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December 25, 2011

Sony Ericsson Vivaz Pro:VIVACIOUS Review


Outwardly the Vivaz pro is pretty much identical to its sibling the original Vivaz, but look closer and there are some important differences and not just in terms of how the handsets look. The most obvious departure from the original Vivaz is in the Pro’s slide out QWERTY keyboard, which immediately sets your mind towards features such as heavy SMS use or social networking. That should perhaps be a clue as to the intent behind this handset. The other major difference between the two is in the Pro’s 5 MP camera, the original having an 8 MP effort.
Design
In terms of design it keeps the same slim physique as the original Vivaz and fits well in the hand. The slightly thicker body of the handset, due to the keyboard, isn’t readily noticeable when holding it and all in all feels pretty snug. Not that you will be holding it one hand much, except perhaps to take calls, as the keyboard obviously requires the use of both hands.
When holding it you can’t help but notice the plastic make up of the handset, the back cover is plastic and since it envelops pretty much the entire handset, save the screen, it has a huge bearing on the qualatative feel of the handset. Not that the Vivaz Pro feels cheap or tacky, but at the same time you don’t get a feeling of high-end quality either. Then again, in fairness, the Vivaz Pro isn’t being pitched as a high-end or luxury product.
The front of the handset is dominated by the 3.3″ touchscreen, which you will be sad to hear is a resistive effort, with all the annoyances that go with that, but more on that later. Sitting just under the screen are the three main buttons you will use when interacting with the phone; a call button, an end call button, and a menu button. They’re rather awkwardly positioned for one handed use it has to be said, but that’s something common to pretty much every touchscreen smartphone these days.
The left hand side of the handset features relatively little, the 3.5mm headphone jack and mini-USB charging/data port being the only adornments. There isn’t much else to say here except to note that because the 3.5mm jack is placed on the side of the handset like this it does mean that using headphones whilst the handset is in your pocket can be a little annoying. Headphone jacks are almost always best placed at the top or bottom of a handset for ease of use.
The right hand side of the device is a bit busier in terms of buttons. There is the volume rocker, which also doubles up as a zoom control when using the camera. You will also find two separate buttons for the camera features, one for activating the stills mode, and one for firing up the video recording mode.
Moving to the back of the phone we are presented with the 5 MP camera, but we also have another button placed here too. Near the top of the handset is the lock/power button and to say that I found this to be an annoying position in which to place this button is an understatement. Presumably the placement of the button was designed to be optimised for the way people hold the handset or something, but to be honest I just found it awkward. The button is quite small, which makes it hard to press, but on the bright side it also means you shouldn’t be getting accidental presses either.
Interface
Moving onto actually using the handset the first thing to mention is that the Vivaz Pro, like the Vivaz before it, uses Symbian. Now Symbian has come in for a lot of flack recently, and rightly so in many cases, so how does it hold up here? The short answer is it doesn’t. Symbian’s interface hasn’t changed much over the years and here in 2010 it feels a bit clunky and awkward to use. Matters aren’t helped by the use of a resistive screen, which doesn’t always pick up on selections you make. I found that using the edge of the finger, pretty much the fingernail really, worked best. We normally use Android handsets around these parts and the difference in sensitivity and accuracy is striking.
Vivaz Pro presents the user with a choice of five different homescreens that you can swipe through, and which each offer different functionality. The screens include the likes of a Twitter screen, a media screen and one that has nothing on it save for your wallpaper, which is the default homescreen. The media screen was the only one that could be changed at all with the inclusion of customisable shortcuts. The other screens are static in so far as they can’t be customised to show anything other than what they are already showing.
The Twitter screen is another nod to the handset’s social media aims along with the keyboard. The Twitter screen itself is practical enough, it doesn’t have some of the fancier features you will find in dedicated Twitter apps on platforms such as Android or iOS, but it covers the basics.
