Review: Viliv X70 UMPC

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The Viliv X70 isn’t the first UMPC, nor is it the most feature-filled. It isn’t the most expensive or cheapest. But I’m willing to bet that it’s one of the most important devices in its class. The X70, and it’s little brother the S5, offer a lot of mobile goodness for a relatively low price. I’ve used the X70 everyday for almost three weeks and I’m more impressed each time I turn it on.

Lets start with how the X70 handles different common applications and usage. Hardware is covered farther down.

Awesome

  • EasySuite

The single best feature of the Viliv X70 is the EasySuite transfer software built into the UMPC. This is a killer software/hardware pack that needs to be included in every notebook, UMPC, and netbook. Hell, why not build this into all computers? It’s the best way to transfer files between two computers I have ever used.

All you do is plug in the Mini-B end of a USB cable into the X70 and then the full size USB port into a computer. A few seconds later, EasySuite autoruns on both systems and allows you to transfer files between both computers. It’s almost Jack Bauer-ish it works so well. Plus it’s fast. A 700MB file only took 51 seconds to transfer verse the seven minutes over 802.11g.

  • tweetdockTweetDeck

It’s like the X70 was meant for TweetDeck – or the other way around. The entire application fills the small screen and looks downright sexy. TweetDeck is extremely accessible and usable thanks to the text input screen being located on the top, which is way above the virtual keyboard overlay. It’s one of my favorite applications to use on the X70. A good amount of time, I have the UMPC sitting on my desk with only TweetDeck open as a companion to my main system.

  • Google Reader

google-reader

Google Reader looks and works amazing on the X70 when the screen is rotated to the vertical layout. (there is a hotkey for this) It makes cruising through my hundreds of RSS feeds in the morning a breeze.

Setting the pointer on the down arrow and using the dedicated hardware mouse button instead of the touchscreen is about the best way to use it. This method works even better than using the Firefox Grab and Drag add-on. The only thing that would improve this is if there was a button or a scroll wheel on the Viliv that you could hold down for scrolling – the little nub only moves the page down a few lines and is hard to press.

  • E-Book reader

ebookThe program eReader turns the X70 into a ebook reading monster. Once again, it helps if the screen is rotated to the vertical position. The Viliv X70’s dedicated hardware hotkeys to dim the screen makes it easy to adjust to darker or lighter conditions on the fly. And the little nub pointer makes it easy to change pages with just one click in the appropriate direction. The X70 doesn’t have the long battery life that e-ink readers like the Kindle does, but you can expect to get a few hours into a book without a problem.

  • PowerPoint viewer

Combine the portability of the small form factor, along with the versatile video outputs of VGA, component, S-Vid, or composite, and you have one mighty PowerPoint buddy in the Viliv X70. The hardware handles PowerPoint just fine. The speakers are loud enough to fill a medium size room just fine. Throw in a wireless presentation remote, and you’ll look like a salesmen of the future.

Good enough

  • GPS

Garmin Mobile PC turns the X70 into a 7-inch Garmin GPS unit. It work perfectly as a GPS unit, albeit being a tad big. The X70 is almost 8.5 inches long, which is as wide as my Dodge Magnum’s rear-view mirror. It makes a huge blind spot on my windshield and the Magnum/Charger/Challenger’s windshield is large for a passenger vehicle. However, in my Dad’s Ford Windstar van, it looks right at home.

It’s just too bad that installing and running a GPS program on the Viliv x70 is a huge pain. I spent about 4 hours browsing random forum sites to get the steps needed to run both Garmin Mobile PC and Microsoft Streets and Trips 2009 (which is terrible program, btw). Garmin Mobile PC was totally worth the hours of work though.

I also don’t think it’s too much to ask to have a GPS app included in the X70’s software pack. Even a basic navigation application would fit the bill.

