Review: Viliv S7 Premium
This guest review was submitted by Ben L.
The Viliv S7 Premium is a convertible mini notebook from Korean manufacturer Viliv. Their recent S5 Premium and X70 models impressed folks over the last few months and nearly started a revival of the UMPC. While the S5 and X70 were good, many people were saying that these devices could be perfect if only they had a keyboard.
Enter the S7, the first UMPC from Viliv with a hardware keyboard. Can it live up to expectations? Read on to find out.
||1.33GHz Intel Atom Z520|
|OS:||Windows XP Home|
|Display:||7" convertible touchscreen (1024 x 600)|
|Wireless:||802.11b/g, Bluetooth 2.0+EDR, 3G, DMB tuner (Korea only)|
|Size:||9.05" x 5.6" x 1.02"|
There are also other configurations available.
Check out Jenn's Viliv S7 unboxing for a look at the packaging and included accessories.
The Viliv S7 is quite slim, standing just 0.98 inches off of the ground. It has nicely rounded edges, though it doesn’t have that perfectly smooth feeling because there are many different panels and seams around the sides. The bottom is surprisingly quite smooth however, with nothing to ruin the otherwise slick landscape but a few pads to prevent slippage, the outline of the battery, and the battery latch. There is absolutely no wiggle on the battery, which to me is telling of a solid build and is seen around the rest of the Viliv S7. There is nothing on the device that wiggles or feels loose. Even the sliding power switch feels a bit more solid than most.
Under the S7’s battery is a tiny SIM card slot for 3G data access and voice calling (more on this later). The card is difficult to remove because the slot holds onto it rather firmly and its position doesn’t afford one a very good grip on the card. I actually had to get a pair of pliers and gently tug on the SIM card to get it out of the slot.
The screen is surprisingly rigid on its central rotating hinge and has less play than even that of my HP Tablet PC. The hinge uses a very simple and rather ingenious bit of engineering to prevent the screen from rotating when it is fully opened or fully closed; this keeps the S7 small and means that there are no latches in the front, requiring no button to be pressed in order to open it. Even without a latch holding the lid closed, it still stays firmly in place. It’d be a challenge to shake the lid open without actually putting your hands on the screen and opening it, even if holding the S7 upside down. That said, the hinge is not too tight; in fact, it feels almost perfect. After you get over the initial tight area of the hinge using two hands, the screen will open up just fine even without holding the base down like you need to on some devices.
The bezel around the screen is rather large. I would prefer to have the screen fill out the bezel a bit more, but I guess there is only so much that can be done with the limited space. If it must be there, at least it has some use, as it houses a speaker on the left and right, a webcam on the upper left, and two buttons on the lower right.
The Viliv S7 is small and light. At 1.8 pounds, it couldn’t be easier to pick up and move from one place to the next. While I don’t personally carry one, I presume the S7 to be portable enough to be practically carried in a large purse. If something negative could be said about the S7 not weighing very much, then it would be that you might think you forgot to put it in your bag; it can be hard to tell the difference between it being in your bag and not being there. It's that light
The screen’s footprint is just slightly smaller then the body footprint leaving a little overhang on the back of the device, which can function well as a gripping area when using the S7 in portrait mode. While the screen itself is just 7 inches, the bezel around it is pretty big, pushing the overall footprint of the unit to an almost 10-inch diagonal.
Here are some of Jenn's previous size comparison photos showing the S7 with the HTC Shift, Kohjinsha SC3, and Vaio P:
The S7’s touchscreen looks nice and crisp, aside from the usual fuzziness that can be observed on nearly all resistive touchscreen devices. At 7 inches, the 1024 x 600 resolution screen displays on-screen text at a very readable size (this is coming from someone who doesn’t wear glasses).
This size also makes the touchscreen a bit more viable than I’m used to. The S7 doesn’t come with a stylus, but the touchscreen is still mighty useful for navigating around the device. You’ll probably want to install the oft-praised Grab and Drag Firefox addon for use with the S7. Coming from the 4.3-inch WSVGA screen of my Sony VAIO UX180P, interface elements (icons, buttons, etc.) felt very easy to click with a finger on the S7’s screen. When using the touchscreen, a single tap creates a left-click and holding your finger in one place for a moment will generate a right-click, which is useful.
The screen is glossy, which some folks like and others don’t. In my testing, I found fluorescent overhead lights to be an issue that occasionally glared out the screen. I’d need to adjust my seating position and the angle of the screen to prevent the glare from obstructing what was on the screen.