Pressing the menu button at the bottom of the handset brings up … well the menu. This is standard Symbian fare right here, you select one opyion and it gives you several more and so on until you arrive at the feature you want. Before reviewing this handset it had been some time since I had sat down and used a Symbian handset for any length of time (Satio in fact) so I had forgotten the really annoying habit Symbian has of making you press an option twice before it selects it. It may be a relatively minor point, and many Symbian users probably don’t even notice it, but for those new to the paltform it can be really aggravating. I might as well mention scroll bars at this point too, namely by asking what the hell they are doing on a handset in this day and age? They’re not present in every menu e.g. contacts has kinetic scrolling, but really they shouldn’t be present at all.
One last point to make here is the overall performance of the operating system. The best adjective I can use here is ‘adequate’. It’s not mind numblingly slow, but at the same time it doesn’t blaze along. The OS is actually fairly responsive when you are using it, but coupled with the resistive touchscreen and Symbian’s foibles it doesn’t add up to the greatest of user experiences. Hopefully Sony Ericsson abandons Symbian sooner rather than later because really it is a weak spot in this, indeed just about any, handset.
Calling & Messaging
Turning to the phone’s basic functionality i.e. making and receiving calls we find a more positive vein to talk about. The call quality is good enough, certainly I didn’t have any issues in hearing people or them hearing me. In terms of signal quality the handset performed reasonably, it seemed to hold a signal well enough even when in the car.
There is one rather annoying aspect to making and receiving calls, however, and it’s something that really should not be an issue at all. The handset doesn’t have a proximity sensor to let it know when it is close to your face so the screen will remain on during a call. Obviosuly that increases the chance of you inadvertently pressing something with your cheek or ear. It’s such a silly thing you would think that a proximity sensor could have been shoe-horned in.
Perhaps more than calling the ‘big ticket’ feature with Vivaz Pro, apart from the HD video, is messaging. The keyboard will be one of the handset’s major selling points and for those with itchy texting fingers or a penchant for Twitter a physical keyboard is a must.
The keyboard itself uses four lines for the keys, which are a decent size and reasonably well spaced. I didn’t have any trouble in bashing out a message using the keyboard and it was a fairly pleasant experience to use it. There are better physical keyboards out there, but for the price point and the market this handset is aimed at it is more than adequate. The keyboard also features a rather nice backlight, which makes it genuinely useful for operating it at night or in low light conditions.
Certainly I prefered using the physical keyboard over the onscreen keyboard, which suffers from the resistive touchscreen. The handwriting recognition feature is more a novelty than anything else. It was bad enough trying to use an onscreen keyboard with a resistive touchscreen let alone delve into handwiritng recognition.
Symbian supports all the usual messaging formats you would expect e.g. SMS, MMS, POP/IMAP and Echange is supported through the inclusion of RoadSync. As mentioned typing out a message or an email using the physical keyboard is a breeze and you can actually make use of email here since the keyboard means you can comfortably type relatively long messages.
As is so often the case with this handset a rather annoying feature creeps into the proceedings. This time it’s threaded conversations. It is supported, but to actually view your messages as a thread you have to go into ‘Messages’ then ‘Conversations’, there is no way to set Conversations as the default view when opening up the messaging function. It’s not a major fault, but it is a little annoying that you have two button presses where you could have had just one.
Connectivity
Like all smartphones Vivaz Pro can access the internet, but unfortunately this is another area where the Symbian operating system really lets it down. The browser is, in a word, awful to use. It’s just too clunky and stacked up against the webkit based browsers we see on other handsets it feels like a relic even though it has had some tweaks to improve functionality. Again the resistive touchscreen plays its part and makes for awkward scrolling and link selection.
In terms of its actual performance it’s a bit on the slow side when it comes to rendeing webpages. Using WiFi sped things up a bit to be fair, but it was painfully slow when trying to navigate around a page that hadn’t been optimised for mobile devices. What was even more annoying was the total lack of text resizing. When you zoom into a piece of text it remains the same size as it was originally, unlike many other smartphone browsers that auto-format the text to fit the width of the screen so you can comfortably read an article.
One saving grace here is support for Flash Lite. Ok it’s not the full blown article that you will get with Froyo, but it’s better than nothing right? The shortcomings in the browser really highlight why Symbian is just an awful choice as a mobile OS these days.
