Sony Ericsson Vivaz
10th Mar 2010 | 17:10
HD video recording - but is it better than the Satio?
Sony Ericsson Vivaz: Overview
The Sony Ericsson Vivaz is the HD-video-shooting successor to the Swedish-Japanese firm's flagship Satio model.
With an 8.1MP camera that can also record 720p HD video, it is designed to thrill YouTube-rs with its easy video upload features as well as the bundled 8GB memory card for ample storage.
The touchscreen phone has been ergonomically designed to fit the contours of the hand and with social networking and multi-media features galore, the Sony Ericsson Vivaz is set to give the likes of the Nokia X6 and the LG InTouch Max GW620 a run for their money.
The handset itself has been ergonomically designed and does feel really nice to hold.
Also read:15 best mobile phones in the world today
The curve of the back fits nicely into the palm and although it's a light handset, the Sony Ericsson Vivaz doesn't feel insubstantial. It has an abundance of very smooth surfaces, so we did find we dropped it quite a few times.
Aside from the LCD display, the handset is very plastic-heavy and does leave something to be desired in the design department.
Available in four different colour combinations, we tested the Sony Ericsson Vivaz Moon Silver with silver back panel with dark blue sides.
The touchscreen is resistive, unfortunately, but it's probably one of the best we've seen and gives the LG InTouch Max GW620 a run for its money.
Although it's not as smooth or accommodating as the capacitive screens found on handsets like the iPhone and HTC Legend, it is still quite responsive and swiping through menus doesn't require much pressure on the screen.
There is a sensible number of buttons on the Sony Ericsson Vivaz. The call, end and menu buttons are on the front of the handset, with volume/zoom and two camera buttons on the right side panel, and power/lock on the top.
However, the latter can be a little fiddly to hit when holding the Vivaz in one hand, with some juggling needed - this means you run the risk of dropping it.
We're glad to see a 3.5mm headphone jack and microUSB port, given Sony Ericsson's previous love for its proprietary Fast Port connector instead of a basic headphone socket.
In the box
The Sony Ericsson Vivaz comes with the basics – a plug, separate USB to microUSB cable to connect to the plug or to your PC, a pair of Sony Ericsson headphones and a standalone stylus.
The headphones don't come with sponge ear buds, nor in-ear fittings to accommodate different sized ears, but do double as a handsfree kit thanks to the built-in microphone.
Given the HD recording function of the handset, Sony Ericsson has also seen fit to include an 8GB microSD card - we would have preferred some inbuilt storage too, but at least this is a generous addition.
Sony Ericsson Vivaz: Interface
Despite this, the look and feel of the Vivaz interface is still very 'Sony Ericsson.'
The menus are well laid out and easy to navigate, but because the Vivaz is limited to just one menu screen, some sub-menus are packed with options.
You can avoid venturing into the menus too often if you invest some time customising the home screen.
The default set up offers a row of five widget tabs across the top of the screen. These can be assigned different functions depending on your preferences.
For example, we had tabs housing our favourite contacts, social networking apps, menu shortcuts and a favourite image acting as wallpaper.
Scrolling between the tabs is easy and satisfying, but is slightly less elegant than the traditional Android home screen set up.
For those craving a simpler life, fewer home screen options can be set using the Standby Themes in the settings menu.
There's a nice level of customisation on the Sony Ericsson Vivaz, but it's more constrained than some of its contemporaries, particularly the Android-toting HTC Tattoo and LG InTouch Max GW620, where a plethora of widgets are on offer.
Making and taking calls is very straightforward thanks to the dedicated call and end buttons, but we wish we could say the same for locking and unlocking the screen and keys.
Locking the keys should be a one-button affair, but not so with the Sony Ericsson Vivaz.
After hitting the power/lock button you have to either select the lock option on the screen, or hit the power/lock button again.
This might not sound like a chore, but the power/lock button is not particularly easy to press as it's almost flush with the panel it sits in.
When you're not sure if your press has been registered, it's all too easy to press the power button too hard and switch the handset off.
What makes that even more annoying is that the Sony Ericsson Vivaz takes its time closing down, and starting up again isn't exactly lightning fast.
