Review: Viliv N5
It's been a long time coming, but the Viliv N5 is finally here.
The Atom-powered Windows 7 UMPC/MID is a device that needs no introduction to anyone interested in mobile computing and pocketable PCs, so let's not waste any time with formalities. You've waited long enough!
But will the N5 have been worth the wait when it begins shipping from Dynamism soon? Read my full review to find out.
System Specifications (as reviewed)
||1.33GHz Intel Atom Z520|
|RAM:||1GB DDR2 SDRAM 533MHz|
|OS:||Windows 7 Starter|
|Display:||4.8" LCD touchscreen (1024 x 600)|
|Wireless:||3G, 802.1b/g, Bluetooth 2.0+EDR, GPS|
|Size:||6.77" x 3.38" x 0.98"|
Design & Quality
I don't know how well it comes across in pictures, but when you see the Viliv N5 in person you'll understand Viliv's US marketing campaign. I'm not sure that likening the device to a woman's evening clutch is the best way to appeal to men, but perhaps there will be more gender-neutral ads in the future.
The N5's elongated form factor and incredibly rounded corners certainly have a pocketbook-look, but it's also very clean and stylish.
But you'll forget about how it looks the moment you discover how it feels. The entire outer casing of the N5 has the softest, smoothest rubber-like finish of any device I've ever come across. It's a texture that you can't help but stroke/pet; if you let someone else hold it, good luck getting it back! Even when I hold the N5 in both hands to thumb type, I still find myself rubbing the back with my fingers. I hate to use the expression "softer than a baby's bottom," but it really is that silky and smooth (my 7-month-old baby girl will be thrilled by this public reference when she gets older, I'm sure).
Complementing the device's amazing finish is its superb build quality. Viliv products are solid. Period. Everything is sturdy and strong; no creaks, warping, or flexing. It's very nicely put together.
One of the design elements that makes the N5 more unique than other handheld clamshells is that it has the kind of hinge that lets the bottom edge of the screen appear as though it's underneath the lower half of the unit. The hinges themselves are strong and tight; the device literally snaps shut.
At the beginning of the year, many people thought they would have to choose between the Viliv N5 and UMID BZ because it looked like they would be released around the same time. Who could have guessed that one would be available nearly 6 months before the other? But now that the N5 will soon be up for the taking, those those who passed on the BZ the first time around finally have a decision to make.
With that in mind, here's a quick size comparison with the N5, BZ, and original UMID M1.
And since I spend a ton of time with the Dell Streak and HTC EVO 4G for my dedicated websites, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to put them alongside the N5 too:
The N5 is the perfect size and shape to carry in your hand; its fits nicely in the palm when your fingers are wrapped around the smooth edges. It just feel right.
Like the Viliv S5 Premium, the N5 is outfitted with a 4.8-inch WSVGA display. It isn't remarkably bright, but it's a great screen with crisp text, excellent clarity, and accurate colors.
We've seen this screen size and resolution combination on many MIDs/UMPCs in the past, so there's nothing new or unusual to report here. If icons and text are too small for your comfort, you can boost the size of them through Control Panel -> Appearance -> Display -> "Make it easier to read what's on your screen." You can also adjust the DPI through the "Set custom text size" option in the Display sidebar in the Control Panel.
Both the screen and the wide bezel are covered in a single piece of hard glass. I really like the seamless look and "edgeless" display, which makes dust getting in the cracks a non-issue and gives the device an incredibly sleek and polished look.
The N5 has a resistive touchscreen, so tapping on anything with the pad of your fingers will get you nowhere.
Windows 7 isn't really ideal for use with your fingers anyway, but it can be done with fingernails. A better way to interact with the touchscreen is with a stylus. The one included with the device is a hard plastic arrowhead looped on a lanyard; the sharp tip works well on the screen, which didn't need any calibration to be perfectly accurate out of the box.
Although I appreciate the touchscreen's inclusion, the Viliv N5's form factor is more conducive to two-handed use for me.