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  • Skype

So the X70 has a front-facing webcam and microphone, which should make for a great Skype video device, right? Well, it does. The program runs fine and the video quality is good enough. The only thing I wish it had was a three-way headphone/microphone jack like cell phones have. That way you didn’t have to use the front-facing mic all the time. But Skype does work.

  • General Web Browsing

web-browserAlmost 95% of my work is done via a web browser. I’m pleased to report that the Viliv X70 works good as web browsing device. It could be better, but it gets the job done once you get use to some of the quirks. The Firefox Grab and Drag add-on takes full advantage of the touchscreen and enables an iPhone-ish type movement.

Once again, a dedicated hardware button for scrolling would be great. The little nub doesn’t get the job done well because it’s so tough to press and only moves the page down a few lines with each click. A BlackBerry-ish trackball or scroll wheel would work great instead of the four-way selector button.

  • VLC

Is there a hardware platform that VLC doesn’t like? I don’t think so and the X70 is no different. The video player could handle all DVD-quality videos just fine; it couldn’t play back HD videos at all though. The bundled VilivPlayer couldn’t play HD videos well either so lets blame it on the low-end Intel GMA 500 graphics controller instead of the programs.

  • Excel

excelI wouldn’t want to enter in a lot of info into Excel with the small screen, but it works just fine for small changes. This is actually the one program where the four way selector nub actually works well.

Disappointing

  • YouTube and Hulu

I tried these video sites in Chrome, Safari, Firefox, and IE. None would playback the videos in any fashion that was watchable. The sound comes through fine, but the video is lagy and choppy. There are a couple of other reviews floating around of the X7o that indicate the opposite, but I wasn’t happy with results.

  • Hulu Desktop

I still installed the beta of Hulu Desktop even though Hulu.com ran poorly. Crazy? Maybe, but I prayed a bit that this would work before installing it and was hoping for a miracle. I had dreams of using the 3G connection to watch Hulu from the sexy, touchscreen-friendly desktop app.

But it doesn’t work worth a damn. The video actually plays back a little better through the desktop app than via Hulu.com, but it’s still not worth your time.

  • Boxee

boxeeI spent an entire day working on Boxee but I couldn’t get the program to install/run. It has something to do with the crappy Intel GMA 500 video processor and Windows XP not having the right goods for OpenGL – or something like that. But after messing around with Hulu Desktop a few days after, I decided that Boxee probably wouldn’t run well anyway. But still, think of the possibilities with the 3G connection…

Hardware

The Viliv X70 is ran by an Intel Atom CPU Z520 @ 1.33GHz. Surprised? Probably not. The Atom is in almost every netbook/UMPC for good reasons: the CPU offers great performance and battery life. Expect the Viliv x70 to handle just about anything you can throw at it with the major exception of video.

The Intel GMA 500 that powers the video is the X70’s one weak spot. This GPU doesn’t like anything strenuous as HD playback, flash videos, or any sort of 3D games. There are a few 3rd party drivers floating around forum sites but I didn’t find any of them to perform better than the stock drivers from Viliv. I did read several times that Windows XP is partly to blame and Windows 7 improves it a bit. I’ll see if that’s true in a few days when I load Win7 onto the x70.

  • Screen

The screen is no doubt one of the first things you’ll notice about the X70. First, it’s bright and crisp. The resolution of 1024 by 600 is almost perfect for this size. Text is crisp and the colors bright.

The touchscreen is one of the better ones I have used. It’s accurate and finger friendly, which is about all you can ask for in a touchscreen.

  • Buttons

The front of the X70 has six buttons and a 4-way selector nub. Two of the right side buttons function as left/right mouse buttons, which is really handy. I found that when using my RSS reader, I would just place the cursor over the down scroll button and use one of these hardware buttons instead of the touchscreen.

The other buttons bring up the Windows Start Menu, virtual keyboard, and control certain hotkeys. By pressing the C button on the right and pushing the 4-way selector in a certain direction, you can change the orientation of the screen. Also, the Menu and the A/B buttons adjust the screen brightness, while the FN and A/B adjusts the volume.

