Viliv S5 Review

viliv s5 main Viliv S5 Review

Today is the day millions have been waiting for- the day the iPad is released. However, not everyone buy into a $500 device that lacks things like support for Flash and Java. Luckily the iPad isn’t the only tablet out there, so we though the best way of celebrating the iPad’s release day was with a review of something that can do everything the iPad can’t- the Viliv S5.

  • Quick Look
  • Dimensions: 154 x 84 x 24.4 mm
  • Weight: 402-436g dependinng on model
  • Colors: Black
  • Capacities: 60GB HDD, 32GB SSD or 128GB SSD
  • MSRP: $600-$1300
  • Screen: 4.8″ 1024×600 resistive LCD touch screen
  • Battery Charge Time: 5-6 hours
  • Battery Life: 5-6 hours
  • CPU: 1.33Ghz Intel Atom Z520
  • Graphics: Intel GMA500
  • RAM: 1GB
  • OS: Windows XP Home, Vista Home Premium, Windows 7 Starter or Windows 7 Home premium
  • Controls: Touchscreen, some tactile controls
  • Other hardware: GPS, Bluetooth, WiFi, USB port, TV out

In the box/accessories

The S5 comes with a triangular stylus/hand strap, earphones and the AC adapter. There is a decent amount of additional accessories available from Viliv, and they are actually reasonably priced compared to other official accessories. An extra battery is only $50, which is less than half of what most spare netbook batteries cost. Doubling the battery life means you get about 12 hours before you run out, so with batteries this cheap the S5 becomes a very good solution for people who travel a lot. You will need a external battery charger though if you don’t have an extra 6 hours to charge the extra battery in the device, and that will set you back $40.

$35 will buy you the official leather case, which is a very nice looking and functioning case. It acts as a cover for the front and back of the Viliv, not covering any of the
sides. The S5 stays in place via three grooves that a plastic holder on the case snaps into. It works very well and doesn’t block access to ports or buttons as leather cases tend to do. There’s also a rubberized urethane casing that’s a whopping $150, if you plan on using the S5 in rough environments.

There’s also a car kit for $50 that gives you a car charger as well as a suction cup windshield mount that also clips into the three grooves on the S5, making it a much better fit than what you get with universal fit mounts. Considering the S5 is an excellent GPS device, the car kit might be a very good investment.

You can also get various “replacement” accessories such as a spare AC charger for $30, a spare stylus strap for $6 or earphones for $10. You can also get a component TV out cable or a VGA out cable to connect to external monitors. You can also use USB DVI adapters to get HDMI or DVI out from it, though with limitations due to the hardware.

Hardware

The Viliv S5 is basically a small netbook, which means that the specs that matter differ from the specs you’d normally look for in a media player. The S5 has a 1.33Ghz Intel Atom Z520 CPU, which is one of the most power efficient Atom processors and is also known as the Silverthorne series. These are designed for use in MIDs and UMPCs but can also be found in standard netbooks like the EEE 1101HA, EEE T91 tablet and others. There is a noticeable difference between 1.33Ghz and the 1.6Ghz Atom CPUs and the relatively low CPU speed does mean the S5 is in no way a fast computer, but it makes up for it with extended battery life.

The Z520 CPU is part of the Poulsbo chipset which is a chipset made to be as small as possible to fit into devices like the S5, and that also includes a graphics chip integrated in the chipset itself. This graphics chip is the Intel GMA500, which is a significantly less powerful GPU than the GMA950 found in netbooks using the N series of CPUs. To give you an idea of just how inferior these kinds of GPUs are in comparison to top of the line graphics cards, the GMA500 scored 135 points in 3Dmark 05 whereas the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 280M in a dual-card SLI configuration scored 19268 in this test. In other words; no, it won’t run crisis. The ironic thing about the GMA500 however is that it supports DXVA (DirectX Video Acceleration). This basically means that a lot of the tasks that would normally be done by the CPU can be done by the GPU. Instead of having the CPU decode video through software, the GPU can do some of it through hardware which is a lot more efficient. DXVA is most useful for h264 hardware decoding, and this means that while the GMA500 is too weak to handle even rather old games, it can play back 720p or 1080p flawlessly. The GMA950 on the other hand is significantly better at games and such, but will commit suicide if you throw high definition video at it. The end result is that the S5 will half choke if you open more than a couple of programs at a time, but will handle HD video like it was a notepad session. Since the S5 is marketed as a “PMP UMPC”, the GMA500 is actually a very good thing in this case because otherwise it would be a lot more crippled in the video department. DXVA though is a rather new technology and to be able to use it you need both software that supports it and preferably Windows 7. The XP version of the S5 will require a lot of tweaking to get it working because XP isn’t made to work with it. More on this later.

