Viliv's S7 netbook tablet PC is tiny, but packs surprising performance.

"Damn, that's small!" My exact words after first laying eyes upon the Viliv S7. This tablet netbook is tiny. I'm talking more minuscule than the original Asus Eee PC netbooks. It's practically coat-pocket size, like the Sony Vaio P.

The Viliv S7 has a surprisingly solid design with enough going for it that I'd actually consider buying one - except for the £709 asking price. Although Viliv provided us with a production-level unit, it explains that all specs haven't been finalised yet.

The keyboard and mouse-button layout is, in a word, insane. As one might expect, the keyboard is small. Human adult males will find the Viliv S7 a little difficult to use without setting the machine down on a flat surface and carefully pecking at the keys. And in order to squeeze in as many keys as possible, the company has put an odd cluster of punctuation keys in the lower right part of the keyboard in such a way that the keys for commas, colons and quote marks aren't where they are supposed to be.

The temptingly small size makes you wish Viliv could trim an inch off the S7's width. If it did, you could probably thumb-type. I have the same issue with Fujitsu's LifeBook U820 micro-size tablet PCs. Maybe with a smaller next-gen model we can get that. But my keyboard complaints faded compared with those for the touchpad.

The mousing strike zone is parked above the keyboard. You could place two standard postage stamps side-by-side and cover up the whole area. And the left and right mouse buttons are on either side of that, making it about as comfortable as taking a stretch on the rack. In short, HP and Acer, for all those times I mocked you for the touchpads on the Mini 1000 and the original Aspire One, respectively - I take it all back. The Viliv S7 has the worst mousing area I've ever seen, hands down (or, more accurately, hands on the screen). You see, the S7's saved by a single-point 7in touchscreen. If it weren't for that screen, I'd have chucked this thing back in the box and called it a day. (Friendly tip for the next S7: Ditch the touchpad altogether or stick with a Lenovo-like touchpoint.)

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Viliv's S7 netbook tablet PC is tiny, but packs surprising performance.

The Viliv S7's 1,024x600 backlit screen has reasonably good viewing angles. When you don't like the angle, you can fully swing the screen around and fold it back into a tablet. And the S7 has a good hinge: it firmly holds position. But it should lock into place at, say, a 45-degree angle. A locking position snaps the screen at 180 degrees: handy for keeping in a flat tablet mode, not so handy if you're trying to type and look at the screen during a bumpy flight. The screen has two useful buttons near it: 'Pivot' rotates the desktop and 'Menu' launches the start button - perfect when you're in tablet mode.

As for the onscreen image, the color reproduction is pretty sharp. On still images, bright blues and indigos pop out over seas of green in sample landscape shots. But that doesn't mean the onscreen text is legible; that's what you get for having a relatively high resolution on a 7in screen (you can change font sizes via the Control Panel). The Viliv S7 easily handled 480x320 iPhone videos and standard-definition content without a hint of a stutter. So far, a surprisingly decent performer.

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I say "surprisingly decent" because the Viliv S7 packs only a 1.33GHz Intel Atom Z520 CPU and 1GB of RAM, so it's not exactly speedy even by netbook standards. We can't give you a full comparative rundown of how well the S7 compares with other netbooks; our review ssample came with a 32GB solid-state disk (SSD) and our labs need at least a 64GB solid-state disk to install WorldBench 6. However, over several cold boots, the machine loads Windows XP Home in 43 secs. When parked in standby, it's up and running within 5.3 secs. Firefox boots in 3 secs. In short, not bad for a tiny portable.

As for battery life, that's another question we can't fully answer just yet. Initial tests (running video and intermittent Word document manipulation) bought a little under 5 hrs of computing time. The company promises 9.5 hrs, or 7 hrs with just video playback.

Lining the Viliv S7 is a 1.3Mp webcam, plus headphone and mic jacks for all you Skypers out there. Two panel speakers alongside the screen project some seriously loud and impressive sound - from a netbook, no less. The only drawback: a slightly tinny, hollow feel to the audio. On the video side of the equation, a VGA-out comes built into the machine. Next to it, a dongle-reliant port for component video-out.

The Viliv S7 provides typical 802.11b/g Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 2.0 capabilities. Want to embrace wireless broadband? It supports optional wireless broadband (the SIM card slot hides behind the battery) and WiMax.

An SDHC slot lets you jack up storage if you want more than the supplied 32GB. While the Viliv S7 has only two USB 2.0 ports, it does have a mini-USB jack. Plug in the cable between your home PC and the S7, and the netbook automatically runs a simple file manager program to transfer data between machines. It took 1 min, 40 secs to copy 1.1GB of video files between two computers. No speed demon, but it sure is easy enough. That small software gem is as good a reason as any to mention the rest of the stuff crammed on board the 32GB hard drive.

Besides Microsoft Office 2007 bloat, Viliv drops down the Windows Live Essentials freeware suite and a host of little bits of software you'll rarely use. The Viliv S7's barebones browser and an odd-looking desktop shell are both better suited for tablet-mode browsing and use. Although a little rough around the edges, these tools tie into each other well.

Honestly, I was surprised. I expected some tech torture with the Viliv S7, but I find myself flipping up the screen and using it in odd situations: on the bus (to a couple of interested stares), at the local watering holes... and yeah, even sitting next to me at my desk. Admittedly a little imperfect, the S7 has the potential to become my digital sidekick. Tighten up the girth a little bit, and this could make a fine thumb-typing computer.

Viliv S7: Specs

  • 1.33GHz Intel Atom processor
  • Windows XP
  • 1GB RAM
  • 32GB SSD
  • 7in (1,024x600) swivel touchscreen
  • 802.11b/g
  • Bluetooth
  • WiMax
  • HSPDA
  • 2 x USB 2.0
  • 1 x mini-USB
  • Blu-ray HD video playback
  • 1.3Mp webcam
  • SD/SDHC Card slot
  • stereo speakers
  • battery life: 200 hrs (standby), 7 hrs (movie playback)
  • 210x117x26mm
  • 800g
  • 1.33GHz Intel Atom processor
  • Windows XP
  • 1GB RAM
  • 32GB SSD
  • 7in (1,024x600) swivel touchscreen
  • 802.11b/g
  • Bluetooth
  • WiMax
  • HSPDA
  • 2 x USB 2.0
  • 1 x mini-USB
  • Blu-ray HD video playback
  • 1.3Mp webcam
  • SD/SDHC Card slot
  • stereo speakers
  • battery life: 200 hrs (standby), 7 hrs (movie playback)
  • 210x117x26mm
  • 800g

OUR VERDICT

I should also mention that a couple of office fashionistas cooed when seeing its matching leather clutch carrying case. But at £709, it's pricey as netbooks go - and this one doesn't have much in the way of storage space to work with. We're waiting until we get final word on what exactly we can expect from the Viliv S7 - and we'll be sure to keep you posted.

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