The other danger was forgetting to choose any option from the menu and leaving the keys and screen active in your pocket or bag, from which anything can be tapped and accessed thanks to a resistive screen.
Even after several days of use, this was still grating on us.
Speed of use is an area where the Vivaz also lets itself down. Aside from being slow to start up, the temperamental auto-rotate takes a second or two too long to kick in.
We also had issues with the handset's multi-tasking – although we definitely welcome it as a feature and had no problem switching between applications, it's a little too tricky to close things down entirely.
Simply using the menu or end buttons keeps them open in the background, so you end up with several unnecessary things running, slowing the handset right down and taking away all the advantages of the Vivaz's fast processor.
It is possible to download new apps for the home screen via the PlayNow app store.
This provides music, game and wallpaper downloads as well as apps, but they're generally not cheap and there are very few free options, unlike the wildly successful Apple App Store and Android Market.
Searching through the store is a bit of a chore as it isn't hugely intuitive, but downloading is fairly straightforward direct to the handset - perhaps we're just spoilt by the plethora of much better portals on offer.
Sony Ericsson Vivaz: Calls and Contacts
One of the things we really like about the Vivaz is the quick and easy access to the dial pad – something that is often hidden away on touchscreen phones.
On the Sony Ericsson Vivaz it sits at the front of the home screen as a grid - you won't know what it is the first time you take the phone out the box, but it's handily placed.
There are also various simple ways to access the contacts book - through the menu, dial pad or by hitting the call button.
Sound quality when making and taking calls with the Sony Ericsson Vivaz is fair, we didn't experience any major issues.
Both the caller and the recipient's voices were clear and comfortable to hear, although there was some occasional buzzing on the Vivaz's end.
The contacts book is pretty basic, just an alphabetical list of names, but there is the option to segment them into groups.
The individual contact entries are a bit more exciting, with room for multiple numbers and email addresses as well as company information, job title and photo to help you remember who's who.
Favourite contacts can be saved to one of the five home screen tabs for quick and easy access. But unlike the INQ Chat 3G and other phones of this calibre, there is no option to synchronise your phone book with your social networking profiles.
Sony Ericsson Vivaz: Messaging
The messaging menu features a dazzling array of options, from regular SMS, to an email inbox, an SMS conversations view (which shows your messages in threaded conversation format) and a range of granular message settings.
It may seem like a bit much at first, but once you are used to the layout, it's really convenient to have all that messaging paraphernalia in one obvious place.
We can't fathom why the standard SMS inbox does not just use the conversations layout, though - instead it makes you look at the 'normal' inbox and then scroll through the menus to view the conversation in the threaded view.
Setting up email on the Sony Ericsson Vivaz is basically painless. We set up a Gmail account and, after inputting the account name and password, the handset did most of the hard work for us, with the email list presented simply.
Setting up Exchange email was relatively easy too and didn't take long to sync with the server, but does require you to input the settings manually.
Push email isn't configured by default (although you can schedule the phone to update at specified times) so the inbox only refreshes when it is physically opened – not ideal if you expect instant real-time email.
Typing isn't too heinous a task, despite the resistive touchscreen which we've struggled with on handsets like the Sony Ericsson Satio.
The screen is quite slim, so it's easier to opt for the landscape QWERTY layout - although the number pad layout coupled with predictive text does a passable job too.
There is no autocorrect function, which is a real annoyance for minor mistakes. Of course, you can opt to use the stylus - but sorry, we're not in 1995 any more and this isn't a PDA.
If you MUST use the stylus, there is a mini-QWERTY option which squeezes the whole keyboard into the width of the vertical screen position – really too small to use unless you're blessed with 20:20 vision or a really good magnifying glass (and third hand).
As with all stylus-bearing phones, we find it a fiddle to rummage around for another piece of equipment when all we want to do is send a quick message - we're not sure why Sony Ericsson is persisting down this route on a high end phone.
Sony Ericsson Vivaz: Internet
As the Sony Ericsson Vivaz isn't a smartphone to rival the likes of the iPhone 3GS or HTC Hero, it is fairly conscientious about its internet use and only connects when you open an application requiring the internet.