As for RAM, the S5 comes with 1GB built in. This is a bit on the low side for running Windows 7, or XP for that matter, and if you have FireFox and a few background apps running you’ll hit 800MB pretty fast. Still I don’t expect people too run too much memory hogging software on a device like this, so it shouldn’t be a frequent issue.

The screen of the S5 is a 4.8” LCD resistive touchscreen with a resolution of 1024×600. This is the same resolution as most netbooks, but on a much, much smaller screen. The screen is identical in size to the recently reviewed Archos 5 Android, but with 60% more pixels. The resolution is very noticeable and the screen looks simply incredible with a pixel density that high. From a computer aspect though 600 pixel vertical resolution often mean that toolbars will cramp the screen, you’ll have pop-up boxes that are too big to display and so on. This is a common problem with netbooks, though the S5’s design makes it easy to use it in portrait mode if such boxes should appear. Back in the Archos 5 Android review I also had a small rant about resistive touchscreens being outdated, but on the S5 it’s a must-have. Android is made for finger use and capacitive touchscreens and everything is optimized to work with those, which means that Archos’ decision to put a resistive touchscreen in there was even stupider. The fact it was a very bad resistive touchscreen also didn’t help. The S5 however runs Windows, and Windows is in no way made to be used with a capacitive touchscreen. In fact, with a resolution this high, you wouldn’t be able to use it with just your fingers because everything’s so small and requires a stylus to be operated with success. The resistive screen on the S5 is also several levels above that on the A5A in terms of accuracy and responsiveness- something that is best seen if you try using a paint application on both. Point is the touch screen technology on the S5 isn’t outdated because it fits the OS used, and generally works well. For the on screen keyboard a capacitive screen would have been better, but as I said that would have been a disaster for the rest of the OS. The S5 also has haptic feedback to enhance the usability of the touchscreen, which basically means that it has a small vibrator inside like those found in cellphones that will vibrate when you touch the screen. This can of course be turned off, and personally I find the whole concept utterly useless.

The S5 comes in various configurations where the OS, storage space and type and 3G modem separates them from one another. You can get the S5 with either a 32GB or 128GB SSD or a 60GB HDD, where the 32GB SSD model is about $50 more than the 60GB HDD model. The cheapest HDD model is about $600, and the cheapest 128GB SSD model is $1150, so there’s quite a jump to get the biggest SSD. I went for the 60GB HDD version simply because this is a computer and the OS will take up a significant part of the storage space, which combined with the hidden restore partition leaves very little room for other files on the 32GB SSD model. While you can connect USB devices to the S5, there isn’t any cleverly placed SD or microSD slot to help augment the storage space without having something stick out of the side of the thing, so 32GB might come up a bit short for a lot of people. If you pay $600 for a device and want to use it fro media, you want to fit more than a couple of movies on it.

The S5 is also well equipped in the wireless department, with Bluetooth, WiFi, GPS and on some models 3G. On computers, Bluetooth hardware requires what’s called a stack (basically the driver) to work, and generally when you buy a computer with Bluetooth or especially a cheap USB dongle, you are stuck with the default Windows stack. While that is sufficient for file transfer, BT mice and keyboards etc it isn’t capable of using A2DP/AVRCP or any of the more advanced BT options. Luckily Viliv has a bit more sense than other manufacturers (*stares at Asus*) and the S5 comes with Bluesoleil pre-installed. Bluesoleil is paid software so it’s nice bonus to have it included, enabling the S5 to connect to A2DP headphones among other things. The WiFi chip in the S5 is only 802.11b/g and not n, which means that it doesn’t support the fastest WiFi standard. I’m fairly sure this shouldn’t affect 99% of people who buy the device as 802.11n is really only needed for very fast connections, but some peopl
e are religious about this point so it’s worth mentioning. As for the GPS, no navigation software is included but there are a bunch of options available from third party companies. Lastly the 3G option is a premium feature that is only available on the more expensive versions of the S5, and only on the models with a SSD. This is simply because the 1.8” HDD that is used with the HDD models is too big to make room for the 3G modem card, while the SSD models can fit both the SSD and the 3G modem in the same space as the 1.8” HDD would normally be. The SIM slot is located underneath the battery on 3G models, while the HDD models lack the SIM reader hardware completely- making it harder to turn a HDD model into a SSD/3G model.

