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.
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.
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 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 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.
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.