Sticking with the current Symbian touchscreen operating system is certainly a brave move for Sony Ericsson. The Satio had a number of software issues that got the phone a lot of negative publicity, so it is vital for the company to get things right second time around.
The Vivaz might run the same operating system, but at first glance you would hardly consider the Satio to have any similarities with it. For a start, the Vivaz is about half the size, volume wise.
The phone is the first model to use Sony Ericsson’s new ‘Human Curvature’ design, which means it has a curved design at the top, bottom and rear of the phone. It’s the same design that will feature on the Android-based X10, but the smaller form factor here makes the design even more effective. The phone feels fantastic in the hand.
The other good news is that the phone now has a 3.5mm headphone jack and industry standard microUSB charging/data connector. The downside is all of those Sony Ericsson accessories will no longer work, but it’s probably a small price to pay for the added convenience.
The Xenon flash was the main reason for the increased depth of the Satio. The Vivaz has to make do with a LED flash, while the megapixel count drops from 12 to 8-megapixels.
However, the faster processor in the Vivaz makes it possible to capture HD-resolution video. It captures video at 720p, as against 1080p, so it’s not ‘full HD’, but that’s still noticeably better than previous Sony Ericsson models where VGA was to be considered advanced.
Even with the reduced number of pixels, you can still get good pictures, but only when the lighting is good. It’s when you need to use the flash that you begin to wonder what Sony Ericsson was thinking.
Okay, so a Xenon flash would have added bulk to the phone, but a single LED? Not only is it not bright enought to make an impact, but there’s no easy way to turn the lamp on or off. There’s no automatic mode, forcing you to go into the settings menu to switch it on manually each and every time. Once you do, the LED remains on permanently. It’s more of a torch than a flash, and it’s shocking to think that this is a phone attempting to sit above the Cyber-shot models in Sony Ericsson’s range.
On the music side, the same media player from the Satio remains. This means there’s still no graphic equaliser or searching options. Fortunately, the audio quality is as good as the Satio, and now you can use any headphones you want. The media player also gives access to YouTube and BBC iPlayer.
The battery performance is improved too, with a 1200mAh battery replacing the 950mAh one of the Satio. It makes all the difference, giving the phone more of a chance of lasting a full day and evening before needing a re-charge.
With the home screen encouraging swiping actions to swap between panels, as well as finding contacts or scrolling around in the web browser, the Vivaz’s old-school resistive touchscreen is nowhere near as user-friendly as capactive screens now used on just about every touchscreen smartphone.
Even though a pressure-based touchscreen can have some advantages in cold and damp conditions, where capacitive screens falter, I still know what I’d prefer to have in 99 per centof cases – and it isn’t a resistive screen!
The home screen can now have the panels changed, so you can choose to have different things on show, such as a Twitter feed or various Flash based screensavers – including a fishtank that serves no useful purpose except to hugely brighten up the standby screen.
It’s a definite improvement over the fixed layout of the Satio, but a stark contrast to the menu system that hasn’t changed at all (a menu system built around an OS originally designed for use with a physical keypad and navigation keys).
Symbian is working on a new version of its operating system, but we don’t expect an upgrade to be possible. However, even though the operating system isn’t up there with the likes of Android or the iPhone, it’s still a fairly usable system. Frustrating at times, but manageable.
Some aspects look particularly dated, especially the convoluted preference screens and overly complicated data settings that get really confusing when you’re using both 3G and Wi-Fi for data.
Another problem is the lack of applications. Nokia has the Ovi Store, but Sony Ericsson makes do with its PlayNow service. In the applications folder of PlayNow, there are just 20 free applications to choose from. If you’re up for paying for an app, there are just 15. When it comes to games, there are even less. Compared to the 100,000+ on the Apple App Store, or well over 30,000 apps on Android Market, it’s amazing how bad things are for Symbian, given that the OS has been around for almost ten years.
The phone comes with a range of useful apps, including RoadSync, Sony Ericsson’s own contact synchronisation tool (which backs up your contacts ‘in the cloud’), Facebook and Twitter. SMS preview pops up incoming messages, while Conversation displays texts in an iPhone-like threaded view. It’s hard to imagine why this isn’t the default messaging view.
You also get a copy of WorldMate and a three-month trial subscription to the WisePilot satellite navigation service. If you’re happy with simple mapping, there’s Google Maps.
As a result, the Vivaz offers a decent self-contained package. If you want more, there are good apps out there if you know where to look. Checking sites like my-symbian.com or allaboutsymbian.com is highly recommended.
While I wish the Vivaz had used Android and a capacitive screen, the experience is mostly positive. I can’t say anything bad about the feel of the phone, which is amazing.
It’s worth noting that the Vivaz Pro adds a QWERTY keyboard for just a couple of extra millimetres in thickness, so if you’re big on messaging it would be worth going for this instead.
The successor to the Satio has everything going for it, from the reduced size to the wonderful ‘human curvature’ design that makes it feel fantastic in the hand. It has a faster processor and HD video capture, but Sony Ericsson has dumbed down the camera interface to the point where you wonder why they even bothered to include an LED flash. The Symbian OS might be dated, but all of the major apps you could want are included and despite being frustrating at times, it’s pretty inoffensive. Messaging addicts might wish to go for the Vivaz Pro instead.