In the connection department the S5 comes with a single standard female USB port for connecting external drives and peripherals, which is a bit of an annoyance if you’re used to having at least 2-3 USB ports available. The USB port is hidden under a plastic flap on the left side of the device, and is located next to a mini USB port and a proprietary accessory port. The mini USB port is technically there to allow you to connect the S5 to another computer like you would connect a normal media player. Windows isn’t made to work like that however, and both the S5 and the host PC needs to run special software to get it to work. Viliv also doesn’t include a mini USB cable in the box, which frankly makes me think they never intended that feature to be used much in the first place. I can’t blame them, as I myself just dropped the whole concept when I realized it wasn’t just plug and play. With networking capabilities and a USB port it’s easier to just connect an external drive and transfer files that way, transfer over the network. Seeing that this is a fully capable PC in itself it’s likely that you’ll acquire part of the content directly on the device instead of transferring it from another source as well. The proprietary port is Viliv’s own connector and is used to connect various screen adapters, such as S-video cables or VGA cables. It would have been nice if Viliv used a smaller connector for that, removed the mini USB port and stuck another full size USB port in there instead.

The S5 comes with a 3.7V 6200mAh lithium polymer battery that clicks into place on the back of the device. On some unit’s it can be a very tight fit the first time, and on the unit I received it was necessary to use the force- and not in the elegant Star Wars way. 6200mAh sounds like a lot when compared to other netbook and laptop batteries that are normally about 2000 or 4000mAh, but remember that this is a 3.7V battery not a 10.8V like other netbooks and laptops. The 3.7V cell configuration is more common for cellphones, MP3 players etc and a better comparison would be to say it’s about 4-6 times bigger than the batteries found in most cellphones and 3” media players. Of course the power requirement to run netbook spec hardware is much higher than to run a cellphone or media player, so you won’t get incredible battery life just because the battery is relatively speaking big. You can however expect to get about 5-6 hours of battery life out of this thing, depending on what power mode you’re running, what OS, screen brightness, WiFi use, CPU strain etc. That is a very respectable runtime for a device with these specs, and can rival a lot of netbooks 3+ times the size. As an added bonus you can get spare batteries for $50, which is a lot cheaper than spare netbook batteries and allows you to stock up on portable power. It can be a bit hard to determine exactly how much battery life you have left though, because the battery meter is somewhat moody and unstable. It only shows the battery status with 10% increments, which is good by media player standards but low by computer standards. The Windows battery bar however normally displays remaining battery life in percent with single percent increments, as well as estimated remaining time. It does neither of those with the S5 and will only show the remaining percentage in increments of ten. On top of that the estimated battery percentage left changes depending on how much the HDD is used so if you’re for example downloading a file it might drop from 100% to 70% while downloading and then pop back up to 100%. This makes it hard to determine exactly how much battery life you have left, so keeping a mental calculation for how much you’ve used it is a must. I’m guessing the battery interface issues is due to the battery type used but I’m not sure. Charging the battery is also extraordinary slow, with a total charge time of about 6 hours. I’ve covered lithium battery charging before and by the same principles a 70% charge should take about 2 hours- it’s hard to tell because of the unstable battery meter. The charger is only 5V 3A, which means a total output of 15W. With 6200mAh for a 3.7V battery that’s 22.5Wh capacity for the battery that means the charger is very inefficient and while charging is never even close to a 1:1 ratio event, this is way below normal and also goes a long way to explain why the device has a tendency to become hot during charging. I don’t know if the slow charging is a limitation with using 3.7V battery packs or what the problem is, but charge time is definitely a drawback of the S5.

Design

The S5 is shaped very much like a full size PMP, with a screen that covers most of the front with a few navigation buttons on the side. Think Archos 5 (non-Android) and you have about the size of the S5. It’s very thick, due to all the hardware that needs to go in. This is after all a completely PC, so the components have to go somewhere. All of that also makes it kind of heavy, weighing in at an average of 420 grams depending on the model. Still, if you compare it to a netbook with the same specs it’s less than half the weight, so it’s a matter of perspective.

