The Sony Ericsson Vivaz wanted to win our hearts with its 720p video-capture abilities and touchscreen loveliness. Unfortunately it was rubbish, with some horrible build quality and a deeply confusing menu system. The Vivaz Pro adds a pull-out Qwerty keyboard to the mix, but at £340 SIM-free, is that enough to win our hearts?
In a word, no. In 800 or so words...
Getting hold of the Vivaz Pro, it's clear Sony Ericsson hasn't done anything to fix the Vivaz' truly shonky build quality. We're no strangers to slightly wobbly tech, and to we're willing to forgive the odd bit of bendy plastic or stiff button, but it's a rare and awful moment when we pick up a mobile that actually screams 'cheap' from the moment we hold it in our hands.
The whole phone audibly creaks inside its flimsy plastic casing, and every single button is stiff and unresponsive. Holding it feels like cradling the ancient fossil of a mobile phone -- we'd stuffed it in a Jiffy bag and posted it to the Natural History Museum before we realised our mistake.
Adding a full keyboard only provides this phone with more opportunity to be made of rubbish. Sliding the keyboard out feels like opening a rusty gate, and the hinge itself is so loose that the keyboard regularly slid out all wonky-like. Applying just a little pressure to the handset while you slide will cause the front-panel to catch on the keyboard's individual keys, which we imagine will cause some serious damage before too long.
Broken-backed and bone-headed
The design isn't about to win any awards either, although this phone is fairly slim considering it's concealing a full keyboard. The Vivaz Pro has a distinctive rounded back, which unfortunately means the phone spends most of its time resting on the 5.1-megapixel camera, which isn't very well protected. We can foresee a cracked lens if you should be so unfortunate as to ever sit on your phone, or drop something on top of it.
Our model came in a grim greeny-grey-black shade, though a slightly cleaner looking white version is also available. As far as buttons go, you'll find three central command keys beneath the screen, dedicated buttons on the side of the phone for both camera and camcorder, volume keys, and -- bizarrely -- a lock/unlock key positioned on the back of the phone, just above the camera. If you're looking at the front of the phone you won't be able to see that button, which made actually finding the darn thing tricky at the best of times.
The display is curiously placed very low down on the front of the phone. It's too close to the three function buttons for our liking, and leaves a conspicuous bare spot above the screen itself. Presumably this is to give the huge Sony Ericsson logo room to breathe, but the result is that the phone looks like it has a massive great forehead.
Baffle me once
The Vivaz Pro sports an 81mm (3.2-inch) TFT touchscreen. It's the resistive type, which means you'll have to actually apply pressure to the screen for it to register your touch. This is ironic, because after just a few minutes of using the Vivaz Pro's operating system, applying pressure is exactly what you'll want to do.
The Symbian interface is just... baffling. There are a few home screens, with photo-browsing, a Twitter client and a shortcut to add a contact. Hitting the central key will bring up the menu. And that's about it. Sony has added its own skin to the Symbian OS, and we can't really say it's paid off -- just like the previous Vivaz, menu navigation is sluggish and drab.
It's simple, we'll give it that. But there's little to no customisation apparent, and finding what it is you're after is tricky indeed. There seems to be no rhyme or reason to the way the menus have been ordered, and it gives us the distinct impression of a rush job. We've seen similarly weak and unintuitive interfaces, but usually on mobiles hundreds of pounds cheaper than this one.
When you pop out the Qwerty keyboard, the screen flips round to cater to the new orientation, but it often flickers, and doesn't adjust very quickly or smoothly. A rather pretty flowing ribbon across the home screen changes direction as the phone is rotated. This tells us there's a gyroscopic sensor hidden somewhere in the Vivaz Pro's depths, so why this couldn't have been used to make switching from portrait to landscape mode a little more fluid, we're not sure.
Keyboard and camera comeback
Now this we like. We see plenty of Qwerty keyboards, and not all of them are -- how to put this delicately? -- usable. This one is, however. The keys themselves are well spaced out, with the gaps helping to eliminate mistakes while typing at speed. It made tapping out texts very comfortable, and is vastly preferable to wrangling with the somewhat unresponsive on-screen keypad.
Now we come to real selling point -- the Vivaz Pro shoots 720p video. But how does it actually handle? Recorded video certainly looks good, and while we've seen more colourful footage from the likes of a mini camcorder, it's pretty decent. If you want to do anything with the footage you've taken, you'll still have to grapple with the thoroughly awkward interface, however.
The camera has a 5.1-megapixel sensor, which is slightly disappointing considering the earlier Vivaz featured an 8.1-megapixel snapper, but in all honesty makes very little difference with such a small sensor. Pictures taken with the Vivaz Pro still look decent mind, and we're happy to see an LED photo light, auto-focus, 4x digital zoom, face detection and geo-tagging all present and correct.
Bits and bobs
Connectivity is pretty comprehensive, with both 3G and Wi-Fi onboard. At over £300 though, that's no more than we'd expect. Call quality is perfectly reasonable, and although they're just as sticky and stubborn as every other hardware button on this phone, the volume keys on the side will give you a little more control during calls. As for battery life, expect the Vivaz Pro to last you a few days at most, and less if you're consuming gallons of data or using the camcorder all the time.
A rubbish interface and truly shocking build quality make the Vivaz Pro hard to recommend. We like the Qwerty keyboard, which does give it an edge over its touchscreen-only predecessor, and the 720p camcorder works well, shooting good quality footage. This phone's flaws invariably drag down the few smart features though, and for £340, we'd expect a significantly higher level of quality.
If you Vivaz Pro leaves you cold, why not check out the Nokia N86, which features an 8-megapixel camera and Wi-Fi? It's a year old now, but we liked it then, and you'll likely find it going cheaper these days.
The Vivaz Pro is available for around £25 per month on a 24-month contract.
Edited by Nick Hide