Around the edges of the display, the bezel actually thins out just before reaching the beginning of the screen. This is a thoughtful little touch that makes it easier to tap on-screen elements that are near the edge like scroll bars and the close/minimize buttons.
The screen has a good range of brightness and I found that medium brightness worked just fine for most scenarios. The contrast is a bit lower than I would have liked, making it difficult to see dark scenes in some videos, but the horizontal and vertical viewing angles are both excellent.
The body of the S7 is relatively buttonless with the exception of the buttons on the screen bezel and a power slider/lock switch.
The pivot button, as you might expect, rotates the orientation of the screen in 90-degree increments. The screen orientation does not automatically rotate when the screen is rotated. As mentioned above, the S7’s screen hinge is firm and there is little to no wiggle on the screen, even if you were to shake the device around. This is probably due to the display being rather thin and light. When rotating the screen, the hinge provides a satisfyingly smooth spin.
The menu button opens the Windows start menu. There is no straightforward way to rebind these buttons, but I’d assume that it can be done.
Pushed forward (toward the back of the device), the power switch will turn the device on or bring it out of standby. Sliding the same switch backward (toward the user) will put the device into a hold mode that disables all other buttons and input options on the S7 including the touchscreen, bezel buttons, keyboard (discussed in its own section below), and trackpad.
The trackpad on the S7 is one of the smaller ones that you’ll find. It is Synaptics-powered, which means that there is a lot of customization to get it function just how you want.
The trackpad is placed rather strangely in the upper-right region of the S7’s body. but I’ve come to appreciate its inclusion after using a device like the UMID M1, which lacks any sort of mouse pointing option other than the touchscreen. It is wide enough to function well, but it is about half as tall as it is wide, which makes vertical movement of any sort a real chore due to the fact that you can't get a long stroke with such a short space.
Luckily the touchscreen offers a good solution to this issue. So why not always use the touchscreen? The trackpad provides an important function for a computer running Windows, and that is the ability to have a floating mouse pointer. Though some may look at the trackpad and proclaim it to be too small, I’m glad it is there. If it were the only option, it would be a painful way to move the mouse around; however, having the flexibility of both a touchscreen and a small trackpad make size less of an issue.
The left and right mouse buttons on the S7 flank the trackpad and are a bit harder to press than I’d like. They are actually somewhat loud when they click but otherwise operate just as one would expect.
The keyboard on the Viliv S7 harkens back to the days of the first netbooks, which were often affiliated with a poor typing experience. The S7’s keyboard is small, and there was clearly compromise made to make it fit within the footprint of the device, but for the most part, it works well enough to offer what I would call "improvised touch-typing." While full five-finger touch-typing can be done on the S7’s keyboard, it feels quite cramped. The most effective way to type on the S7 would be a modified multi-finger typing style.
The keyboard has all of the basic key-bound amenities that you have come to know and love, offering brightness up/down, display switching, wireless toggling, volume up/down and mute, all from an Fn + a number key combination. There is a F-key row, but there wasn’t enough room on th e end of the F-key row to fit F11 and F12, so they are bound to F9 and F10 with the Fn key.
The keyboard also has several layout quirks that take some getting used to:
Reversed Fn and Ctrl Keys. With most standard (US) keyboards, the Ctrl key is the last key on the left of the bottom row.
On the S7, the Fn key is the last key, with the Ctrl key adjacent. If you aren’t looking while you type, you’ll unconsciously go for where Ctrl should be and end up with Fn. Luckily, Viliv seems to have anticipated this issue. Through the included Viliv Manager software, you can actually choose to swap the Fn and Ctrl keys back to a standard layout. All that this actually accomplishes is assigning the Ctrl key to the Fn key function and vice versa. This would be confusing to anyone who looks at the keyboard while they type, but for those of us who type without peering down, it feels more natural when the Ctrl key is on the outside. I’m glad Viliv provided the option to switch these keys, but I’m unsure of why they didn’t use more standard positioning to begin with.
Truncated Tilde. On most standard keyboard in the number row, the left most key is the tilde (~ and `), followed by 1, 2, etc. The Viliv S7 doesn’t put the tilde key here, which means that the number 1 key is the very first in the number row, which will definitely throw someone off who doesn’t look at each key stroke. When I found myself reaching for the number 1, I would accidentally hit the 2 key because the lack of the tilde shifts all of the numbers to the left of where I'm used to having them. To make matters worse, the 1 key is about half the width of the rest of the keys, which isn’t too uncommon but only manages to compound the issue. Again, this problem isn’t a device-breaking design choice, but it will be awkward for first time users and takes some getting used to.