The back holds the battery, which is locked into place with a sliding lock on the right side. That lock is next to the power switch, so it’s easy to confuse the two at first and pop out the battery when you’re trying to enter sleep mode or turn it on. The on/off switch is also the hold switch, and since it’s just a switch that acts like a regular PC power button it can also be configured from within Windows- default (when used while the S5 is on) is sleep mode, which is probably the best use for it. The top of the device has volume buttons, as well as a 3.5mm headphone port. The volume buttons also double as brightness control by holding down the menu button on the front. There is also a heat vent which in combination with the two vents on the bottom makes up the entire cooling system of the device- no fans! There are also two small grooves on the bottom and one on the top that is used by the official car holder and case to attach to the S5. The left side has the hidden connector ports mentioned earlier as well as the charging port and a LED charge indicator.

The front is where most of the controls are. The left side of the screen holds a menu button, a 9-way joystick and an IR emitter. The joystick can either function as a 4-way D-pad that duplicates the function of the arrow keys on the keyboard plus TAB key or as an 8-way mouse joystick plus the TAB key, and you switch between them by holding down the menu button for about 3 seconds. The latter mode doesn’t really work well because it’s hard to press and not that accurate with only 8 directions. The menu button brings up the start menu and is meant to work with the joystick in D-pad mode to get easier access to programs. It would have been so much better if they dropped the joystick and put a track point nipple in there instead. As for the IR emitter, I have no idea why that is there. I guess you could use a remote to control the S5, though that seems like an awfully niche feature to warrant extra hardware. Since it’s on the front you can’t use it as a remote either, even if it was strong enough
(which I have no idea if it is). If they really needed something in that spot, even a fingerprint reader would have been more useful.

The right side of the screen has three buttons; OK, C and a shortcut button. The OK button is the left mouse button and the C button is the right mouse button, so why they call it “OK” and “C” us beyond me. The shortcut button is configurable, but most people tend to leave it as the default key to bring up the on-screen keyboard. By holding the shortcut button and clicking the joystick in any of the four normal directions you can also use this as a shortcut to rotate the screen. Some reviewers I’ve seen have mistakenly identified this as a feature built in to the device by Viliv, which isn’t technically true. Intel graphics cards like the GMA500 and GMA950 have default shortcuts for flipping the screen, namely CTRL + ALT + arrow key. If you hold down the keyboard shortcut key that activates the CTRL + ALT button combination on the keyboard, which in combination with the joystick activates the default Intel shortcuts. The reason why this matters is that if you activate the mouse mode of the joystick, the shortcuts won’t work anymore, because you no longer have a directional pad available. I don’t know what happens if you assign the shortcut key to another function than the keyboard, but I have a suspicion the same will occur then.

Lastly you have the speakers on the front as well, one on either side of the screen. The sound quality through the speakers are decent, and a nice touch I noticed is that there is a pop up in the tray that let’s you know when headphones are plugged in. Normally that would be redundant, but after having used the nightmare that is the Archos 5 Android for a few months and have it bug out and “forget” there are headphones plugged in and starting to play aloud in cafeterias and whatnot, I’m glad that this device let’s me know it’s paying attention. I should probably look into suing Archos for Post-Archos Stress Syndrome, but I digress…

Overall the Viliv S5 feels solid and very well built, despite the initial issue with getting the battery in. Every time I look at the S5 I just can’t quite believe they managed to cram so much into so little space, and combined with excellent build quality it makes for a very pleasant device to both hold and bring with you.

Operating systems

The S5 ships with either XP Home, Vista Home Premium, Windows 7 Starter or Windows 7 Home Premium- depending on the configuration. XP or Windows 7 is the most common as they are the cheapest, and no-one in their right mind would run Vista on this hardware. It’s technically possible to switch out the OS for Linux, but it isn’t recommended at all. First off, the Poulsbo chipset is infamous for being a driver nightmare with Linux, and unless you’re using something like Ubuntu Netbook Remix it’s going to require a lot of mocking around. Even then, there are other drivers and issues that need fixing, some of which can’t be fixed, so you’ll end up losing functionality one way or the other. My recommendation is to stick with Windows to make sure everything works.

