Hmmm..... to be honest, in case of S60 phones that's the part of review I don't really like. And that's mainly because of..... the S60 platform itself which I'm not too passionate about, either, especially since I've been using the Maemo-based Nokia N900 providing a wholly different user experience but also after I had a chance to play with the Symbian ^3 based Nokia N8 bringing a series of very useful changes and tweaks seriously improving user experience.
As the software platform used in the Vivaz's is the same well known S60 5th Edition (Symbian^1) platform as in numerous S60 phones released over the past couple of years and reviewed multiple times, I'll save your (and mine as well) time and instead of repeting what has been described many times (e.g. how the Calendar application looks like), I'll only focus on what's really different and worth mentioning. If you're not familiar with the S60 5th Edition platform, please check any of our older reviews where it is presented in detail.
Let's start from overall performance. I've been testing the Vivaz's along with the Nokia N8 so I could directly compare them. As mentioned earlier, the N8 has a slightly slower (680 MHz vs. 720 MHz) and simpler (ARM1176 vs. ARM Cortex-A8) processor than the Vivaz, but the UI feels considerably snappier on the N8. It partly results from numerous optimizations in N8's Symbian^3 (for instance, there's no more that annoying and confusing double-tap still present on the Vivaz) but also from N8's capacitive screen that reacts to even the slightest touch whereas on the Vivaz you need to apply more pressure and sometimes repeat your action if it's too light for the screen to 'notice' it. It also turns out that the Nokia N8 has much faster GPU (hardware graphics accelerator) - Broadcom VideoCore III compared to Vivaz's PowerVR SGX530. In graphic benchmarks I ran (e.g. GLBenchmark 1.1. - full results here) the Vivaz got almost twice worse results than the Nokia N8. Which is actually nothing to be ashamed of as it still makes both Vivaz variants the second fastest Symbian OS based device ever released (or actually still the first, until the N8 starts shipping). While almost twice worse than N8's, Vivaz's benchmark results were at the same almost twice better than Samsung Omnia HD's...
While the S60 platform itself is the same in phones of all manufacturers, each company is free to customize it and use different set of software. Customization usually includes the home screen and themes, while software includes custom media player and image viewer, camera application, and GPS navigation software. This also applies to the Vivaz's.
I've got mixed feelings about Sony Ericsson's customization, or at least part of it. First of all, I really don't like their icon sets in default themes, which look really dated, as if someone designed them in early 2000s. Of course, it's not a big problem as one can easily install any nicer looking third party theme. But it would definitely help if the phone had nicer looking icons by default.
Another thing is the home screen. You've got five home (or "standby") screen layouts/contents to choose from: Full page (looking like old S60 3rd Edition home screen), Basic (same as Full page, just without application shortcuts), Navigation bar (vertical shortcut bar with pull down menus), Finger use (again, actually the same as Full page, just with larger icons), and Sony Ericsson, i.e. the default and the most advanced one. Funny, it turns out that except for the "Sony Ericsson" home screen the four remaining ones are almost identical with only minor differences.
The Sony Ericsson home screen consists of five kinetically scrollable screens (or tabs): the main one (with nice animated background) in the middle and two plugin screens on each side: Twitter, Favourite contacts, Media viewer (or Album), and Favourite shortcuts. The Media viewer screen lets you quickly preview all images and movies on the device between which you can scroll kinetically. In the lower part of the main (middle) screen there is also a box with shortcuts to web search, messaging, Media, Menu, and showing current date and time and the name of song/artist of the music playing in the background. All that is quite nice and useful, but the annoying thing about it is that screens cannot be scrolled in a "loop", i.e. that after reaching the leftmost one you can't continue scrolling to get to the rightmost one. Sure, they're just tabs and their icons are shown at the top so you can just tap an icon to quickly go to the opposite screen, but wouldn't it be much nicer if you could just continue scrolling?
But so far so good. Now what I REALLY don't understand is why while the home screen (and some other applications, e.g. Media) fully support kinetic scrolling, the Menu (icons of installed applications, settings, etc., i.e. what every user accesses many times a day) as well as majority preinstalled S60 apps lack support for kinetic scrolling and you have to use that awful thin scrollbar on the right to scroll these screens' or apps' contents. Nokia too initially released their S60 5th Edition phones without kinetically scrollable menus, but since then they upgraded all of them via firmware updates to support kinetic scrolling, so the question is where have Sony Ericsson been over that time? Lack of kinetically scrollable menus and system apps simply RUINS (otherwise quite acceptable if we ignore the ugly icons) user experience and makes using the phone really cumbersome. It's 2010, not 2005.
