Review by Sunetra Chakravati,
12/12/2011 3:57:37 PM
Excellent 720p video camera with continuous focus, eight-megapixel camera takes great shots in low light, 3.5mm audio jack
Slow touch-screen keyboard, wonky accelerometer, low-rent browser for a smartphone, user interface isn?t very customisable
Now that overly beefy camera phones have had their turn in the sun, it looks like it’s time to start cramming high-definition video cameras into handsets instead. Sony Ericsson’s Vivaz HD packs an incredible camera that can record 720p video, but unfortunately like the rest of its new multimedia range, doesn’t manage to excel at anything else.
The Vivaz is quite unique, with a curved slimline chassis that feels good in the hand. The glossy colouring – in black, red, blue or silver – gives it a car-like metallic sheen that emphasizes its curves and slender shell. The 3.2-inch touch-screen is a widescreen WVGA resolution, and we love the 3.5mm audio jack cleverly fitted in the top left corner. On the right are both dedicated camera and video camera buttons, indicating how far Sony Ericsson is positioning this as a video phone. On the back, there’s a giant lens… no, wait. It’s just a silver disc made to look like one of those pro lenses that can telescope in and out. Naughty. In its defense though, the lens does physically move inside the casing; this really is one of the most advanced cameras you’ll find on a phone. Powering the phone is the rather dated Symbian S60 5th edition – not much fun to use and no central Symbian app marketplace – skinned by the more stylish but similarly limited Sony Ericsson interface as on the recent Satio and Aino.
The default theme is a set of five screens navigated by a toolbar at the top. Four of them are basically giant widgets – you can customise them to be Twitter, gallery, or favourite contacts for example, but can’t add shortcuts – and the last is a list of eight shortcuts. For anyone used to the easy customisation of any Android phone, or even Samsung’s lower-end TouchWiz handsets, this will seem pretty restrictive, though it does offer more choice than, say, BlackBerry. The rest of your programs can be found by pressing the all-programs central button, while apps are sequestered in another folder further in. Sony Ericsson is still flogging resistive touch-screens, but the one here is pretty responsive. Though we had to press harder than on the higher-end capacitive type (hello, iPhone), the interface is finger-friendly, at least on the icon-based top level - one level down and it’s all full-text menus of white font on black background. An annoying quirk is the double-tap for menu selections, but single-tap for icons. There’s a strange scrolling method used here – instead of being able to move a list by dragging your finger over it, you have to carefully press and drag on a side scrollbar. The accelerometer doesn’t work perfectly either, sometimes switching the screen over for no reason, and other times, taking an age to change at all. More annoying though, is the fact it’s inactive in many functions – when typing in the browser for example, you’ve got to do it in landscape. Choice, we want choice!
Luckily, the still and video camera is excellent. The eight-megapixel camera with auto-focus and LED flash produces clear snaps with true colours, even in lowlight. In daylight, we captured people walking by with no blur, as shutter release is instant. In a dark room with little light, night mode without a flash produced images that were quite soft, but retained the actual colours of the scene. There are several settings for you to adjust, including exposure and white balance, plus preloaded modes such as twilight, portrait and sport. The video camera is the main thing though, with an HD-recording lens, video light and microphone. In daylight, video was crisp with true colours and the device picked up background and foreground sound quite well. We also shot a video at night on a high street where shop windows were still lit – though there were some light trails when panning, it only took one to two seconds for the phone to adjust its light balance and produce reasonably clear imagery of cars going by, as well as lit objects in the windows. Finally, we shot a video in a dark room using the video light, the only area the Vivaz really faltered, with a Blair Witch-esque image that was soft and noisy. The continuous focus feature – a first for mobile phones – is the real highlight. The video camera will automatically focus on the central object, and it refocuses very quickly. We started with a landscape shot and placed a box with writing on it in front and the Vivaz had a clear shot within a second. Watching videos on the phone’s screen won’t display its true HD capabilities, but on the web, it looks pretty good. YouTube is integrated pretty well, and you’ll have the option to share videos directly with your account, though only when you’re in a Wi-Fi hotspot.
Email is a particularly anaemic feature, from a slow, unintuitive touch-screen keyboard to the text-only interface and lack of push support for any accounts besides Microsoft Exchange. We added a Gmail account, and had to manually send/receive to get new email. Also, the client can’t read HTML, so an email containing graphics was rendered as a series of symbols. Typing in general is pretty uncomfortable, as we had to prod quite hard, and accuracy isn’t always tip top either. On top of that, there’s no auto-suggest system, though strangely, there is a predictive text one for typing on the touch keypad. The browser isn’t full HTML, which is disappointing on a smartphone, but it’s pretty quick. It hits mobile sites automatically, but with the full sites, pages aren’t automatically resized so you’ll have to drag your finger around to see everything, often hitting unintended links instead. Fonts have ragged edges, and pictures render blurrily with jagged edges, though if you click through to a photo, the browser expands it for a better, clearer view.
If all you want from a phone is mad media capabilities, the Vivaz HD is great. But with a strangely unintuitive user interface, slow-as-molasses touch keyboard and little access to apps, you won’t want it for much else. Doubtless aimed at the same market that kept the megapixel war going, the Vivaz HD’s media features could trump its lack of everything else, but if you’re after a phone that can perform at standards like email and web, you’ll be frustrated by the Vivaz.