As previously mentioned, DXVA will only work in Windows 7 (and Vista), not in XP. The Windows 7 versions of the S5 are quite new however, so most S5s out there run XP. That means issues with HD video playback, which is a reason in itself to upgrade or go for the Windows 7 models if buying new. As for Windows 7 Starter, that OS version is a peculiar story in itself. Basically it’s a stripped down version of Windows 7, which among other things is missing the ability to change the desktop wallpaper (!) and the tablet software package. I don’t know if Microsoft’s plan is to annoy people into paying $80 for an upgrade by not allowing the starter edition to change out the wallpaper, but it’s an utterly peculiar choice of features to leave out of an OS version in any case. The lack of the tablet software kit is a bit more discerning, as that means no hand writing recognition, no tablet data entry panel and no Microsoft Journal note taking application. You can happily live without all of those though so if you do get the version with Starter you shouldn’t have any immediate need to upgrade. The only version of the S5 that does come with Windows 7 Home Premium is the $1280 128GB SSD model with 3G, which frankly is a very odd choice by Viliv- I’d have thought that it would have been more logical to offer a Home Premium version of the cheaper models as well for a extra fee that covers the difference in price. Seeing how netbooks with Windows 7 Home Premium are rarely that much more expensive than those with XP it’s a very weird product line-up by Viliv, and it almost seems that Viliv along with Archos (their Archos 9 tablet) are unaware that the Starter edition of Windows 7 lacks the tablet software package.

Software

Music

Obviously, covering software for a device that runs Windows is like covering all the world’s roads when reviewing a car, so I’ll settle for a few bits on what software works well for various uses. For music, I have already reviewed a bunch of software that provide music playback on a Windows computer, so I’ll leave it to you to pick your favorite playback program. I use either Foobar2000 or Windows Media Player on the S5 because I don’t really use it for music and only need something simple for when I do. Viliv does include their own media player with the device, but it’s as close to useless as you can get as first of all it can’t be maximized and is the wrong resolution for the screen, and second of all it has close to no features whatsoever. It’s optimized for using a finger, but fails at working well for anything. I did try the theater mode mention in the recent J. River Media Center 14 review on the S5 as I figured it would be perfect as an interface for media on it, but even at low graphic settings it was way too slow to be usable. You might be able to find a skin that makes your favorite music player more finger friendly, but it’s still a good chance you should keep a stylus nearby.

As for sound quality, the S5 sounds very good through the headphone port and the integrated sound card is more than able to drive high impedance headphones. You can pretty much pluck and mix from any number of applications to get various sound enhancements, and the fact that you can even connect a USB sound card or a DAC/amp combo makes this the ultimate audiophile player because the sound quality can be changed by outsourcing it to an external device.

Video

As I already mentioned earlier, the OS decides how well the device handles video because of DXVA. XP will require that you tweak a lot of stuff to get it working, while Windows 7 and Vista should work straight away. The software you choose has a lot to
say though, as some programs don’t yet support DXVA. VLC media player for example doesn’t support it, which is a bit surprising as it’s one of the biggest and most popular media players. I suggest that if you’re on Windows 7 or Vista with the S5, install Media Player Classic: Home Cinema. It’s free, lightweight and will work with the default configuration and let you play back HD video.

Naturally you can play any format that will play on a PC on the S5, because it is a PC. DXVA works great for h264 HD content, but if you have HD content in other formats you might run into problems. h264 is the format used for 99% of all HD video though so it shouldn’t be an issue.

When it comes to online video, the news aren’t so good. Flash is kind of like PDF in that it’s the standard format used for something despite the fact that it’s such utter crap it should never have been introduced in the first place. Flash also doesn’t support DXVA, which means that YouTube and all the other video services that use Flash will work on the S5 in SD but you can forget about HD. This is basically the case with most netbooks these days because Flash is simply too bad a format to work well with any low spec PC. DXVA support is coming to Flash, but it’s still not ready for release.

PDF, magazines, eBooks etc

Being a tablet, the S5 is perfect for reading documents, eBooks etc. If you flip the screen you have a 600×768 screen, which with normal page sizes means you’ll use about 600×900 to display one page. That isn’t enough to see text on a page that’s made for being viewed on an A4 piece of paper, but it does reduce the amount you have to zoom. You can get a variety of eBook readers including the Amazon application and my personal favorite for reading anything on the S5 is Zinio which is a service that offers magazines in digital form. The Zinio application has a very good system for zooming that I haven’t been able to find in any PDF readers, where you just tap the screen to zoom in and out instead of the outdated zoom in/out tools in all PDF readers. This makes it much easier to read Zinio magazines than PDF ones, and it makes Zinio a very nice option for the S5.

Games

With the CPU and graphics card being this outdated, that also means you won’t be able to run anything fancy on it in terms of games. You can get StarCraft or Warcraft III to run on it, but that’s pretty much as advanced as you’re going to get with this thing. On the other hand, such games should work nicely with the touchscreen since they’re mostly mouse based. Smaller games should also work fine, games like those PopCap http://www.popcap.com/ offers.

