looks a lot like a midrange GPS system for a car (and in fact you can buy a $50 kit, with a charger and windshield mount, to use it as such). Measuring 6.0 by 3.3 by 0.9 inches and weighing about 14 ounces, it's available in three configurations. A $599 model includes a 60GB hard drive but lacks the 3G slot. A US$699 model swaps the 60GB hard drive for a 32GB solid-state drive but still omits the 3G slot. The model I tested, which sells for $799, provides both the 32GB solid-state drive and the 3G slot.

The 4.8-inch, 1024-by-600-pixel display is crisp and bright, and more responsive than most UMPC touchscreen displays I've tried (albeit prone to picking up fingerprints). And speaking of responsiveness, one of the more appealing aspects of the Viliv S5 is its fast boot time: The XP desktop takes only about 20 seconds or so to appear after you power the device on.

You get a four-way joystick, but no mouse or keyboard--and on such a tiny Windows display, fingertip touches don't always land where you mean them to. Fortunately, the Viliv S5 does provide help, although not in the form of a traditional stylus: Instead, you get something that looks like a guitar pick strung onto the handstrap. It works pretty well as a mouse substitute.

Keyboard Concerns

But the keyboard workaround is less successful. The Viliv displays an on-screen software keyboard. To access it you press a hardware button on the right side of the bezel; that summons an icon at the lower right of the screen, which in turn toggles a translucent software QWERTY keyboard that stretches across the entire width and halfway up the height of the display. While that makes for large keys (supported by haptics feedback), the keyboard also often winds up on top of the field or line that you're typing. The Viliv doesn't resize the screen's contents to accommodate the keyboard; instead, the keyboard simply covers the lower half of what's on the screen. Being able to (sort of) see through the keys helps, but sometimes the clutter prevents a clear view. (Alternatively, you can supply your own USB keyboard and connect it to the Viliv's USB port.)

As a result, I found myself frequently tapping the keyboard's "hide" key, which makes the keyboard go away but leaves the software toggle intact, so that I could see what I'd typed or move between fields. The keyboard does not automatically appear when you're in an empty text box, and there's no predictive text entry to help you along. This setup is not a great way to work, and it's the Viliv's biggest drawback. Even the iPhone, with its smaller screen, does a better job of ensuring that you see what you're working on and of allowing you to move through a series of text fields.

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