To enable such usage, the device has a fantastic optical mouse above the keyboard.
Even my husband, who is not a fan of thumb mice/joysticks, commented on how good it was within seconds (yes, seconds) of using it. The motion is natural, the movement is fluid, and the on-screen pointer is very easy to control. The location is ideal for use in handheld mode, but it also works well in laptop mode.
It would be nice to be able to tap the mouse to function as a left-click, but I can get by just fine with the mouse buttons.
Now this is something I've never seen before: mouse buttons that are part of the keyboard and have the same feel as all of the other keys. It feels really strange at first, as my left thumbs are used to mouse buttons being firm and "clicky," but it actually didn't take much time to get used to it. I don't even notice that it's "different" anymore.
Before we go any further, let's take a look at rest of the N5's hardware.
On the left side are the power jack and a blocked port of unknown function [UPDATE: Bill G in the comments says it's a multi I/O port for external video ouput and USB link/host], USB 2.0 port, and microSD card slot (cards go in upside down) protected by a flip-down door.
The location of the USB port means that connecting a flash drive or some other peripheral will make it difficult to hold the device in both hands. This could be a problem for certain users, but it's a non-issue for me because there's really no circumstance where I would have anything plugged in while using the N5 in handheld mode. If I need to copy something to/from a flash drive, I just put the device down and use it as a mini laptop until the transfer is done.
The battery release button and a 3G antenna are on the right side. I never use the antenna and always get great 3G reception, but it's nice to know that I could possibly get an even better signal if necessary.
On the front of the Viliv N5 are a standard 3.5mm headphone jack, microphone, and hand strap loop.
Above the keyboard, which is discussed in its own section below, are two sets of LED indicators and the power button. The charging indicator is in the first set, so when you're charging the N5 and the lid is closed, there's no way to tell when the battery is charged without opening it.
There are small stereo speakers on the left and right outer edges of the screen bezel. I'm not sure why they couldn't have been a little bigger since there's so much empty space on the bezel, but they're okay for personal listening in quiet environments. The volume is very low, though, so you'll want to plug in a pair of headphones or external speakers when you're somewhere with background noise.
A 1.3-megapixel webcam is on the right side of the screen for video calling, self-portraits, streaming, and so on. The camera actually does surprisingly well in low-light conditions, but of course the quality of the images/video is what you'd expect from a webcam.
The N5 has a 5-row keyboard with a total of 65 keys (including the mouse button keys).
The keys are very flat and have sharper corners than most other mobile device keyboards (and even full-size keyboards, really). They're quiet and are very easy to press, but there are some anomalies:
- Empty space next to the Q key
- K and L keys are smaller than the other letters
- Modified punctuation layout
- Small space bar that's easier to reach with left thumb than right thumb
I wouldn't call any of these deal-breakers, but they trip me up sometimes.
The keys are close together so there's a tendency to hit two at once if you don't press the one you want in the center, which can happen when you're rushing (or taking a timed typing test!). When you're just leisurely inputting a URL or search time, there's no problem. I personally find the keyboard to be a little too wide for comfortable thumb typing, but you'll have a different experience depending on the size of your hands and reach of your thumbs; my husband, for example, thought the keyboard was very comfortable and easy to use.
Multi-finger typing in laptop mode is acceptable if you're not trying to type too quickly. Feedback is good and the keys are stable and press down evenly.
I made a lot of mistakes in my first typing test in both handheld and laptop modes, which dropped my gross speed of 37 wpm and 32 wpm, respectively, to somewhere in the region of 23 wpm. With practice over the next few days, however, my net speed increased to 42 wpm for thumb typing and 32 wpm for multi-finger typing. You can see how these numbers compare to other gadgets in my mobile device keyboard chart.
WiFi (b/g), Bluetooth 2.0+EDR, and GPS (Sirf Star3) come standard on the Viliv N5, while 3G is an option. The SIM slot is located under the battery and the 3G card being used is the Huawei EM770W (HSPA/UMTS 850/900/1900/2100MHz).
