With low-cost high-definition camcorders like the Flip Video UltraHD proving so popular, Sony Ericsson's looking to get in on the action with the touchscreen Vivaz media phone. Sporting an 8.1-megapixel camera, it's capable of shooting 720p high-definition video.
The Vivaz is free on a £25-per-month, 24-month contract. You can also pick it up for around £350 SIM-free.
The Vivaz may pack in plenty of features, but it's still relatively petite by touchscreen-phone standards, measuring just 52 by 107 by 13mm. The rear and front of the phone are slightly curved, giving the Vivaz an unusual oblong shape that makes it quite comfortable to hold. In fact, the only real downside of the design is the rather plasticky gloss finish used on the rear battery cover.
Lights, camera, action
The star feature of the Vivaz is its 8.1-megapixel camera. It's mounted almost in the centre of the battery cover, so you have to be careful not to obscure the lens with your fingers when holding the phone. There are two dedicated buttons for the camera. One starts shooting in video mode, while the other is used to snap stills.
The video quality is rather good. You can shoot at resolutions of up to 720p and, even at these higher resolutions, video doesn't become overly jerky as it does on some other camera phones. Colours aren't quite as vivid as we'd have liked, but we wouldn't exactly describe them as washed-out either.
Due to its placement, you'll have to take care not to obscure the 8.1-megapixel camera with your fingers when capturing footage or photos
Still shots are also fairly impressive. Again, colours are slightly muted, but the 8.1-megapixel sensor captures plenty of detail, so images don't suffer from soft edges to the same extent as they do on lesser camera phones. Indoor shots tend to look rather dark and grainy, however, as the camera only has a single LED flash -- a xenon flash would have been a much better choice.
HD footage and higher-quality photos take up more storage space, but the phone comes with a pretty generous 8GB microSD card as standard. Annoyingly, you have to remove the battery cover to get at the memory-card slot.
But it's not just the camera that's impressive. The Vivaz has an excellent 81mm (3.2-inch) display that manages to offer an impressive 360x640-pixel resolution. This gives you plenty of space to play with when using apps like the impressive Web browser. It also means that text, graphics and video look absolutely gorgeous.
Unfortunately, the Vivaz falls flat on its face when it comes to usability. The combination of its Symbian S60 operating system and resistive touchscreen conspire to make it a fiddly handset to use.
The operating system is the same as that used on the likes of Nokia's X6, but it features Sony Ericsson's own skin, so it looks quite different and comes preloaded with a different selection of apps. As with other S60-based touchscreen phones, the interface suffers from too many inconstancies and sluggish performance. Also, it just doesn't feel like it was built for touch input.
The phone's performance in other areas is good. The on-board GPS works well, the Vivaz supports both HSDPA and Wi-Fi for fast data downloads, and there's a good range of apps installed, including a neat YouTube player.
The phone's call quality is also first-class. Its battery life isn't too bad either -- we managed to get about 2.5 days of use out of the phone before it needed to be recharged.
Despite an impressive array of features, the Sony Ericsson Vivaz is a frustrating handset. Although its 8.1-megapixel camera puts in an impressive performance -- especially when it comes to shooting HD video -- the phone's overly fussy S60 operating system and sluggish resistive touchscreen make it rather a pain to use.
Edited by Charles Kloet