Connectivity is well supported on the Vivaz Pro and all the usual suspects are present e.g. Bluetooth, WiFi, etc. I have had some abd experiences with WiFi on Symbian handsets in the past that is to say I found it a pain to use. Vivaz Pro actually came up trumps in the WiFi stakes and found and connected to networks pretty quickly.
Vivaz Pro supports aGPS and it found a satellite, and more importantly found me quickly enough. Google Maps loaded up pretty sharpish over Wifi and didnt present any problems. Even when using 3G the loading times weren’t too bad, all in all a positive point for the handset.
Camera
One of the Vivaz Pro’s strongpoints is its media capabilities. On the face of it this may seem like an odd statement to make given that the camera has been downsized from the 8 MP featured in the original Vivaz to the 5 MP job we see here. Nevertheless the Vivaz Pro can take some very nice shots for a cameraphone and as usual Sony Ericsson provide a good range of options to support the camera.
Those options include things like difference scene modes e.g. portrait, landscape, etc. There’s also support for panorama shots, smile detection and touch focus/capture. There’s also support for face detection thrown in too. Granted that the settings don’t let you fine tune things as much as some would like, but this is a minor drawback really as it’s doubtful whether most users would really miss the ability to really delve into white balance settings, for example. The flash is an LED affair and it’s adequte enough for most situations you are likely to find yourself in.
Auto Settings
Auto Settings
Macro Mode
Low Light Shot Using LED Flash
Moving onto video recording and we hit one of the Vivaz Pro’s big features and one of its strongest selling points: HD video capture. It works pretty well I have to say and the results speak for themsleves. Not the greatest video quality perhaps, but more than enough for the average user and certainly an improvement over the standard recording capabilities of most mobile phones.
Below are a couple of examples of video taken using the Vivaz Pro. The first is a close up of some fish in a tank, the second is a longer range shot of some passing traffic. On the whole the quality is pretty good, a bit grainy perhaps, but, in the second clip, I thought the colour of the sky was captured reasonably well.
Media
Vivaz Pro features the familiar Walkman interface for accessing your media on the device. This is really worth mentioning because it’s well laid out and works brilliantly. It’s a welcome change of pace from the clunkier Symbian interface seen elsehwere on the handset.
Viewing images is straightforward enough with a sliding action that allows you to flip through your pictures quite quickly. You can upload your pictures to supported web services, which happen to be Facebook ad Picassa, but annoyingly there is no Flickr support.
Music is similarly easy to access with your music sorted into various categories such as album, track, etc. The controls are finger friendly and you shouldn’t have any problems in pausing and fast forwarding etc. The sound quality is pretty good, perhaps a bit on the tinny side at times, but overall it works well and doesn’t compare badly with other smartphones.
Video was a pleasure to watch on the Vivaz Pro, it was clear and ran without any stuttering or jitters. Having said that the available screen space devoted to video means that watching anything like a film or a tv episode on the Vivaz Pro probably isn’t going to be too enjoyable. For shorter clips or watching videos you have recorded yourself it’s perfectly fine.Supported formats include MP4, WMV and 3GP. Sadly neither DivX or Xvid is supported.
In our test unit at least, being in the UK, there was a built in BBC iPlayer app, which is most welcome indeed … or so I thought. When I frst saw iPlayer sitting there I thought back to the W995 and its iPlayer app, which was one of that handset’s nicest features. Unfortunately Sony Ericsson haven’t done the same here, instead the iPlayer option you see is just a link to the iPlayer website. What a wasted opportunity. On a more positive note Vivaz Pro does have a link to the YouTube mobile site built into the video section.
Battery
One of the nice things about not being a top of the line smartphone is that the battery tends to last a bit longer and this is true of the Vivaz Pro. You’re not going to be getting a week out of it if you use it regularly, but you should expect 2 or maybe even 3 days worth. It’s certainly better than the one day average (if that) of handsets like the X10 or the HTC Desire.
Applications & Services
The handset comes pre-loaded with various applications, most of which are utility apps such as a Google search app and Adobe’s PDF viewer for Symbian. Nothing to write home about there, but you do get the likes of a Facebook app and a YouTube app, which are of more interest.
