capsule review

Viliv S7 Netbook Tablet PC

At a Glance
  • Viliv S7 Premium

"Damn, that's small!"--my exact words after first laying eyes upon the Viliv S7. This tablet netbook is tiny. I'm talking more miniscule than the original Asus Eee PC 4G netbooks. It's practically coat-pocket size, like the Sony Vaio P. (In inches, the S7 measures 8.3 by 4.6 by 1, and it weighs 1.76 pounds.)

The S7 has a surprisingly solid design with enough going for it that I'd actually consider buying one--except for the projected $800 asking price. Keep in mind that what you're about to read is an extremely opinionated hands-on. Though Viliv provided us with a production-level unit, it explains that all specs haven't been finalized yet, and that units won't be available stateside until sometime in October (Viliv is based in South Korea). Is it worth the wait?

Well, before I tell you why I'm digging this little fella, I'm going to try and talk you out of buying the S7. Bear with me. The keyboard and mouse-button layout is, in a word, insane. As one might expect, the keyboard is small. Human adult males will find it a little difficult to use without setting the machine down on a flat surface to carefully peck away. And in order to squeeze in as many keys as possible, the company has put an odd cluster of punctuation buttons in the lower right part of the keyboard in such a way that comma, colon, and quote marks aren't where you'd expect.

The temptingly small size makes you wish Viliv could trim an inch off the width. If it did, you could probably thumb-type. I have the same issue with Fujitsu's LifeBook U820 micro-size Tablet PCs. Maybe with a smaller next-gen model we can get that. But my keyboard complaints faded compared with those for the touchpad.

The mousing strike zone is parked above the keyboard. You could place two standard postage stamps side-by-side and cover up the whole area. And the left and right mouse buttons are on either side of that, making it about as comfortable as taking a stretch on the rack. In short, HP and Acer, for all those times I mocked you for the touchpads on the Mini 1000 and the original Aspire One, respectively--I take it all back. The S7 has the worst mousing area I've ever seen, hands down (or, more accurately, hands on the screen). You see, the S7's saved by a single-point 7-inch touchscreen. If it weren't for that screen, I'd have likely just chucked this thing back in the box and called it a day. (Friendly tip for the next S7: Ditch the touchpad altogether or stick with a Lenovo-like touchpoint.)

The 1024-by-600-pixel backlit screen has reasonably good viewing angles, and when you don't like the angle, you can fully swing the screen around and fold it back into a tablet. And the S7 has a good hinge: It firmly holds position. But it should lock into place at, say, a 45-degree angle. A locking position snaps the screen at 180 degrees: handy for keeping in a flat tablet mode, not so handy if you're trying to type and look at the screen during a bumpy flight. (The screen has two useful buttons near it: "Pivot" rotates the desktop and "Menu" launches the start button--perfect when you're in tablet mode.)

As for the on-screen image, the color reproduction is pretty sharp. On still images, bright blues and indigos pop out over seas of green in sample landscape shots. But that doesn't mean the on-screen text is legible; that's what you get for having a relatively "high" resolution on a 7-inch screen (go into Control Panel to change font sizes). The S7 easily handled 480-by-320 iPhone videos and Hulu standard-definition content without a hint of a stutter. So far, a surprisingly decent performer.

I say "surprisingly decent" because it packs only a 1.33GHz Intel Atom Z520 CPU and 1GB of RAM, so it's not exactly speedy even by netbook standards. Unfortunately, we can't give you a full comparative rundown of how well the S7 compares with other netbooks. The S7 that we received had only a 32GB solid-state drive on board. Our lab needs at least twice that much space just to install WorldBench 6 tests on a computer. We're waiting to find out what drive or drives will be in the final production units, but I can at least give results from a couple basic tests. Over several cold boots, the machine loads Windows XP Home in 43 seconds. When parked in standby, the machine is up and running within 5.3 seconds. Firefox boots in 3 seconds. In short, not bad for a tiny portable.

As for battery life, that's another question we can't fully answer just yet. Initial tests (running video and intermittent Word document manipulation) bought me a little under 5 hours of computing time. Spokespeople promise 9.5 hours, or 7 hours with just video playback.

What we can discuss are some of the more tangible features: Lining the machine, a 1.3-megapixel Webcam, plus headphone and mic jacks for all you Skypers out there. Two panel speakers alongside the screen project some seriously loud and impressive sound--from a netbook, no less. The only drawback: a slightly tinny, hollow feel to the audio. On the video side of the equation, a VGA-out comes built into the machine. Next to it, a dongle-reliant port for component video-out.

The S7 provides typical 802.11b/g Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 2.0 capabilities. Want to embrace wireless broadband? It supports optional wireless broadband (the SIM card slot hides behind the battery) and WiMax. A spokesperson says that AT&T, Verizon, and Clearwire are "future partners in the U.S."

An SDHC slot lets you jack up storage if you want more than the standard 32GB. Now, while I was about to bash the S7 for having only two USB 2.0 ports, it does have something that makes up for any complaints on that score: A mini-USB jack. Plug in the cable between your home PC and the S7, and the netbook automatically runs a simple file manager program to transfer data between machines. It took 1 minute, 40 seconds to copy 1.1GB of video files between two computers. No speed demon, but it sure is easy enough. That small software gem is as good a reason as any to mention the rest of the stuff crammed on board the 32GB hard drive.

Besides Microsoft Office 2007 bloat, Viliv drops down the Windows Live Essentials freeware suite and a host of little bits of software you'll rarely use. A bare-bones browser and an odd-looking desktop shell are both better suited for tablet-mode browsing and use. Though a little rough around the edges, these tools tie into each other well.

Honestly, I was surprised. I expected some tech torture with the S7, but I find myself flipping up the screen and using it in odd situations: on the bus (to a couple of interested stares), at the local watering holes....and yeah, even sitting next to me at my desk. Admittedly a little imperfect, the S7 has the potential to become my digital sidekick. Tighten up the girth a little bit, and this could make a fine thumb-typing computer.

I should also mention that a couple of office fashionistas cooed when seeing its matching leather clutch carrying case. But at $800, it's pricey as netbooks go--and this one doesn't have much in the way of storage space to work with. If storage isn't a big deal, you might consider the Samsung Mondi. About half the price of the S7, this touch tablet runs Windows Mobile 6, has WiMax support, and comes with a slew of useful apps. But, like the Viliv, the small QWERTY keyboard is a pain in the ASCII. My advice on both: If you can find either one and lay hands on it before you buy, I'd recommend it.

We're waiting until we get final word on what exactly we can expect from the S7 here in the states--and we'll be sure to keep you posted (and update this to a full, scored review ASAP).

--Darren Gladstone

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At a Glance
  • Viliv S7 Premium

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