I popped in my AT&T SIM card, switched on the modem using Viliv's appropriately named ModemSwitch (preinstalled), and saw in MobilePartner (another Viliv-installed program) that the card was recognized and picking up a 3G signal. After manually inputting the APN settings, I was connected within seconds and getting about 1.5Mbps down, which is about what I get on my iPhone 3GS. If you're from another country, yes, 3G speeds in the US are terrible.
I also made a few 3G voice calls, which worked perfectly. Everyone I called said I sounded "totally normal."
Integrated 3G isn't as much of a must-have feature as it used to be now that mobile hotspot software and routers are more mainstream, but it's still nice to have.
The 1.33GHz Intel Atom CPU + 1GB RAM duo housed inside the Viliv N5 isn't new. We've seen it used for the past two years, since Menlow-based UMPCs were first released, with varying degrees of success depending on the operating system that went along with it.
Windows 7 isn't as trim as XP, but I think it's a good choice for a mobile computer. Windows XP is almost 9 years old . . . and it looks it. Vista, on the other hand, looks incredibly dolled up in comparison . . . but it's too slow. Windows 7 is the best of both worlds and it performs well on the N5.
It's obviously not well suited for heavy video editing or extensive multi-tasking, but for the kinds of things that most people do (web, email, Skype, video/music, casual games), it performs well. Faster processor options would certainly have been welcomed, especially since last year's Viliv S5 shares most of the same specs, but the Z520 has a good power:battery life ratio and doesn't cause the unit to overheat.
It took much longer than it should have, but the Menlow platform (on which the Viliv N5 and other devices with the Atom CPU/Intel US15W chipset combination are based) is finally up to snuff when it comes to video playback.
Viliv preinstalls CyberLink PowerDVD and K-Lite Mega Codec Pack 5 so that the N5 plays HD video right out of the box. All of the 720p video clips I downloaded from WMV HD Content Showcase and even the 1080p files I got from HD-Trailers played flawlessly in Windows Media Player.
Likewise, after I installed the latest version of Adobe Flash 10.1, I was enjoying full-screen Hulu and YouTube HD in Firefox completely stutter-free.
Heat and Noise
What heat and noise?
The battery pack serves as the bottom of the N5 and while it will get a little warm over time, it never becomes uncomfortably so. The unit is practically dead silent as well. Even when I taxed the system with Prime95's "torture test," it still kept its cool and remained quiet.
Powering the N5 is a 4250mAh li-polymer battery that Viliv says can provide up to 6 hours of runtime, 4 hours of video playback, and 150 hours of standby. Real-world numbers will vary according to various settings and other factors, of course, but I've found the company's estimates to be pretty accurate.
I haven't tested the standby time, as I don't have 6+ days to just let the device sit there, but I consistently get about 5 hours of use (web browsing, email, some online video, website work, forums) per charge without trying to conserve battery life.
The lightweight Viliv N5 is taking much longer than expected to be released, but its solid performance, cool-running system, HD video playback capability, good battery life, excellent optical mouse, beautiful exterior finish, quick resume from standby, top-notch build quality, fast SSD, microSD card slot, and optional 3G make it absolutely worth the wait. The keyboard isn't perfect and some will be disappointed that a faster CPU isn't available, but I don't consider either to be deal-breakers. When the biggest "flaws" about a device are that its speakers are soft and its charging LED indicator isn't visible unless the lid is open, you know there's really nothing to complain about.
It goes without saying, then, that I really enjoy using the Viliv N5. It's a device I reach for often and use for long stretches of time because it's so comfortable and reliable. I haven't experienced a crash, hiccup, or even a single moment of frustration and would easily give it 4.5 out of 5 stars (too bad I don't use a rating system).
Bottom line: If you're looking for the best truly portable Windows PC on the market, then this is it.
:: Visit the Viliv N5 forum to connect with other owners, share tips, ask questions, and troubleshoot ::
The Viliv N5 will be available for purchase from Dynamism.