Apostrophe. Continuing the odd layout trend are some of the punctuation keys. In particular, the apostrophe key is not located where one might be used to seeing it. Instead of being next to the right shift key, it's in the spacebar row next to the left arrow. In addition to strange placement, it has an odd implementation.
Let me try to explain by modeling the word "don't." After typing "don" on the S7, then hitting the apostrophe key, the apostrophe doesn’t immediately pop up on screen. It won’t appear until the "t" key is pressed. Presumably this is to allow the user to create special characters such as é and ú. The same strange behavior occurs when you try to type a quotation mark (same key, just modified with shift). The quotation mark will not appear until the next key is pressed, and only if that key isn’t part of a special character. If one presses the key to create a quote and then types the u key, they will end up with ü. This implementation is confusing, and I can’t find any simple way to disable it. Without thinking about it, normal typing ignores this strange behavior because words like "don't," "won't," and "it's" don’t have characters after the apostrophe that correspond to a special character, but if you are quoting a sentence that starts with a letter that has a special character equivalent (i, e, u, o, etc.), you’ll be thrown off by this behavior.
Small Right Shift Key. The S7 also features the dreaded tiny right shift key, which is placed next to the up arrow. There are many annoyances that come with this key placement and size.
Accidentally hitting the up arrow when you want to use the shift key is a real pain. Even worse than this is if you happen to hit both at the same time. The result is often a highlighted sentence (as the cursor jumps to the line above upon the up arrow key press), then as you continue to type quickly you press the next key and replace everything that is highlighted with that key press. Sure, an edit > undo will fix this in most cases, but it can still be dreadfully annoying.
Vertically Squeezed. The last issue is that the keys are seemingly wider than they are tall. This means that the keyboard doesn’t have much length (it doesn’t go too far toward the back of the device), which adds to the cramped feeling. The reason for this slight horizontal squashing appears to be for the purpose of allowing enough space for the trackpad.
Despite these compromises and quirks, the keyboard is reasonably typeable, providing good feedback without being too loud. I do find the keyboard to be a bit ugly, though. It just has an old look to it to me, but it is clear that Viliv tried to make it as comfortable for typing as possible rather than worrying about its looks. If you need to take notes or write short messages, the S7’s keyboard will work fine. If you are doing any sort of coding or story writing, which involves frequent use of punctuation and the right shift key, you’ll probably be bothered by the non-standard setup, and it will be a pain until you can become used to the keyboard.
I feel that Viliv could make a subtle but powerful change to the keyboard to make it more typeable. If they opted for an optical mouse instead of the trackpad, room could have been saved to vertically stretch the keyboard out, making it feel less cramped.
Viliv also includes a software on-screen keyboard with the S7, but the resistive touchscreen means that it is more novel than useful. It isn’t half bad if you have the screen folded down to cover the real keyboard and you use it to hunt and peck with your index fingers, but thumb typing is just awkward because the device is too wide.
The OSK is transparent so you can sort of see what is going on behind it, and it can also be hidden with the Hide button, which minimizes it to a little tab that can be pressed to open it again.
This model of the S7 has WiFi, Bluetooth, DVB, and 3G/voice connectivity. Several speed tests have shown the S7’s WIFi to be on par with other devices. DVB is not offered here in the US, so that unfortunately couldn’t be tested, but there is a telescoping antenna that pulls out of the back right of the device and can be tilted in any direction thanks to an elbow joint and a spinning base. The whole thing tucks away neatly inside of the S7.
Interestingly, the S7 supports not only 3G data through a SIM card, but also voice calling and text messaging as well.
Calling and texting functions are provided through the included Mobile Partner software. It isn’t the most well designed application, but it does seem to offer a good deal of data metrics and provides the ability to call and text with relative ease. Configuration for voice calling on the S7 was no more complicated than inserting my SIM card into the slot under the battery, then selecting it from within the software through the Tools > Choose Device menu.
After that, calling worked just fine using the graphical number pad within the software.
The S7 features 1GB of RAM and a 1.3GHz Atom CPU. While the device is by no means a powerhouse, it can still handle the basics. I was happy to see the S7 score almost as well as my old UX180P in some benchmark tests. The UX series is one of the most powerful UMPCs out there, and while my UX180P is quite a few years old (512MB of RAM, 1.2GHz CPU), it would be hard to upgrade to something with less power. The S7 scored nearly as well, as you'll see below, and yet it does so very efficiently (more on this in the battery section).
