Is the Viliv S5 UMPC Worth the Hype?
Why it's different: UMPCs have been around for a few years now, but almost all of them have failed to capture mainstream success due to high prices, sluggish performance, and/or wretched battery life. The Viliv S5, on the other hand, costs $599, runs XP like a champ, and has six hours of battery life (200 hours on standby) -- all in a sleek black chassis that fits comfortably in the hand.
The hardware specs: The S5 sports an Intel Atom 1.33GHz CPU, 1GB of RAM, a 60GB HDD, and a wireless trifecta of 802.11b/g, Bluetooth 2.0+EDR, and GPS, courtesy of the popular SiRFstarIII chip. It also has an insanely dense 4.8-inch 1024x600 resistive touch screen that's as sharp as nails.
Where you can get it: Currently, the only place to order a Viliv S5 in the U.S. is from import specialist Dynamism.com. The initial run of 200 units sold out immediately, though the company now has more in stock. If you're looking to order one, it might be best to get on it soon as Dynamism only received 400 more units.
Price: At $599, the S5 costs a bit more than similarly outfitted netbook, but you do get the added portability. Also, if you were one of the lucky people to get a unit from the initial run (as we were), or during Dynamism's special event last Thursday, that same $599 included an extra battery, a handsome leather case, a car charger, and car mount (roughly a $135 value). Unfortunately, new orders no longer include this.
What we like: The build quality of the S5 is extremely high, with no loose seams, sturdy plastics, and a weight that's just heavy enough to assure you of how solid it is. The high-resolution touch screen is also notable, though if you're someone who finds text on a netbook too small to read, the S5 is definitely not for you.
We also loved the long battery life. With the screen brightness set to half, and Bluetooth and Wi-Fi on, we were able to watch a 90-minute DivX-encoded movie and three hour-long shows on Hulu, and still have roughly half our battery left. The S5's transparent onscreen keyboard makes text input simple and satisfying thanks to the use of haptic feedback, causing the unit to vibrate each time a key is pressed.
Also, if you're on the lookout for a GPS unit, you'll be glad to hear that the S5 worked admirably while navigating around San Francisco. We used StreetDeck 2 as our software (none is included), and were able to lock down a signal in just a minute or two.
What we don't like: For a portable computer, the lack of a built-in memory card reader, 3G, webcam, and microphone is quite noticeable. There's also the inclusion of only one USB port, though given the space restrictions, we can understand why there aren't more.
As mentioned earlier, the screen's 1024x600 resolution means text and icons at their default size are tiny. Viliv did take the time and money to develop touch and eye-friendly apps for Web browsing, music, and videos, as well as a novel "Cube UI" interface, but we would love to see a custom magnification tool that can be easily used in all Windows applications. The screen also lacks multitouch support, which could greatly improved the overall user experience.
Is it worth the hype? For a UMPC, the Viliv S5 is one of the best we've ever used. The size is just right, the battery life is best in class, and we had no issues with performance, whether we were streaming full-screen videos on Hulu, or simply browsing the Web with 10 tabs open in Firefox. The $599 price is also very reasonable to us, especially considering that other UMPCs -- such as the recently canned OQO model 2+ -- have sold for several times as much.
Ultimately, the S5 is a tiny Windows XP machine that runs well, is priced well, and is built well. Sure, it lacks a few hardware features, but the USB port and Bluetooth makes adding new hardware painless, if somewhat inelegant. If you're in the market for such a device, have great eyesight, and can live with XP's lack of native touch support, the Viliv S5 is as good as it gets for now.