And there's one more thing, resulting from the software actually consisting of three different parts: vanilla S60 5th Edition, Sony Ericsson's own customizations and Symbian's Media player. Each of these components LOOKS (and works) DIFFERENT. It's like if they were collected from completely different sources (which is actually true) and no one bothered to even just try to make them fit. The theme you set for the UI does not affect the home screen or the Media player. Sony Ericsson's home screen has its own hardcoded design, and the Media player also ignores themes and remains all black. While it doesn't make the device unusable, it surely makes it look very inconsistent. Add to it the aforementioned kinetic scrolling being supported on the home screen and in Media player but not anywhere else and you get a very CONFUSING picture.
Both Vivaz models come with the PlayNow service integrated, which is a kind of web browser based appstore/download service, providing (or at least supposed to provide) access to games, applications, music, themes, ringtones and wallpapers. The available content wasn't too much exciting, unfortunately.
Media is an integrated viewer/player of all kinds of multimedia content: movies, images and audio, and this one is nicely animated and with kinetic scrolling. It also integrates YouTube support and podcast player.
The Camera application is feature rich, providing all modes and settings you'd expect from it: auto, portrait, landscape, twilight landscape, sports, document, twilight portrait and beach/snow scene modes; normal, panorama, smile detection and touch capture shooting modes; auto, face detection, macro and infinite focus modes; manual (-2.0 to +2.0 exposure compensation); auto, incandescent, fluorescent, daylight, cloudy white balance mode; image stabilizer; negative, solarize, sepia and black & white effects; self-timer; flashlight (on/off); geotagging.
As mentioned in the Hardware part, the Vivaz has an 8 Megapixel camera while the Vivaz Pro has a 5 Megapixel one. Both models support HD 720p (1280x720) video recording at 25 fps.
Autofocus is quick and reliable and works continuously in the video mode. If I am not mistaken, the Vivaz was the first smartphone to offer continuous focus for video. It's a really great feature, so this time a huge praise is really deserved.
Movie playback (including videos recorded in HD with the camera) is smooth. However, it's really disappointing that device with such a first-class hardware does not support out-of-the-box any popular codecs like DivX or XVid. Streamed video is excelent. The 3.5 mm audio jack also works as TV out so you can connect your Vivaz to a TV set.
Nokia does not provide their Nokia Maps software to other manufacturers of S60 smartphones and they need to use other GPS navigation solutions. Samsung's Omnia HD uses Route 66 software and Sony Ericsson uses WisePilot solution, a very nicely designed and smoothly working software, providing animated screen transitions, speed camera warnings, 3D view, traffic, road work and road condition information (as layers), weather info, favourites/POIs, etc.
Like all major GPS navigation solutions, Vivaz's WisePilot uses NAVTEQ maps, so map quality and coverage is exactly the same as literally anywhere else. Both Vivaz's also come with GoogleMaps client preinstalled.
The GPS receiver on the Vivaz is as sensitive as e.g. on the Omnia HD, which translates into noticeably better sensitivity and shorter times to get fix than on Nokia's S60 phones with ARM11 processors. It must be the NaviLink A-GPS (which comes with OMAP processors) that provides such an improved performance.
Vivaz ships with the following applications preinstalled:
- QuickOffice viewer (editing documents requires purchasing an upgrade)
- Adobe Reader 15 day trial
- Sony Ericsson Sync (synchronisation of contacts and calendar with SonyEricsson.com service)
- RoadSync (Exchange ActiveSync client)
- TrackID (SonyEricsson's service making it possible to find title, artist and album name of a song)
- DLNA Media server
- Web publishing (Facebook, Blogger, PicasaWeb, YouTube)
- games: SSX 3 (accelerometer controlled snowboard), Rally Master Pro (accelerometer controlled car race).
The Vivaz Pro additionally includes:
- NeoReader barcode reader,
- full (not trial) version of Adobe Reader LE 2.5.
Hardware-wise, Sony Ericsson Vivaz and Vivaz Pro belong to the strict top of all Symbian OS smartphones ever made. Their 720 MHz ARM Cortex-A8 processor (Texas Instruments made OMAP3 chip) is actually the fastest CPU on any Symbian device so far, including the upcoming Nokia N8 (equipped with 680 MHz ARM1176). The same applies to their 256 MB SDRAM memory (with about 150 MB free), again the most of all Symbian OS phones. PowerVR SGX530 GPU (hardware graphics accelerator) of the Vivaz's seems to be slower than Nokia's upcoming N8's Broadcom VideoCore III, but in GLBenchmark 1.1 it scores twice better than the Samsung i8910 Omnia HD, so there's really nothing to complain about here, either. Nor are there any compromises when it comes to supported data transmission or connectivity features. Shortly speaking, the hardware is simply top-notch.
Design is a matter of everyone's individual taste, so you need to judge it yourself. I can only say that despite not being made of any precious materials both phones make an impression of being well built and robust. Of course, it is a different league than the all glass & metal N8 that simply feels exclusive and expensive, but Vivaz's are simply nice. And their size and weight really makes it a pleasure to hold and carry them.