The S7 doesn’t have any software (beyond standard Windows options) that alters performance based on whether or not the device is plugged in, so the S7 scored basically the same when plugged in or running on battery. Here are the Crystal Mark results:
Heat and Noise
The S7 is the stealth bomber of the computing world. With an SSD and no fan inside, you’d be able to make money challenging people to tell you whether the computer is on or off without looking at the screen. Even the slightest buzz that is sometimes heard when a device is running is completely absent with the S7 as far as I could tell.
Though the unit lacks a fan, I would say that it doesn’t ever get warmer than warm — definitely not hot if you are comparing it to a standard notebook. Just think of it this way: the S7 is designed to stay cool enough that it doesn’t need a fan to cool its internal components. Heat was never an issue in my testing, as the only area that seemed to get warm is on the bottom, not on the palm rest like on some larger computers.
I don’t know what Viliv did to the S7 to achieve such remarkable standby speed on the S7, but it's amazing. It is the fastest into and out-of standby that I’ve ever seen from a full x86 computer. It is almost not worth timing. I made a short video instead of giving you numbers. As they say, seeing is believing.
Although I enabled hibernation, it refused to pop up on the power menu so I was unable to test it. However, boot up and shutdown times were quite good as well, but not as amazing as the standby time. It took the S7 about 29 seconds to boot up from a full shutdown (until the desktop came up), and just 9 seconds to shut all the way down.
The SSD is obviously the dominant factor here, with a score slightly over 8K, which is pretty good for an SSD and much faster than a similarly sized HDD. Despite these numbers, the Viliv S7 sadly cannot handle flash HD content because of the GMA500 chipset. This is a problem shared with all Menlow-based devices, so it's not surprising that playback stutters unacceptably with HD content out of the box. SD content runs smooth as silk from both GameTrailers and YouTube players (given that there aren’t any flash ads to steal resources). Hulu worked as well for SD content; in fullscreen mode it was visibly losing some frames, though it was still watchable.
The S7 struggled to play back local WMV3 encoded 720p video through Windows Media Player 10, but the same video was played just fine through a more efficient player: VLC. There are also other workarounds and fixes to get even 1080p content playing nicely on GMA500-equipped machines, which you can find in the various sub-sections of the Pocketables Forum.
The S7’s convertible nature makes it quite flexible. It can function as a self-stand, which is nice for when you are watching media. I enjoyed several episodes of The Office through Hulu during my time with the device.
The 1.3MP webcam that is on the left of the screen bezel actually looked worse than most, appearing visibly blocky. Don’t plan on taking images of epic vistas with this cam; the best use it has is for video chatting.
Preloaded on the S7 are several pieces of software. First is JasTouch, which is used to calibrate the touchscreen. Second is a proprietary launcher simply called MID that provides a touch-oriented launcher that allows program shortcuts to be put into several different categories. This software was not very intuitive and felt rather half-baked; its practical applications are few and far between.
There is also some additional and rather random software such as Music Studio and vilivPlayer, which appear to be essentially the same thing with only some minor differences. In the end, they are both simple media players that have large buttons to be better suited for touchscreen operation, but I couldn’t see anyone using these programs over a more recognized player like iTunes or Windows Media Player.
One of the small included utilities that is actually useful is the viliv Manager, which is very straightforward and allows the user to toggle WiFi/Bluetooth, Camera, 3G/Voice Modem, speaker/line out, Fn/ctrl key setting, and Brightness. It also allows you to set the start up states of the wireless radios with an OFF, ON, or Last Status option. There isn’t an easy way to independently toggle Bluetooth and WiFi, so in general, if you turn WiFi on, Bluetooth will be on as well. Every time the S7 comes out of standby, XP likes to tell you that you have WiFi and Bluetooth hardware installed, and those annoying little balloons don’t go away until you hit the X, which is bothersome but obviously XP’s fault.
There's also a Korean proxy-based browser called Fastweb, which actually isn’t the worst attempt I’ve ever seen at a touchscreen browser. I couldn’t see someone seriously using it, at least not as their full-time browser, especially considering the fact that it defaults to Korean versions of websites. Flash implementation seemed to be way too slow to be realistically used (YouTube videos became stop-motion movies). The screenshot above may not look too bad, but trust me, the application breaks down very quickly as soon as you try to do anything beyond just looking at a webpage.
An update manager is also included, which is called i-Viliv for MID, that presumably checks with Viliv for driver and software updates by connecting to the web.
The EasySuite software is actually quite, well, easy to use. This is the software that allows you to plug the S7 into another computer and have it show up essentially as an external HDD. Technically it shows up as a CD drive, but in the end, EasySuite makes it incredibly simple to move content to and from the S7. Right now I’m actually wishing that every computer included this option.
