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Sony Ericsson Vivaz review: Sony Ericsson Vivaz

Sony Ericsson Vivaz

Kent German
Kent German Former senior managing editor / features
Kent was a senior managing editor at CNET News. A veteran of CNET since 2003, he reviewed the first iPhone and worked in both the London and San Francisco offices. When not working, he's planning his next vacation, walking his dog or watching planes land at the airport (yes, really).
11 min read

You might say that AT&T's Sony Ericsson Vivaz is suffering from a split personality disorder. On one hand, it's a modern device with a sleek design and a selection of multimedia features. Look a bit closer, however, and you'll see an operating system that hasn't stood the test of time. Sure, the Symbian operating system was perfectly fine three years ago, but in 2010 its features and usability just don't measure up to its Android and iOS rivals. Indeed, this is one operating system that needs its impending revamp.

Sony Ericsson Vivaz (AT&T) - cosmic black

Sony Ericsson Vivaz

The Good

The Sony Ericsson Vivaz has a sleek design, good call quality, and a heavy load of features.

The Bad

The Sony Ericsson Vivaz's resistive touch screen isn't the most easy to use. Internal performance is sluggish, and data service is unreliable.

The Bottom Line

The Sony Ericsson Vivaz offers value for its price, but we'd suggest paying extra for a more powerful smartphone.

Outside of th OS, the Vivaz has a few high points including its camera and music player, and that attractive design. Call quality was satisfying, as well, though the sluggish internal performance and resistive touch screen can be tedious to use. At $79.99 with a two-year contract and after a $50 mail-in rebate, the Vivaz won't empty your wallet, but we'd be more inclined to pay a few extra dollars and the extra power that comes with a device like the Sony Ericsson Xperia X10.

We wouldn't blame you if you confused the Vivaz with a new Sony Ericsson Cyber-shot camera. The tapered ends don't exactly scream "phone" and the controls on the left end are similarly deceptive. It's even worse when you view the handset from behind and see only a camera lens and flash. Rest assured, however, that the Vivaz is truly a phone that can send messages and make calls. Multimedia is also part of the story, of course, but communications is the Vivaz's primary goal.

At 4.2 inches long by 2 inches wide by 0.5 inch deep, the Vivaz shows that the thin phone is not dead. On the whole, it's an attractive device, though the glossy skin can attract its share of smudges. Sony makes the device in four colors, but AT&T opted only to pick up the galaxy blue model. The Venus ruby handset also will be available for a limited time, but you'll have to go the unlocked route if you prefer the cosmic black or moon silver hues.

The Vivaz's rear side is curved to match the natural curve of your hand. Since Sony Ericsson highlighted that feature when it introduced the Vivaz last February, we were eager to see the final result. By all means, it does make a comfortable feel, though the Vivaz also wobbles slightly when it's resting on a table. The Vivaz weighs 3.4 ounces, which makes it neither too light nor too heavy, though we'd be wary of damaging the plastic skin with too many drops on a hard surface.

Below the display are the Vivaz's few physical navigation controls: the Talk and End buttons and a Home key. Other navigation options, like a soft key and a back button, are built into the display as touch controls. On the right spine, you'll find the volume rocker and shortcuts for the still camera and camcorder. The rocker is easily accessible when you're on a call, but it's also easy to press the camera shutter accidentally when holding the Vivaz in your left hand. Lastly, the power control is located all by itself on the top of the phone.

The Vivaz has a standard Micro-USB port and a 3.5mm headset jack.

We're grateful that Sony Ericsson chose standard ports and connection for the Vivaz. A 3.5mm headset jack and Micro-USB/charger port rest conveniently on the phone's left side and a microSD card slot is behind the battery cover. Though we're not thrilled that we have to dig around for a memory card, we're ecstatic that we're not stuck with Sony Ericsson's proprietary Memory Stick Micro format.

Dominating the Vivaz's front is the 3.2-inch touch screen. We'll start with the good points first. Though it's not huge, it's large enough, and the vivid resolution (16.7 million colors; 640x320 pixels) results in sharp graphics and bright colors. On the downside, the TFT display is resistive, which means you must apply pressure to register a command (a capacitive display, in comparison, merely senses the conductive properties of your finger). You can use your finger on the Vivaz, though you'll need a heavy and accurate touch, particularly when scrolling through menu pages. Fortunately, the included stylus makes for an easier experience, but in all seriousness, who really wants to use a stylus in the age of the iPhone and the Evo? What's more, since the Vivaz doesn't have a stylus slot, that's one more thing you'll have to carry around.

