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Sony Ericsson U5i Vivaz review

Barry de la Rosa
25 May 2010
Sony Ericsson U5i Vivaz
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
315
inc VAT

A beautiful design with a great camera, however the Symbian operating system creaks under the weight of Vodafone's branding, making it a nightmare to use.

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Specifications

Symbian Series 60 5th Edition, 3.2in 360x640 display

The Sony Ericsson Vivaz is a light and compact smartphone that packs in a 3.2in touchscreen and an 8.1-megapixel camera that can capture 720p video. Compared to other touchscreen smartphones, it's amazingly small and light. It doesn’t resort to the usual boxy design, either, instead being stylishly tapered at both ends.

Admittedly, the low weight is probably attributable to its entirely plastic, rather than rubber or metal construction, and the removable back panel does feel a bit flimsy. However, the edge-to-edge glass on the fascia and the deep glow of the translucent side panels make it look fantastic. The rear is plain except for the inevitable logos and the large lens, although a sliding cover for the latter would have been handy.

The camera itself is a fantastic snapper. It took crisp still shots in good-to-moderate lighting conditions, better than any other phone we’ve seen and even rivalling some budget compact cameras. There are plenty of photographic options, like spot focus and face detection, but no optical zoom. Capturing 720p video is a big plus on a phone, and the results rival footage from mini camcorders like the Flip Ultra HD, there’s even continuous autofocus, so you can get in close to subjects without everything getting blurry. You can upload content directly to YouTube, but we wouldn’t recommend it unless you have a wireless connection.

The phone feels fast, and sports all the connectivity options you could want, with quad-band EDGE and dual-band 3G, WiFi, Bluetooth and PC synchronisation via USB. Battery life is excellent, lasting over a day in our light usage test.

The design is good then, but the same praise can't be heaped on the touchscreen interface. The Vivaz uses the Symbian operating system that's also used on many Nokia phones, and it's not our favourite mobile OS. Underneath a customised user interface, the nuts and bolts of Symbian remain the same: a complicated, badly organised collection of menu-driven apps and options screens. Symbian wasn't designed as a touchscreen OS and feels really clunky on a touchscreen phone.

More annoyingly, Symbian's popularity with phone manufacturers partly stems from the ease with which it can be modified by network operators to add their own apps and interfaces on top of the base OS. For the customer, this means you get another layer of needless complexity on top of Symbian, in this case, courtesy of Vodafone.

So keen is the company to push its own branding that it duplicates functionality in many cases, with numerous icons leading to its online shop and other services. Vodafone's new Maps service isn't yet operational, and when trying to access the messaging apps subsection we were blocked by Vodafone's content restriction system. If you want new apps, you are stuck with Vodafone's online shop, which consists mainly of ring tones and city guides.

As well as the main phone menu, accessible via the middle button, there are menus popping out from the side and bottom of the screen, and a tabbed drop-down menu along the top. Sadly, there doesn't seem to be any way of customising these menus to remove duplicates; the only recourse we found was to change the theme entirely. Another thing to note is how ugly Vodafone's additions are: the text uses a clunky font that doesn't blend with the base OS.

Once past the promotional clutter, there's a lot the Vivaz can do: there's a unified messaging app that can grab email from a selection of online services, a good calendar and organiser, and a decent media player and photo viewer apps. There's even an app that will stream your media across your home network.

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