Great if you're on a budget or don't have an unlimited data plan, but quite annoying if you do.
The Vivaz asked what connection we wanted to use every single time we accessed any internet application, despite the fact that we had set post-pay internet as the default connection.
This got very frustrating very quickly, and the three dialogue boxes to go through made even a quick glance at Twitter a chore.
The plus side is that switching between 3G and Wi-Fi is really very easy.
Browsing web pages over the SIM card data connection was changeable – at times it was very speedy to load image-intensive web pages, but at other times it took up to a minute to download all the images with seemingly the same levels of reception.
Wi-Fi, though a little slower, was much more constant.
To avoid using the stylus while browsing the internet, the zoom function (denoted by two magnifying glasses) is great.
It allows you to zoom right in on web pages, but not onto specific bits so you have to scroll around to get to the part you want to see.
Another helpful addition is the 'find' function so you can locate the relevant bit of the web page once you have zoomed in.
The Sony Ericsson Vivaz isn't Flash compatible, so Flash-based sites will just render as plain text.
We were really impressed with the mobile version of YouTube, however – as a widget option in the Vivaz's video player, clicking through to YouTube was quick and the videos loaded without much delay.
We also applaud the in-menu BBC iPlayer web shortcut, although this requires a Wi-Fi connection to let you download content to your mobile.
Social networking apps generally work without a hitch, although having set Twitter as a tab on the home screen we were disappointed to have to repeatedly enter log in information - in fact, it was a terrible way to work with a phone that offers 'native Twitter'.
It also lacks access to DMs, @replies or anything else other than the last 20 or so updates in your timeline, so you tend to be better off using the mobile site.
Sony Ericsson Vivaz: Camera
The camera is where Sony Ericsson intends the Vivaz to shine, with 8.1-megapixels to play with on still shots and the ability to shoot 720p HD video.
There are separate buttons to launch the video and still-shot camera functions, as well as the on-screen option to swap between the two.
Despite the one-button process, the camera is a little slow to get up to speed.
Using the camera functions was a breeze, with on-screen icons showing the current setup at a glance and housing menus for swapping between different features.
There is a whole range of shooting options available on the Vivaz, on a par with a number of mid-range compact digital cameras.
Although there's no manual focus you can choose between full autofocus, or specialist options for specific types of shots; macro for close-ups, infinite mode for landscape shots and portrait mode.
TEST SHOT: Infinite focus for landscape shots – the colours here have come out slightly washed out
TEST SHOT: The panorama function is really nice to use, with instructive on-screen motion detection helping you get a seamless shot
TEST SHOT: The camera didn't fare so well on moving objects, even in sports mode, with images coming out fuzzy and, in some cases, pixelated
TEST SHOT: Direct light was not handled brilliantly, with the whole image coming out much darker than it should have
TEST SHOT: Macro focus is useful for close-up shots, although we found on other shots that it tended to focus on the wrong things – like objects further from the lens
TEST SHOT: Using the camera's light in low light was very effective, although the 'low-light' mode came out slightly grainy
The Sony Ericsson Vivaz 8.1MP camera also has built-in effects. These are the solarise and sepia effects - although the latter is not as rusty as we'd like it to be.
The camera also handled colours well, even in incandescent light.
Sony Ericsson Vivaz: Video and comparison
Sony Ericsson Vivaz HD Video
Sony Ericsson Vivaz SD Video
The sound quality is better in the HD recording here, as is the image which is much crisper and doesn't suffer from the visual noise in the SD clip (QVGA 320 x 240). While the SD clip looks like it was taken with a camera phone, the HD clip does not.
This was shot indoors in low light using the camera light which washes the van out a little as it's close to the lamp. You can also see the camera trying to auto-focus throughout; this is a nice touch in the right circumstances, but can get a little annoying.
On a number of separate occasions, recording would begin but get stuck on a single frame – sound would continue to record but the images wouldn't.
This was frustrating when filming one-off occurrences like a couple of randy squirrels frolicking through the park, and happened more than three times rendering it really quite unreliable.
On other occasions however, the video function would work without a hitch.