The Vivaz's virtual keyboard is user-friendly.

The phone dialer interface features touch controls with large numbers and letters. You also get one-touch access to your phonebook. For texting and e-mails, the Vivaz has a virtual keyboard and a handwriting-recognition feature. Though the latter is mostly accurate and responsive, the former is faster and easier to use. The individual buttons are large, and you'll need to switch to separate pages for numbers and symbols. We used the stylus for the best results, but you can use your fingers if you like. On the other hand, if you'd prefer a physical keyboard, the unlocked Sony Ericsson Vivaz Pro has a slider design.

The Vivaz has a simple icon-based menu interface.

The main menu features icons in a grid or a list design. It's simple and easy to use, and you can drill into submenus for deeper access. You can personalize the Vivaz with color themes and wallpaper, and you can choose from different designs for the home screen. The handset also has an accelerometer. You can turn it off, though we're not sure what you'd want to do so.

Operating system
It's been a long time since we've Symbian on a smartphone from a major U.S. carrier. And as we said above, it hasn't aged well. To begin with, the home screen doesn't have the deep customization options that its newer rivals offer. You don't get multiple home screen pages and you can't populate the home screen with widgets or add new shortcuts beyond those that come on the phone. Granted, one-touch access to your most important features is there already, but we'd like even more freedom.

We're not partial to Symbian's multitasking either. Unless you back out a feature completely, it continues to run in the background until you use a long press in the pop-up task manager. In many ways, it's not that different from how iOS 4 handles multitasking, though app switching is more cumbersome. Also, until you kill an app, a spinning green wheel appears next to the feature's icon in the main menu. And even worse, the whole process slows down an already sluggish phone even more.

The good news is that Symbian is getting a revamp with the Nokia N8. Symbian 3 will offer widget support, new swipe gestures, and added multimedia features. It looks promising, but we'll save our assessment until we can give it a full review.

We debated whether to call the Vivaz a smartphone, but by our definition it fits the bill. Not only does it run a third-party OS, but it has also the productivity features that you'd normally associate with a work-friendly device. We'll start with the basics first. The phone book size is limited by the internal memory, which should give most users more than enough room. Each contact holds multiple fields including phone numbers, an e-mail address, a street address, and job information. For caller ID you can select a photo and ringtone, and you can save callers to groups.

Other essentials include an alarm clock, a file manager, a universal search, a voice recorder, a unit and currency converter, a stopwatch, a calculator, and a notepad. You'll also find Microsoft Quick Office, an Adobe file reader, voice commands and dialing, tethering support, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, PC syncing, and a Web publishing app for Facebook, Picasa, and YouTube.

Messaging options are plentiful. Besides the usual text and multimedia messaging, the Vivaz also offers instant messaging, and support for POP3 e-mail services. The integrated RoadSync app lets you connect with most Microsoft Exchange accounts for e-mail, calendar, contacts, tasks, and attachments. The interface can be a bit clunky, but it gets the job done.

Apps and browser
The Web browser is full HTML, but we weren't impressed with the user experience. Web pages look good on the sparkling display, but we much prefer the light touch of a capacitive display when scanning around pages and selecting links. And don't even think about looking for multitouch. The scroll bar interface makes for a somewhat effective zoom, and you can save bookmarks, but we've been spoiled by too many better mobile browsers to really value this experience. Sorry.

Thanks to the Vivaz's Assisted-GPS, the handset comes integrated with a selection of location-based apps including Loopt, Where, AT&T Maps, AT&T Navigator, Yellow Pages Mobile, Where, AllSport GPS, and AT&T Family Locator. Just keep in mind that some apps will use data services.

The Vivaz also brings a full load of applications, but some are difficult to use on the resistive display. Onboard are Facebook, Wiki Mobile, My-Cast Weather, Mobile Banking, and AT&T Social Hub. Gamers get a selection of demo titles including Bubble Bash, YouTube, Brain Exercise, Tetris, Diner Dash, and Wheel of Fortune. You can Access AT&T's App Center to download more titles or buy the full versions for extended play.

The 8.1-megapixel camera takes pictures in six resolutions, including two "wide" resolutions and two quality settings. Other options are quite extensive. The Vivaz has four color effects, a self-timer, a macro setting, four white balance choices, exposure metering, a digital zoom, an image stabilizer, a light, a multishot and night mode, an option for taking panoramic shots, and four shutter sounds. An autorotate feature changes the orientation of the display as you tilt from portrait to landscape and you can geotag your photos to track your progress on a trip.