Media services

With the S5 being a PC you can of course run any client software you want on it for services like Rhapsody, Spotify, iTunes, Amazon MP3 or any of those. Streaming music isn’t an issue but video streaming will again be limited due to the hardware. You can of course also run a Torrent client on this thing and download all the LEGAL files you want.

Included software

As I mentioned earlier the Viliv player that comes with the player is rather useless. The same goes for CubeUI, which is a shell that Viliv places on top of Windows to make it (in theory) more touch screen friendly. The problem is that the whole UI isn’t very good. First off, the resolution is all wrong, making it appear very blurry and unappealing. Second, the top menu bar that has icons for WiFi, volume etc can only turn those features on/off and not be used to control them in any detail. The main focus of the CubeUI is a 9×9 bubble cube that you can use for program shortcuts and then turn to access other sets of shortcuts. It’s fairly slow and useless and doesn’t really look all that good either, and falls extremely short in usefulness compared to some of the readily available UI tweaks that exist for Windows. RocketDock http://rocketdock.com/ for instance does a much better job at displaying shortcuts than CubeUI.

As for the rest of the included Viliv software, you mostly have drivers for the GPS and such, a Viliv manager to manage settings and calibrate the touch screen and so on. There’s also a browser called FastWeb, though it’s proxy based which means I’m not setting my foot near it, regardless of how fast it’s supposed to be. Proxy based browsers run everything through a server somewhere that does the actual web rendering, and for something as unknown as the FastWeb browser you can never be sure if they keep track of something they shouldn’t- such as passwords and email addresses. I don’t think Viliv would allow something like that, but on the other hand you never know.

Other software

The CPU and graphics limitations are basically what stops you from running whatever you want on the S5. I have Photoshop 7 running on it and it works, though it isn’t exactly blazing fast. The lack of a proper mouse and keyboard will also limit what you can do on the go, but you can always connect to a keyboard and mouse and make it more of a laptop. Another very good use for the S5 is as an in-car navigation and media device, which is also something that’s intended by Viliv seeing the inclusion of a GPS and the existence of a car holder. Streetdeck http://www.streetdeck.com/ seems to be the most popular software for that use, and it integrates a GPS suite into an interface that also gives you access to media as well as car diagnostics if you have an OBDII module and a car that supports it.

Conclusion

It’s hard to directly compare the S5 to any other media player because it’s a fully capable PC. It comes closest to the Archos 5 Android in size and features, though it costs twice as much. For the price though you do get a much better device overall with a lot more features than the Archos, and not to mention more stability. It’s not the fastest PC you’ll ever come across, but at the same time it doesn’t crash randomly either, which is a big step up from the Archos. The fact that it can be 100% independent of another PC in all aspects and be used to sync other media players is a massive plus, and the capabilities as a car computer is also a big selling point. It can run videos smoothly which is important, but streaming sites and flash video is another matter. The S5 is a device you buy if you want a UMPC with media capabilities, not if you just want a media player, and so it’s in a class by itself. $600+ basically buys you the offspring of a netbook and a full sized PMP, and this type of device has a lot going for it. 2010 is the year of the slate PCs and tablets running proprietary OSes that in the end just makes it another PC slave, and while Windows has drawbacks on a screen and resolution this small I think that one of the strongest points of having a device like this run a real OS is the independence you get from it. It doesn’t have the user experience of something like the iPad or any device with a made-to-fit OS, but at the same time this is a device you can bring with you and not need to carry a PC to act as the master device. $600 is a lot of money even if the device isn’t actually expensive all things considering, but if you can make it replace your media player, your netbook and your GPS it suddenly seems a lot more reasonable.

Pros

  • Excellent screen
  • Plays anything since it runs Windows
  • Completely independent of a host computer
  • Great battery life, cheap spare batteries
  • Solid build quality
  • Responsive touchscreen
  • It’s a PC!

Neutral

  • To make it this small and battery efficient, the chipset had to be a low performance one
  • You need a stylus to use it properly
  • Resistive touchscreen- capacitive wouldn’t work well on Windows

Cons

  • Not as finger friendly as a custom OS
  • Big, heavy and expensive if all you want is video playback
  • Slow charging
  • Vilivs own media player and CubeUI
    are useless
  • Complicated, semi-redundant system for connecting to a host PC
  • Only one USB port

Purchase

There are several palces that sell the S5 including BestBuy, but personally I wouldn’t purchase a niche product like this from a place that markets it as a “VILIV Netbook”. Dynamism has been the defacto place to get UMPCs for years now and there’s a reason for that- they have excellent service and actually know what it is they’re selling. They carry all the S5 versions as well as all of the accessories. They also carry the X70, which is essentially a 7” version of the S5 if you want a bigger screen.