The S7 comes with a mini-USB to USB cable and using EasySuite to transfer files is as simple as plugging the mini-USB end into the S7 and the USB end into another computer, then opening My Computer, and accessing the S7 as a CD drive. The software is hosted on the S7 and will pop up on the computer that you are moving data to. A simple interface of folder hierarchies representing both computers will appear and you can drag-and-drop files between computers to your heart's content. I was able to move a 90MB file at 11mb/s, with the bottleneck probably being on the end of my HP Tablet and not the S7’s fast SSD.
The Viliv S7 has two small stereo speakers built into the screen bezel that sound like one might expect from small speakers: lacking of bass, big time, and rather tinny on the high end. They go decently loud for personal listening, but don’t expect to be raising the roof with them. I don’t have the technical knowledge to profess myself an audiophile, but I do like to hear my music in the highest quality available to me. With that said, the bottleneck in most cases is the headphones. I tested the Viliv S7 with the Beats by Dre headphones using an ALAC track. The track sounded just a bit worse on the S7 than on my HP tablet, though I don’t think I would have been able to tell if I were using other lesser quality headphones.
There is a utility that comes with the S7 called IDT Audio Control Panel, and it offers use beyond your basic Windows sound configuration, affording one the ability to adjust an equalizer or select from one of several presets.
I hope you are still with us, because this is probably the very best part of the review. The Viliv S7’s battery is outstanding.
While I mentioned that the Viliv S7 scored slightly under my old Sony VAIO UX180P in CrystalMark, that old device only runs for 2.5 hours or so, maybe 3 max. The Viliv S7, on the other hand, provides nearly the same processing power, but so much more efficiently that it can run for an incredible length of time, destroying the UX180P in terms of power:battery life ratio.
I ran the Battery Eater classic test, which tests the device’s minimum runtime. At 100% brightness and WiFi/Bluetooth on, the Viliv S7 ran for 5 hours and 45 minutes, straight, at 100% CPU usage! To put it another way, you pretty much can’t use the S7 in a way that it would run for less time than 5 hours and 45 minutes, which is nearly double the maximum runtime of my UX180.
And what if you wanted to really stretch the Viliv S7’s battery life in an ebook reader scenario? Well, let me just say that you’d have enough battery life to read through Hamlet at least twice. With wireless radios disabled and screen brightness at its minimum level, the Viliv S7 went for nearly double the first test: 10 hours and 46 minutes! This is actually longer than Viliv's own max battery life claim of 9.5 hours. They also claim that the S7 will go for 7 hours on video playback, which I would say is a pretty reliable figure if we are talking about local video (not streaming flash video).
Remember, the above tests are continuous usage. The fact that the Viliv S7 can enter into and out of standby so quickly (compounded with the impressive battery life) means that you can run this thing for days on end without a change. With a normal computer, it’d be a pain to put the computer into standby every time that you won’t be using it for a few minutes because it would take 10 seconds or so to come out of standby. The S7 is so fast that even if you are just taking a 5-minute break, it is reasonable to put the S7 into standby, and because of this, you can extend the runtime of the S7 to pretty incredible levels. By default the S7 goes into standby when you shut the screen. With most computers, I hate automatic actions upon screen close, but I left this option on with the S7 because it is so fast and so worth it.
The S7 should last for around 8 hours or so with normal usage (WiFi on, screen brightness around 50%).
I’m pretty sure that the S7 could outlast my HP Tablet even when using the HP’s single and extended batteries. If you’ve never had this kind of battery life before, let me tell you that you won’t feel like you need to know where the nearest outlet is at all times. This actually reduces stress. You feel like you can work without having to worry about getting everything done before the battery runs out. You get a warm tingly feeling when the S7 seems to say, "Hey, take your time. I got your back."
The S7 actually nails a couple of key points that caused early UMPCs to lack widespread adoption, namely battery life. While the keyboard is cramped and the trackpad is lacking, the touchscreen and tablet form-factor make the S7 a flexible device. With battery life and connectivity being the high points of the S7, I would call it a road warrior’s dream. The inability to handle flash HD video prevents the S7 from being a good choice for the entertainment-oriented consumer, but for someone who needs long battery life and the ability to do light web browsing and create simple documents through software such as Microsoft Office, all while on the go, the S7 is a powerfully compelling device, especially considering that it starts at $629 from Dynamism.
:: Visit the Viliv S7 forum to share tips/tricks, troubleshoot, and connect with other users ::