First Impressions of the Viliv S5 Premium UMPC

Viliv S5 Premium

Viliv S5 Premium

I have only had the Viliv S5 Premium UMPC in my hands for 24 hours, but I can tell you it hasn’t spent much of that time out of my hands. It’s been a long time since a device has been such a joy to use, as it effortlessly handles anything I throw at it. I figured I’d better get my first impressions done, as I’m getting pinged constantly about it. It shows how this UMPC has triggered a lot of interest in us mobile-minded folk.

The Viliv S5 is a handheld PC about the same size as a PMP. It weighs less than a pound and sports a 4.8-inch screen running at an eye-popping 1024 x 600 resolution. Things can get tiny at that high resolution, but it’s pretty easy to customize things due to the Windows XP Home operating system it runs. This unit has 1 GB of memory paired with a 60 GB hard drive (1.8-inch) which handles XP with aplomb.

The review unit was supplied by Dynamism and Viliv, and I should point out that Kevin was right on with how good a deal this is. Anyone who preorders an S5 from Dynamism (early May shipping) gets the S5 Premium like the one I have, a car kit (mount and auto charger), carrying case and — best of all — a second battery. This will set you back $599, which is a good price for all you get; I can tell you, they just might get my money for one of these.

The Viliv S5 gets to work right out of the box, I found myself working away in less than 5 minutes. The box has a charger, lanyard/stylus, headphones and user’s guide, in addition to the unit and battery.

Viliv claims a 6-hour video playback on a single charge, and that’s probably optimistic — but so far I’m getting decent battery life. It’s not scientific, but my gut feeling is I’ll see 4.5 – 5 hours out of a charge doing normal stuff, so the two batteries Dynamism is supplying will easily get you through a full day. The battery covers the entire back of the device when attached.

The Touch Screen

The screen is quite nice, with good vivid colors, and that high resolution makes web browsing really nice. It’s been stormy here in Houston since the S5 arrived, so I can’t tell you yet how it views outdoors. I am happy to report that the screen can be rotated into all four orientations with just a button combination. The rotation happens in just a second, and it’s extremely useful to be able to handle the S5 in whatever manner fits the task at hand. Browsing the web in portrait rocks on this thing.

The touchscreen is a resistive digitizer, but it’s so light touch that it feels very much like a capacitive one. Manipulating the screen via fingertip is very similar to the way it works on the iPhone, for example, which is very nice. The required touch is so light that it’s a good thing Viliv included haptic feedback on the on-screen keyboard. It’s very subtle feedback, but it’s absolutely necessary when using the keyboard so you can tell when you’ve pressed a button.  More on the keyboard later.

Operating the S5

Viliv has obviously taken a lot of care with the design of the interface of the S5. The buttons on the front of the device are placed well, and they light up for easy viewing when the unit is active. A lot of the buttons have dual functions when pressed in conjunction with other buttons, and the end result is you can perform a lot of functions with just the buttons on the front. Screen rotation works that way, but you can also adjust the screen brightness via buttons along with other functions.

Windows XP runs well on the S5, as you’d expect, and I’m finding that the special Viliv Cube interface is a very nice launcher. The system launches with the Cube active at start time, but you can change it to only run when you want it to, if you prefer. I leave it running, as it’s a simple way to launch programs by touch. You can put any program you want on the Cube, so it’s pretty useful once you get it set up the way you like. I did change the XP taskbar to not auto-hide, as I like to see it all the time to switch between running programs. I do that a lot, as I find the S5 handles multi-tasking very well, and I just leave my programs running all the time.

The S5 handles standby and resume nicely, and it only takes a second or two to sleep the system and wake it up. I don’t know how Viliv does this, but the device seems to use no juice at all when sleeping, so their claim of 200 hours on standby may have some merit. It means you can just sleep the system and forget about it, knowing that you can just pick it up later right where you left off. It’s almost instant-on in that regard, which approaches the mobile computer ideal.