Comparison to Samsung i8910HD
It's hard to work out which of these phones is better - on the one hand, the price of the Sony Ericsson Vivaz is around £70 cheaper than the older Samsung i8910HD - but the latter offers a lot of extra features.
On the media front, both can capture 720p video, and both can do so at 24fps. We're tempted to say that the Vivaz looks slightly better on the PC screen, but once you run them both through a TV there's very little to choose from.
Add in the fact that the 8MP camera on the i8190HD is, we think, a touch better than the Vivaz's, and the fact it has a massive OLED screen to watch media on, and we still believe Samsung's media behemoth is the better option.
Sony Ericsson Vivaz: Media
With a heritage in music-playback devices like the Walkman, we always expect Sony-branded products to have an advantage over other handset manufacturers on the media side of things.
Usually we're a little disappointed, with previous Sony Ericsson handsets using the proprietary Fast Port headphone connector, last seen on the Sony Ericsson Satio.
We're glad to say that Sony Ericsson has done away with the Fast Port connection on the Vivaz, which houses a 3.5mm headphone connector flush to the left-hand side of the handset, bringing the brand squarely into 2010.
The music player interface on the Vivaz is also much more user friendly than older Sony Ericsson offerings like the clunky W205.
With a slick interface complete with animated background, the monochrome player plays host to all the traditional options – artists, albums, playlists, audiobooks and podcasts, as well as your own voice recording files.
Artists are arranged alphabetically, and while it's a shame that artwork doesn't appear in this list to give it a bit more colour, the artwork is available in the album list view and during playback.
Creating playlists on the fly is also very simple if you fancy a compilation approach. We did find the music a little bass-heavy at times – sadly there is no equaliser function to try and remedy this.
A handy widget on the home screen keeps you up to date with track names and offers easy access to skipping tracks when you have music playing in the background.
The media player makes switching to video playback or the photo library very easy as it's all part of the same application. Going to a video simply pauses the music playback, so you can return to the same place later.
Sound quality when playing music through the handset itself is less tinny than we've come to expect from phones at this level, although it is still a little crackly and no substitute for headphones.
Using a pair of Sennheiser in-ear headphones gave audio playback more depth and less audible noise.
The Sony Ericsson Vivaz also has an FM radio player located in the Apps folder. You can set this to play either through the headphones or the phone's loudspeaker but you have to have headphones plugged in throughout as they act as the antenna.
It's not the most intuitive radio player we've used, with radios on even very basic handsets like the LG Brio proving easier to use.
You can leave the radio playing in the background while using other functions on the Vivaz, but it's not possible to record the sound, as is offered on the Samsung Jet.
The onboard memory is around 75MB, but that won't store much alongside an HD video file, so the Vivaz can support up to a 16GB microSD card and comes with an 8GB card in the box.
Sony Ericsson Vivaz: Battery life and other
Sony Ericsson states that the Vivaz can delivery up to 5 hours 20 minutes of 3G talktime, 2hours 30 minutes video call time and up to 430 hours of standby life.
We reckon that talktime estimation is probably a little optimistic but not way out. After an intensive day of use, including watching and filming HD videos, the Vivaz was about ready to give up the ghost.
But we also managed to get a good two to three days of more casual everyday use out of it before it needed recharging.
The Sony Ericsson Vivaz has a whole folder dedicated to organisational apps and functions, but don't look for the calendar here – that has its own menu option.
It's nothing to write home about, but allows you to set reminders and tasks with alerts and deadlines as you'd expect.
In the organiser folder you'll find the clock and alarms function where you can set recurring alarms, like a weekday alarm that doesn't go off at weekends.
There's also a fairly standard note-writing app, calculator, file manager and document readers – although the document readers require licences and therefore payment.
Other handy features to keep you ticking over are the converter app which can tell you plenty about how many kilocalories are in a kilojoule, but only has 'Home' and 'Foreign' options when it comes to currency.
This means you have to set your own rates – we'd have liked this to sync with current conversion rates online, but you can't have everything.
You can, of course, download more apps from the PlayNow store, offering apps from web-publishing through to weather forecasting, although as we said earlier there's not a huge amount of choice there.