17 Comments

electron on April 3, 2010 11:34 AM

good review :) I would love to see a device like this running something like Ubuntu netbook remix, but I personally couldn’t see myself using something like this.

joe on April 3, 2010 2:59 PM

“Some of us however don’t quite buy into a $500 device that can’t even do simple things like play back Xvid video files, support Flash and Java, use standard USB accessories, tether to a phone or even carry spare batteries.”Not to knock on you since you do own Apple products but in 2010 I don’t know why people still use an outdated codec called “Xvid” which is officially MPEG4-SP/ASP when the rest of the world uses MPEG4-AVC aka H.264. Which, btw, all ipods/iphones/itouchs/ipads can play MPEG4-SP video, with AAC audio in the official m4v/mp4 container (avi was never meant for MPEG4). You harp on Flash that it isn’t hardware accelerated but the beta 10.1 is (not 100% sure about this chipset). Win7 should be more capacitive screen friendly, though computers using such features are pointless anyhow as a mouse is much easier than tapping on a 22″ screen.Then you complain how it uses an OS that can’t even handle the input of the screen anyhow. And even if the added software was made to make it easy for touch screen input, what about all the other apps for Windows that aren’t?If these stupid tablet makers repeat the same mistakes of the early 90s and of 2005′s UMPCs how can they expect things to be different? Because of the buzz surrounding tablet’s?

dobson on April 3, 2010 3:05 PM

So much power on 4.8″ screen?? This thing is absolutely useless…

Andreas Ødegård on April 3, 2010 4:15 PM

@joe: Most illegal video sources use Xvid. While that isn’t a reason why Apple should add support for it of course, it’s definitely a reason for people who do get video from such sources to go for another device. That group is huge. I also know that the beta 10 of Flash supports DXVA, but last time I tried it it had massive issues with a lot of features and a full release is still far off. Windows shouldn’t be made to work with capacitive, it would be no point as you said. I also didn’t say the OS couldn’t handle the input from the screen, only from a theoretical capacitive screen. The iPad has a lot going for it with the interface an everything and I’d like one myself, but devices like the S5 still have the benefit of being a lot more versatile and completely independent of a host computer.@dobson: The human eye has a resolution of several hundred megapixels, which means that it doesn’t matter how physically big the screen is, only what resolution it has. If you can’t see 1024×600 on a 4.8″ screen you should consult an eye doctor as it indictaes you might be short sighted (i know because I am without contacts)

joe on April 3, 2010 4:30 PM

Well just to make sure we are on the same page, you can use “Xvid” the codec, and make sure you use no B Frames or qpel or GMC (not having these features set is MPEG4-SP, the same requirements for the Cowon D2), and make sure it doesn’t go over the bit rate, and it will make video for Apple devices. Encode the audio in AAC, stick it in the official MPEG container and it is done.In any case, even the illegal sites make ipod compatible versions :) Can’t the itunes software convert it anyhow, along with a lot of other software?All I can add is Flash 10.1 on my Zotac 9300 chipset board works great with full screen hulu. It was a fresh install though.Personally I hate flash for this reason, since they won’t support VDPAU. Too bad, since ******** works very well at getting videos they think are secure.

PowerTorsk on April 3, 2010 6:35 PM

Nice review :) I like your comprehensive style.One thing you actually didn’t cover is the factor “why/why not get this as opposed to the many netbooks out there”.One of the new eeePC’s has a turnable screen, which makes it a great tablet.

Corinn on April 4, 2010 2:47 PM

Viliv was stupid for not putting an ARM SoC in this thing. Who needs Windows on a PMP/5″ tablet?This would be awesome with a Snapdragon or an ARM Cortex A9. Or especially Tegra 2.Dell Mini 5 still looks good. :D

Andreas Ødegård on April 4, 2010 3:30 PM

@Corinn: The S5 was released a year ago, those CPUs weren’t available back then. Besides, that wouldn’t make it a UMPC, but another slate with very little to show for itself- just like the Dell 5. There is an abundance of consumption tablets out there with very little usefulness as productivity, so I’m very glad Viliv didn’t make yet another one of those.

techb4l on April 4, 2010 8:48 PM

That’s a very comprehensive review. I’m sitting here with my S5 I’ve owned for several months now and you basically hit everything. It’s nice to see a new, detailed review on this device. Even though it’s been out so long, it doesn’t have a lot of direct competition. Extra special to see it during this time of iPad mania.

