For a long time now, phone manufacturers have been trying to cram as many megapixels as possible into their flagship camera phones. Indeed Sony Ericsson has been one of the leading exponents with its K700 and K800 series as well as more recent offerings like the Satio. However, the new buzz is around HD video so Sony Ericsson has obliged and released a slim touchscreen phone with an 8-megapixel camera that can also shoot video at up to 720p (HD Ready).
Contrary to what we've come to expect of camera-centric phones, the Vivaz isn't a bulky device with a large protruding lens. In fact, with dimensions of 107 x 51.7 x 12.5mm, it's very compact and thanks to its flush camera section, curved profile, and weight of just 97g, it's very pocket-friendly. However, with an all plastic body and screen, and unprotected lens, you may want to invest in a case to keep it in tip-top condition.
We're not too sure on the styling either. It seems simple enough with its largely black front and silver back but the translucent blue sides don't really fit in. Furthermore, we're immediately put off by the side-mounted headphone socket as it's just not practical if you listen to music on the move. At least there is one, though, and we're also glad to see a micro-USB socket for charging and connecting the phone to a PC, even if it is covered by an ungainly plastic flap.
We thought we'd like the dedicated buttons for both the stills and video camera, too, as they save fiddling around in menus to quickly change the mode you're in. However, it can be a bit confusing as you expect the more pronounced stills button to double as the record button for video, as it does on most other devices. Instead, it just changes back to stills mode, leading to much frustration. These two buttons sit below the volume rocker/zoom control on the right edge while a power/lock button lives on the top. Just three buttons for the call menu, the main menu, and ending calls are on the front. Along with the rest of the buttons they're a little mushy and indistinct and again put you in mind of a cheaper device.
A 3.2in touchscreen dominates the front of the Vivaz. It packs in an impressive 360 x 640 pixels, which puts it comfortably ahead of many large touchscreen rivals like the iPhone and HTC Legend, though it isn't quite up there with the latest smartphones like the Google Nexus One and upcoming HTC Desire, which both have 3.7in, 480 x 800 pixel screens. It does, however, create a wonderfully sharp image and you can fit a decent amount of information on it as well – especially useful for web browsing. Good viewing angles and strong colours also really help when using the phone's camera.
But for all its viewing prowess, the screen is severely let down by its resistive touchscreen. This makes general navigation an absolute pig as you're constantly forced to press rather than just touch the screen. This isn't so bad for pin-pointing individual icons and text links but if you're moving around the screen - scrolling for instance - it feels so much more cumbersome than capacitive screens. And with no support for multi-touch, using the keyboard is very slow whereas gestures like pinch-to-zoom are absent. At least one advantage of the Vivaz's resistive screen, though, is being able to operate the touchscreen camera controls while wearing gloves.
The extra detail that 720p video provides over the usual standard definition or lower resolution of many camera phones really stands out, and in good lighting you can get very usable results. That said, sensor noise is obvious and you certainly won't want to be shooting your next epic on it, but with a smooth framerate as well, it's still a welcome step up. In darker conditions, the noise level does increase significantly but a night mode means you'll at least be able to see things and the LED lamp provides a light boost within a range of a metre or two. In fact, aside from the weediness of the LED, we're rather impressed, though we do concede that HD video on a phone is probably a bit pointless.
As for the still image performance of the camera, it's decent if unexceptional. Like the video, it shows an obvious step up compared to many phones but still suffers from the usual camera phone caveats of high sensor noise, poor sharpness, and lack lustre colouration.
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