Haptic Keyboard

The S5 has no keyboard, which I like, as a tiny keyboard is not very useful for me. I prefer handheld devices that do not waste weight and space on them, so I like the S5 the way it is. Viliv put a lot of effort into the on-screen keyboard that can be invoked with a simple button push. You push the button when you want it and push it to hide it again when done. The keyboard is semi-translucent, so you can still see what it on the screen underneath it when it’s active, something that’s important as it takes up half the screen when invoked.

The buttons are very light touch, so the haptic feedback is mandatory in my view. Without it (it can be turned off) it’s easy to accidentally press keys, as the lightest touch will do so. The feedback lets you know instantly when you’ve inadvertently pressed a key and I find that useful. The keyboard has two modes, the QWERTY mode and then the symbol/ numeric mode. It’s toggled between them by tapping the MODE button on the keyboard, which works well for most tasks. There are some special keys too that are useful, such as the .COM key for entering URLs.

Sadly, the on-screen keyboard doesn’t survive screen rotation. When you invoke the keyboard in portrait orientation you only get the right half of the keyboard, as it doesn’t resize to fit the new width. You can use the part of the keyboard that you see in portrait but not all the keys are there, so the usefulness is very limited.  I find the keyboard doesn’t always come back correctly when orientation is rotated back to landscape either, and it sometimes requires a full reboot when that happens. I hope Viliv can address this with an update.

Real-world Use

The first thing I did was install Firefox on the S5. I live in the browser all day, and it’s important for me to get it set up to meet my needs. Once Firefox was installed, I added the XMarks add-on and synced in my bookmarks, passwords and toolbars. My setup now works the same on the S5 as it does on all my systems, and Firefox runs nicely on the device.

The next thing I did was install the Grab and Drag add-on for Firefox which lets me drag web pages around with my finger. The touch screen of the Viliv is so light touch that it’s a breeze to drag pages around this way. It greatly extends the usefulness of the little screen, and I highly recommend it.

Web pages can be hard to read given the high-resolution small screen, but Firefox lets me instantly zoom in and out via the CTRL +/ CTRL – keys. This makes browsing on the S5 a real joy, and I am having a blast doing it. I often rotate into portrait orientation for web browsing, which is enjoyable as I can just drag the page around with my fingers as described. I made this zoom process easier by adding the XP on-screen keyboard to the Start Menu. The zoom key combination can be hard to do on the fly using the S5 keyboard, but it’s easy to do using the XP keyboard. It’s the only way to hit F keys, too, as the Viliv keyboard lacks them.

I find it a breeze to work with my Gmail on the S5, and realized I haven’t reached for my iPhone to do that since the S5 arrived. The on-screen keyboard is sufficient for quick email responses and the like, and that’s what I’ve been doing a lot of with the S5. On-screen keyboards are a very personal thing, and it will depend on the individual whether they like it or not.  I like it just fine.

I have successfully watched several Hulu shows in HQ, which is the first time I’ve been able to do so on an Atom-equipped device. The video played pretty smoothly and the audio didn’t skip at all.

I also installed eReader on the S5, and it is a wonderful e-book reader in portrait. The screen is beautiful, and it’s a simple tap on the bottom of the page to turn the page. I really like reading on this thing.

Little Desktop

I pulled out my old Stowaway Bluetooth keyboard and mouse and paired it up with the Viliv. It really brought me back to my roots to be using the S5 with a full keyboard and mouse, and it’s a joy to use. I wrote this entire review with this setup, and it’s quite long, longer than I intended when I started.

This configuration takes almost no space nor weight in my bag, and I can easily see myself heading out to the coffee shop with this arrangement to get work done. I have also successfully used my Verizon USB727 3G modem with the S5, so it’s a complete system even though the S5 lacks integrated 3G.

 

Summary

I need to wrap this up, but I intend to do a full HD video review of the Viliv S5 soon. So far I am impressed with the utility of the S5 and am enjoying the heck out of using it. These are my two most important criteria with mobile devices, so I am leaning heavily toward spending my own money to get one of these babies. That’s pretty much my highest endorsement.  :)

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