PlayNow is of course included, as it is on just about every Sony Ericsson handset. For those familiar with Sony Ericsosn handsets you can skip ahead as you know what this is about, but for those who haven’t had a Sony Ericsson handset before PlayNow is essentially Sony Ericsson’s ’shop’ where they sell games, wallpapers, ringtones, music, applications, etc. I know I must sound a like a broken record, but navigating through PlayNow’s options was a bit of a pain thanks to … yes that’s right, our old friend the resistive touchscreen.
The Facebook app is the native Symbian version and it does a pretty decent job of getting you your Facebook fix for the day. It’s reasonably well organised and it performs well, but again we come back to the resistive touchscreen. Trying to scroll through your updates and messages is not as smooth as you would like, but passable.
Wisepilot makes an appearance and you get a 30 day trial of the app. Whilst it’s a good app I’d be surprised if many people opted to actually extend the trial and buy the app for use on this handset. If you’re looking for a phone that can double as a satnav then to be honest there are better options available. For most people the free Google Maps that is also included will more than suffice for finding things around them or plotting a route.
The Good
You’d be forgiven for thinking that I hated the Vivaz pro, but actually there was a lot to like to about it. Unfortunately the failings it has are pretty big ones and they tended to overshadow the positive notes I found.
I very much liked the design although I recognise this is of course a personal choice, but it’s compact, sleek looking and fits well in the hand. Put it this way, you wouldn’t be embarrassed to put it on the table at the pub.
The camera quality is pretty good for a mobile phone and you should be able to take some nice shots using the Vivaz Pro. The camera is also well supported by a fairly extensive array of options that whilst not offering precise customisation will more than suffice for the average user. Built in support for Facebook uploads is a nice touch too.
Video recording is also worth mentioning as again it was above the bar that most mobiles reach. Not the absolute cream of the crop, but for the price point of this phone you could do a lot worse if you’re looking for a mobile to record decent video.
The media capabilities in general are presented well and are easy to access, unlike some of the other areas of the handset. Sound playback was good and video looked fairly crisp.
The physical keyboard makes for easy messaging and emailing and is a real selling point with this handset. Coupled with the media features I can see the keyboard swinging things in favour of the Vivaz Pro amongst many a teenager or those looking for a capable handset, but who don’t want to spend too much.
The Bad
The resisitive touchscreen is just atrocious, there’s really no other way to put it. Sure you will get used to in time and it won’t be as much of an issue for you if you have never used a a capacitive touchscreen, but neither of those factors disguise the fact that the touchscreen is a pain to use. Again and again it made using even the simplest of features a chore. All I can say is that I hope Sony Ericsson consigns this technology to where it belongs … the past.
The Ugly
If the resisitive touchscreen was the bully who tripped you up as a kid then Symbian was the kid who was egging him on. Simply put Symbian is a relic of a bygone age and it should not be used in modern smartphones. The interface is labrynthian at times, often making you dance through several hoops before reaching the function you want. Add to that the ridiculously annoying tendency to make you tap twice on options and it really does let the side down badly.
Another big shortcoming is that unlike Android or iOS there is no big app market for Symbian, certainly not the Vivaz Pro anyway. Sure there is PlayNow, but to be blunt it really doesn’t compare well with Android’s Market when it comes to numbers, quality, or usefulness, of the apps on offer.
Conclusion
The Vivaz Pro is a decent enough handset and I use the word ‘decent’ deliberately because in no way could it be described as a great phone. That’s a little sad really because it has the makings of something that could have been so much better. The keyboard, the media capabilities, the camera; they are all above par and worthy of consideration. However, saddling the Vivaz pro with an outdated OS and an outdated screen technology spoils it.
Maybe if it has been an Android handset instead it would have had that extra ‘oomph’, but as it stands it will almost certainly be an ‘also ran’. There are better options out there, including from Sony Ericsson themselves. The X10 Mini pro, for example, will give you the physical keyboard. By all means take a peek at the Vivaz Pro, but don’t be shy about considering other options.
Pros
Good quality camera & video
Physical keyboard
Video playback is smooth
Cons
Resistive touchscreen
Symbian
COSTS:Rs.25,000..

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