Viliv should allow users to map different functions to these buttons. Just a simple piece of software would do it. I would like to map the Scroll down command to the otherwise unused C button. Maybe that ability is hidden somewhere in the software pack but I couldn’t find how to change these buttons.

  • 3G Wireless

The X70 that I’m using has a 3G HSPA modem built in. It works well. AT&T has good coverage here in mid-Michigan and I saw good up and down speeds. The bundled software was buggy at times, but it would always eventually connect. I didn’t notice that the expandable antenna made any difference at all.

  • Keyboard

keyboard1The  X70 is equipped with a virtual keyboard that overlays on top of everything else. I found that I could get around 25 wpm typing on it. The keyboard should come natural to anyone use to typing with their thumbs (all of us now?). The haptic feedback, which can be turned off, helps a lot too. Heavy typers would probably miss a physical keyboard, but I rarely wish I had one.

  • I/O Ports

The X70 has the standard assortment of I/O ports: 1 USB A, 1 USB Mini-B (for the EasySuite app), an SD card slot, headphone jack, a SIM card slot, and a proprietary A/V-out that supports VGA, component, S-Vid, and composite. (cables are included) I would love to see two full size USB ports as one can be a pain especially if you want to use a wireless mouse and flash drive at the same time. (or keyboard and a mouse)

Also, the SD card slot is so deep that you have to use the stylus to eject the card – or a long fingernail.

  • Battery life

The Dynamism X70 product page lists the battery life at 5.5 hours when viewing movies. I found that it got about 3.5 – 4 hours when browsing the Internet.

Viliv messed around with the Window’s Power Options and I can’t get it to show how much time is left on the battery. Windows will only display a percentage. It’s annoying. Upgrading it to Win7 should fix that though.

  • Speakers

The back side house two speakers which are surprisingly loud. They have no problem filling a small or medium size room. Even the bass isn’t that bad.

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Price

Devin asked me when I first got the X70 how will it be successful where the similarly equipped OQO models failed. It comes down to price. This UMPC offers a lot of functionality for a low price. OQO, and other UMPCs, are amazing devices, but the $2,000+ price tag placed them into a small niche market where the X70 has a lot lower initial cost and therefore should appeal to more.

The base model starts out at only $599 and you get a 16GB SSD, GPS, and a Z515 1.2GHz Atom CPU.  The package that I’m using costs $879 but includes a 32GB SSD, Z520 1.33GHz Atom, an HSPA modem along with a windshield/desktop mount, leather case, and a screen protector for those that pre-order it. There is another model minus the 3G modem for $729 and yet another for $1379 that includes a 128GB SSD along with everything else.

Dynamism is running a pre-order extravaganza on the X70 starting today at 1PM est. The X70’s little brother has been one of the best selling UMPC’s of all time and is still hard to get, so you’re going to want to pre-order the X70 if you want it. Plus, Dynamism is throwing in upgrades and accessory packs with all the pre-orders.

Round-up

I love the X70. I have never, ever been so impressed with a gadget, computer or otherwise. I think what amazes me the most is the price. You can get a full computing experience, with all of its pros and cons, in a truly portable package for only $600.

Now, as much as I love the X70 as a computer, I should point out that I’m not entirely impressed with it as a dedicated web browsing device. Internet performance is just one shot under par and the low-end Intel GMA 500 kills most Internet video sites. I know this sounds like a shameless plug but I totally mean it when I say you may want to wait for the CrunchPad if you want a tablet for just Internet usage.

However, the X70 is a full fledge computer that’s loaded with 3G wireless, a fast SSD, GPS, WiFi, and Windows XP. A lot of people like me are willing to forgo a bit of usability for all the extras that come with this Viliv. It has issues to work out like the video performance and quirky buttons, but my goodness it’s a heck of a computer.

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