Location-based services include Google Maps and GPS positioning. Symbian-based Google Maps is pretty good (although not up to the speed and feature-base of the Android range) and the GPS found us fairly quickly.
Directionally it wasn't too bad either - we navigated between tube stops in the outer reaches of London without getting lost, which is something that still happens far too often due to our rather addled brains.
Media-wise there is an onboard music identification programme called TrackID which works in a similar way to Shazam, as well as a sound recording app for vocal notes-to-self or for recording interviews and so on.
Finally, for the DIY enthusiast, there is an onboard spirit level - good luck getting an accurate reading using either edge of the phone though, there are too many protruding buttons on each.
Sony Ericsson Vivaz: Connectivity and comparison
The Sony Ericsson Vivaz connects to a computer via USB cable. Installing drivers onto a PC is very easy as the necessary software is stored on the handset.
This means no messing about with CDs or going to websites to download executable files. The PC companion suite lets you move files quickly and easily between your phone and computer, but it's not essential.
The software doesn't work on Mac computers, but transferring files between the phone and computer is still possible using the handset as a mass storage device and if you know your way around a computer file then you shouldn't find it too taxing.
Setting up the Wi-Fi connection was easy enough, but assigning a default connection proved difficult. In the end we were forced to select a connection option manually each time we connected.
We also had trouble maintaining a data connection while out and about, even around central London. We often had to just abandon attempts and seek out Wi-Fi.
The phone's GPS fared a little better on-the-go, with the onboard compass proving handy when our feeble sense of direction let us down.
Like the Sony Ericsson Satio, this phone puts all its eggs in the camera basket; but the Vivaz manages to keep its other functions up to scratch somewhat better than the Satio, thanks in part to its faster processor.
We were sorely disappointed that the Satio didn't have a 3.5mm headphone socket, so it's a very welcome addition on the Vivaz, and the touchscreen has certainly improved.
It's a shame Sony Ericsson didn't opt for a capacitive screen, but it does keep the costs down.
The ergonomic design of the Vivaz also puts it ahead of the Satio and will feature on all of Sony Ericsson's upcoming handsets.
Given the Vivaz's superior camera, sleek design, ergonomic build and user-friendly music player, it wipes the floor with Nokia's X6, despite the X6's capacitive screen.
Despite this we'd have welcomed a physical QWERTY keyboard in the style of the GW620, although we can cope without. It's the range and quality of apps we miss most though, with the Tattoo and GW620 both privy to Android's superior marketplace.
Sony Ericsson Vivaz: Verdict
This is Sony Ericsson's second effort at a touchscreen phone after the disappointment of the Sony Ericsson Satio, so there's a lot of pressure riding on it.
HD video recording is the headline grabber, but the rest of the phone needs to impress as well in this smartphone-heavy age.
The Sony Ericsson Vivaz is lovely to hold – that ergonomic design really does pay off and the near-HD screen also plays a part in making it look and feel like a quality phone.
The touchscreen does a great job considering it is resistive, and the camera quality is high – not solely for recording HD video; still shots using the 8.1-megapixel camera come out very nicely too.
The clean and tidy home screen pleased us, and the tabbed functions were handy for quick access to our favourite apps and media.
For all its nice design and screen, we couldn't help but feel the chassis was still a bit too plastic, particularly the back panel which gives it a slightly cheap feel.
The Sony Ericsson Vivaz also has quite a few little glitches and niggles – not least the frustrating screen and key lock mechanism.
Also having to constantly reassure the handset that yes, we do want to connect using the default internet connection made our techno-hackles rise.
The Android-esque interface lends itself to apps, so we'd have liked to have seen more good quality, low-cost apps in the PlayNow app store, but these may come with time.
And, although it may have been one of the best resistive touchscreens we've seen, it's still not a patch on a capacitive screen.
For a mid-to-high range feature phone, we were pleasantly surprised by how much we liked the Sony Ericsson Vivaz.
As a phone it performed well and we were impressed with the music player and camera functions – the main features of the phone.
Such a shame, then, that little things let it down; we were constantly annoyed by the key lock function, the temperamental auto-rotate and the schizophrenic internet settings.
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