The Vivaz looks like a camera from behind.

Sony Ericsson also added a few unique options. With face detection, the camera will shoot automatically when it detects a subject's face in the frame. And on a similar vein, the smile detection feature shoots automatically when it finds a smile. The infinite mode disables the autofocus for pictures taken at a distance and the touch capture feature is similar to the iPhone's tap to focus feature. When you tap the screen, it swill focus the shot on that point. Rounding out the selections are settings for night, landscape, twilight landscape, portrait, beach/snow, sports, and document shots.

The camcorder can record clips in four resolutions, from high-definition (HD) down to a simple option for multimedia messages. Other editing options are similar to the still camera, and you can use the light here as well. Clips meant for multimedia messages are capped at 1 minute, but the length of other videos will vary by the available memory. Unfortunately, integrated memory is quite small at just 75MB. We could only record 13 seconds of HD video and just 4 minutes even at a QVGA (320x240) resolution. It's essential that you use a microSD card slot to get the most use of your Vivaz. A 2GB card should come in the box, but the phone can accommodate cards up to 32GB.

Photo quality wasn't quite as good as we expected. Colors were muted, and objects in the background were rather fuzzy. Video quality was a bit better, but still below par for such a high-end shooter. As with most camera phones, you can use still shots as wallpaper, send them to a friend, and upload them to an online album. The Vivaz, however, also presents an option for sending shots to a printer.

Photo quality wasn't spectacular.

Though it's not identified as such, the Vivaz has a Walkman music player. Sony Ericsson has a good track record with music handsets and the Vivaz is no exception. Settings include an airplane mode, an equalizer, playlists, shuffle and loop modes, and support for podcasts and audiobooks. The interface is minimalist, but functional. You can set visualizations and the player supports album art, as well. Just keep in mind that it won't recognize every song it plays.

You also get the standard FM radio, though you will need a wired antenna to act as an antenna. Fortunately, loading music on the phone is relatively easy with a USB cable or a memory card. We dropped in a couple of tracks quickly and without any hassles. Music quality is fine, though the speaker doesn't have the best output. Use a headset for the best experience.

We tested the quad-band (GSM 850/900/1800/1900) Sony Ericsson Vivaz world phone in San Francisco and New York City using AT&T service. Call quality was quite satisfying. The signal was strong, the audio was clear, and the volume was loud. We could even hear when we were on a busy street and we didn't encounter interference or feedback from other electronic devices. Our only complaint was that the Vivaz picks up a fair amount of wind noise.

On their end callers said we sounded fine. They also reported the wind noise, but that was the extent of their complaints. They could hear us if we were speaking in a loud place, though optimal conditions will be a quiet room. Yes, most of our friends could tell that we were using a cell phone, but that's not unusual.

Speakerphone calls weren't quite as sharp. The volume doesn't get terribly loud and the audio is distorted at the highest volumes. To be understood, we had to sit right next to the phone in a quiet room. The same goes for automated calling systems; you're better off making a standard voice calls. Happily, Bluetooth headset calls were better, though quality can vary by headset brand.

The Vivaz includes support for three UMTS/HSDPA bands (850/1,900/2,100) so you should be able to get 3G service at home and abroad. If a wireless broadband network is not available, the handset will drop back to EDGE automatically. Data service in both San Francisco and New York was shaky. Though we had full bars in most places, the connection was pretty slow. The full version of Airliners.net, for example, took more than a minute to load. Sites with more pictures and graphics will be slower, so you're better off sticking to mobile sites.

The Vivaz has a 720MHz processor under the hood. Though that isn't terrible for a phone of its caliber, internal performance was noticeably sluggish. At times it took a couple of seconds for the phone to perform an action after it registered our command. During our first minutes of use, we even pressed the command again because we weren't sure if it took.

The Vivaz has a battery life life of 5 hours, 20 minutes of 3G talk time and 13 hours of EDGE talk time. The promised standby time is up to 18.3 days. We were impressed with the tested talk time of 6 hours and 20 minutes. According to FCC radiation tests, the Vivaz has a digital SAR of 1.38 watts per kilogram.

Sony Ericsson Vivaz (AT&T) - cosmic black

Sony Ericsson Vivaz

Score Breakdown

Design 5Features 7Performance 6
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