Joe Bish on April 5, 2010 12:39 AM

I’d love to see a review of the X70 if you have the chance. It seems to address a lot of the issues here: more physical screen space, SDHC slot, better tactile controls, plus a webcam and mic. Shame none of them have a slide-out keyboard a la Motorola Droid…

Ivan on April 5, 2010 11:19 AM

It works well with Mathematica 7. Much better than any pocket calculator you can find at any price.For ebook reading, a larger screen like that of the S7 would be preferable, anyway the S5 can do anything, just remember it doesn’t work very well on direct sunlight, a transflective screen would be better.I really suggest the 32GB SSD model, you will still have plenty of space for applications and it used less battery power, the difference is only 50$ more on BHPhotoVideo.com the site were I bought my S5. I liked that I could pay European import duties and VAT directly to them instead of to the courier.

Corinn on April 5, 2010 1:38 PM

@Andreas Ødegård: I question the content creation ability of the Silverthorne Z520 processor. I’ve used one of the 11.6″ netbooks that uses this same processor (one of the Acers) and it feels so ridiculously sluggish even compared to my outdated Celeron-M 353 eee PC…I can get behind UMPCs with faster Silverthornes; I’ve used a Vaio P with the 1.83GHz Z series Atom, and it was fairly snappy (especially after OCing it to 2.4GHz)… but the lower-clocked Z5xx processors are pretty ugly.It’s not the fault of ARM SoCs that devices using these processors are “consumption” devices. That’s the OS’s fault–most of these things have Android on them, which is ultimately a smartphone OS. But there are exceptions–the Pandora has a customized version of Angstrom Linux on it, and while it’s focused more on gaming than anything, it’s arguably a UMPC as well.

Andreas Ødegård on April 5, 2010 7:29 PM

@Corinn: Depends on what content you’re creating. My netbook also uses the same chipset, and a very large amount of ABi articls in the last 8 months were written on it, complete with photo editing in Photoshop. If you’re going to do video editing, that won’t work, but 1.33Ghz is more than enough for a lot of uses, especially if you don’t mind waiting an extra 10 seconds for a program to start up. There’s also a LOT you can do to optimize the OS for such a CPU, it’s just that the manufacturer’s don’t do it by default. Turning of things like displaying content while moving windows or animating minimizing/maximizing windows makes a horryfying amount of difference as it’s these features that strain the system. You could open a folder back with Windows 98 on hardware much slower than this and have it look smooth, because it didn’t have all sorts of crap to make it look good.

ha14 on April 6, 2010 2:43 PM

Ipad is little big to carry on streets, but this one is promising for daily outdoor use.

Jaigoda on April 12, 2010 5:10 PM

Can someone please explain to me what sort of market slates/tablets are playing towards? When would you use one of these instead of a netbook, which is also generally a fair amount cheaper and with better hardware? You can’t really use these while walking around as they’re still pretty cumbersome. And if you’re not moving, you could probably use a netbook. I just don’t see where tablets fit in, especially, sadly enough, ones that are running a computer OS like windows. I can sort of see the iPad making a market for itself because it can appeal to people as something that’s easier to use than a computer. Tablets trying to be computers just don’t really seem to have a place at this point, in my mind.

Joseph Mitzen on May 18, 2010 9:07 PM

I’ve been looking around for something that was handheld and x86-compatible that could run real Linux (and hopefully some old Windows games) and these Viliv devices look mighty interesting. What would really make the S5 shine would be adding an ION or ION 2 chip in them for better graphics capabilities.

Mark on May 21, 2010 12:03 PM

great review without any obviuos bias, very rare. It seemed to capture the complexity of what goes into the balencing act of making a viable UMPC.To Jaigoda: If you dont see a market for it dont buy it. I dont see a market for an I pad- its a huge MID. To big I think. I can use a laptop for that and get some work done. There is a market this and the next generation if there is one coming soon which may not happen because there is no competition. Think of it this came out a year ago. I still think it is to small and the 7inch model. Think about how much your mp3 player costs and your netbook and your ereader. The 7 inch model has a webcam for Skype, and connections for presentations. It can be used for so many things.The big difference between a netbook and these are the size, weight and touch panel. Its cheap for having a touch panel.

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