Can Netbooks be even smaller than they already are? The answer is yes, but at a cost. Viliv, a Korean company, has developed what is essentially a Netbook PC packed into a case that's not much larger than a personal media player, a continuation of a trend of UMPCs (ultramobile PCs) championed by companies like OQO. The difference with Viliv's device is under the hood: with an Atom processor and boasting 1080p HD video decoding, their tiny S5 PC PMP is about a third of the price of traditional UMPCs (which may be why that market has completely dried up).
We played with an import model of the Viliv S5 (which can be acquired in the U.S., through import sites like Dynamism.com) and, while its performance is close to a full-size Netbook, the cost--$599--is at the upper end of the Netbook range. A similarly spec'd 10.1-inch Netbook would only cost $300, half the cost of this device. With the extra cash, you could purchase an iPod Touch for your portable media viewing. For $100 to $200 less, the S5 would be a far more compelling tweener machine, although it's already impressive that Viliv offers this palm-size PC at a fraction of the cost of UMPCs that came before it.
|Price as reviewed / Starting price||$599|
|Processor||1.33 GHz Intel Atom Z520|
|Memory||1 GB 533 MHz DDR2|
|Hard drive||60 GB 4200 RPM|
|Chipset||Intel GMA 500|
|Graphics||Intel GMA 500|
|Operating System||Windows XP Home Edition SP3|
|Dimensions (WD)||6.0x3.3 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||4.8 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||1.36/0.94 pounds|
The construction of the Viliv S5 is very solid, and it feels like a sturdy black brick in the hand. The 4.8-inch screen covers a large part of the front, as it should, flanked by several buttons on each side and a thumbstick on the left (more on these features in a moment).
Dual stereo speakers are embedded toward the top of the screen. Volume controls and a standard headphone jack are on the top edge of the S5, and a closable door for USB ports runs along the left, and a sliding power toggle like the Sony PSP's is on the right.
Matte black plastic curves around the whole unit, lending it a tough feel. The buttons lie flush with the case design, and have some moderate but satisfying click feedback. Along the entire back of the S5 lies the battery, which adds some bulk and weight.
What UMPCs have to wrestle with is how many other functions they provide over smartphones for their price, and how many benefits in portability they have over Netbooks. The S5 can't really fit in a jeans pocket, but it's easy enough to slide in a small bag or keep in a coat pocket. Unlike a smartphone (and like a Netbook), the S5 runs regular Windows XP, and can give a full Web browser experience, including Flash. However, unlike a Netbook, the S5 must rely on an onscreen software keyboard to get typing done, or have a keyboard plugged into its USB port.
A 4.8-inch screen runs full Netbook resolution natively (1,024x600), and is also able to display at 800x600 or 1,024x768. To use the Viliv software and virtual keyboard, however, the S5 must run at 1,024x600. With such a tiny screen, text and icons can be hard to read.
The touch screen is pressure-based and not capacitive, and can be used with bare fingers, but really works best with a stylus (a guitar-pick-shaped stylus is included, attached to a wrist strap). However, targeting tiny icons and window-close buttons can begin to feel like you're performing microsurgery on a regular basis. We pity those with mediocre eyesight. While the glossy screen displayed video well, the brightness was dimmer than we'd prefer for a device that's advertised as a media player. We especially had trouble using Office software to create documents.
A "cube" software program created by Viliv provides a sort of native S5 interface for launching applications, but the swipe gestures and confusing design (a different side of a virtual cube runs each facet of your basic functions) ensure that it won't be used that often. The soft keyboard's haptic response gives a slight vibration when keys are pressed, but it vibrates the same throughout the entire keyboard. It's hard to figure out what key was hit without double-checking the screen.
|Viliv S5||Average for category [Netbook]|
|Video||Custom I/O (VGA out with dock)||VGA|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, single headphone/microphone jack||headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||1 USB 2.0 in, 1 USB 2.0 out||2 USB 2.0, SD card reader|
|Networking||802.11 b/g Wi-Fi, Bluetooth||Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth|
There aren't many ports on the Viliv S5, as we'd expect on a pocket-size machine. A panel cover on the left opens up to reveal one regular-size and one a Mini-USB port. A custom I/O port connects to a dock that allows VGA and component video out. There are no SD card or ExpressCard readers, and no Ethernet jack, either--it's b/g Wi-Fi or bust for Internet connectivity on the S5 (you could also tether via Bluetooth to a cell phone, but that requires a 3G phone capable of tethering). The 60GB hard drive runs at the slower 4,200rpm speed; an SSD hard drive might be more appropriate for a small system such as this one.
Under our benchmark tests, the S5 performed as well as most other Netbooks we've tested recently. That's because, under the hood, it is a Netbook, except with a Z350 version of the processor instead of an N270 or 280. Based on comparisons with more traditional Netbooks, Viliv's S5 held its own on multimedia and iTunes tasks. Video playback was smooth when running from in-browser with Hulu or YouTube, or when loading a downloaded file, but pop-out windows, full-screen streaming, and HD video stuttered a lot.