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.

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Proprietary Software

Viliv bundles proprietary software intended to give Windows and its utilities more user-friendly faces. Most notable of these is the CubeUI, a desktop alternative with sides consisting of three-by-three grids of round application icons (think T-Mobile Faves) in different categories: Entertainment, Internet, LBS (location-based services) and navigation, Productivity (a trial version of Microsoft Office is included), and My Group, which you can customize. Personally I was happier viewing the traditional XP desktop, mostly because I'm familiar with it.

The same goes for the proprietary audio and video players: I found the unlabeled controls rather unintuitive, and I wound up using Windows Media Player. But music streaming from my Rhapsody library (using my browser and Wi-Fi) sounded pretty darn good through the on-board speakers. The earbud headset bundled with the device also produced decent sound, although not as good as you'd get from a quality third-party headset. Fortunately, if you have your own headset, you can use it through the standard jack.

The Viliv also lived up to its portable media player moniker with the Hulu and YouTube videos I streamed through Internet Explorer over Wi-Fi; aside from some dropped frames (probably due to an overcrowded Wi-Fi channel), they looked great. I particularly liked the fact that media playback did not seem to overly heat up the snap-in battery, which makes up the rear case.

Wireless Woes

But even with the slide-out antenna extended, the Viliv's 3G support wasn't great. When I slid an unlocked T-Mobile SIM card with a smartphone data plan into the slot, located under the battery, nothing happened. A T-Mobile spokesperson says the company does not support data on devices that aren't sold by T-Mobile or one of its retail partners. Dynamism, which is the only U.S. outlet for the Viliv S5, recommends using an unlocked AT&T SIM card with a data plan, and when I obtained one, I was able to hook up quickly through an included applet. It would have been nice to have a choice, though. Also, while the Viliv was fast enough when connected, in my tests it frequently dropped the connection completely in the midst of various tasks such as checking my Gmail account or watching a YouTube video. Even when the unit was connected, the YouTube video was unwatchable on the phone network, with frequent complete stops for buffering.

Battery life seemed surprisingly good (though we did not formally test it); Viliv says the device can support up to 6 hours of video playback and 4.5 hours of streaming video. Viliv sells an extra battery for $50 and a charging cradle for $40 (the latter requires an AC adapter, and if you don't want to use the one that comes with the Viliv you can buy another for $30). Other optional accessories include VGA and component-video cables for sending the video to a monitor or TV.

Documentation for getting started was alarmingly skimpy: I saw no 3G or GPS setup support (and you did have to deal with some settings), and nothing about potential problems with non-AT&T carriers. The final documentation wasn't yet ready at the time of my review, so perhaps that will address the shortcomings.

As UMPCs go, the Viliv S5 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. But for $599, you can get a nice, lightweight netbook. I recommend checking out the Viliv only if you absolutely must have a 1-pound Windows PC that works well with Wi-Fi, and you're not expecting to do a lot of typing.

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