What disappointed me a bit on the hardware front was Vivaz Pro's keyboard, with large and properly sized keys on a very nicely working slider but with somehow uneven tactile feedback (external rows softer and less springy than the inner ones) and untypical location of number keys (keypad style) and symbols that takes getting used to. I also wish the display was slightly more sensitive, surely not on par with capacitive screens but matching Nokia's latest resistive displays like e.g. that of the C6 that comes really close to capacitive screens in terms of sensitivity.
The 8 MPix camera on the Vivaz is excellent in good and average light (i.e. in sunny or cloudy day) and slightly worse (noisy) in low light, and the 5 Mpix one on the Vivaz Pro isn't really worse except for lower resolution. Both record high quality, smooth HD 720p video. The only thing you surely won't like about the camera is its BIZARRE flashlight that instead of firing when you take a picture, stays on all the time like a torch, driving mad not just you but also people around you. Good for lighting way home, but surely not for photography.
On the brighter side, I'd like to once again praise Sony Ericsson for dumping their proprietary FastPort connector and switching to standard microUSB and 3.5 mm audio jack.
On the software front, well, it's simply S60 5th Edition just as we all know it, i.e. quite far from being the most intuitive and enjoyable UI, and unfortunately additionally messed up with inconsistent Sony Ericsson customizations (not bad themselves, just not really matching the rest). On such a good hardware, I wish it was UIQ... Well, maybe I'm too sentimental, but it was hell of a platform, deceased much prematurely.
But of course it does not mean that S60 is nothing but a disadvantage. It has both its pros and cons. At least thanks to S60 users get access to thousands of 3rd party applications and services, which is what Sony Ericsson never managed to provide for the UIQ platform.
Sony Ericsson added a functional kinetically scrollable multi-tab home screen to vanilla S60, which is a nice enhancement. But the more surprising is that they "forgot" to implement kinetic scrolling in the menu and majority of system applications, which literally ruins the otherwise positive impression. And vice versa, they didn't make their home screen and the Media player support S60 themes, which makes the whole thing really inconsistent and confusing. Hopefully this will be fixed via firmware updates, just like Nokia added kinetic scrolling to their older S60 5th Edition devices, but considering that it's been nearly half a year since the Vivaz started shipping and the Vivaz pro released recently shares exactly the same issues, I guess they don't intend to improve it.
All in all, we're talking about phones with superior hardware and slightly less impressive UI, unnecessarily marred with unexciting icons, lack of kinetic scrolling in the vanilla UI and inconsistent design of various software components (the former easily mendable with custom themes, the latter unfortunately relying on manufacturer's update, which may or may not come). If you've formerly used an S60 device then the Vivaz or the Vivaz Pro won't disappoint you as you'll get the same S60 platform but on a truly high-end hardware which will make you very satisfied with its performance. If you come from other smartphone platform then you'll surely love the hardware but Vivaz's pre-Symbian ^3 S60 platform may turn out to sometimes annoy you. Just don't get disappointed with the ugly icons; grab some 3rd party theme with full icon set and replace them. One thing is certain: if you like small and light phones then in this area Vivaz and Vivaz pro will exceed your expectations.
What I liked:
- the fastest CPU ever used in a Symbian OS phone: ARM Cortex-A8 @ 720 MHz
- the most SDRAM memory on a Symbian OS phone: 256 MB / almost 150 MB free
- PowerVR SGX530 GPU, twice the performance of the Samsung Omnia HD
- HD 720p video recording, high resolution 8 MPix camera on the Vivaz
- nice design, extremely thin and small, well built
- standard microUSB port with USB charging and standard 3.5 mm audio jack (with TV out) instead of Sony Ericsson's proprietary FastPort
- DLNA certified, DLNA server preinstalled
- all-inclusive: quad-band GSM/3G, WLAN b/g, Bluetooth 2.1, USB 2.0, A-GPS with WisePilot voice-guided software
- compatibility with S60 applications
What I didn't like:
- dated S60 UI, additionally marred with unimpressive icon set, lack of kinetic scrolling in the Menu and system applications, and inconsistent look&feel between the actual system, the home screen and Media player
- Vivaz Pro's keyboard is nice and convenient but offers somehow uneven tactile feedback and unusual layout of numerical/symbol keys
- one might expect full editing version of QuickOffice on a device with hardware keyboard and "Pro" in its name
- I don't understand the idea of hiding hot-swappable memory card slot behind the not so easy removable battery cover (a lot of manufacturers do it so it is not a Sony Ericsson specific complaint; and it's still better than no memory card support at all, a la Apple)
- TFT display, great indoors but hard to read in sunlight
- horribly stupid "torch" instead of normal flash light for stills. Stays on all the time instead of firing just when the picture is taken
Verdict: recommended for its powerful hardware and very nice design/form, with hope that kinetic scrolling in the Menus and all the described inconsistencies will be fixed with firmware updates.
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