The Misadventures of Quinxy truths, lies, and everything in between!

Viliv S10 Blade Review

I highly recommend that anyone with a Viliv S10 Blade install Windows 8!  The experience is far better than it is with Windows 7 (though still only good, not great).  I wrote up a guide to installing Windows 8 on the Viliv S10 Blade, it explains the tricks you'll need to do to get wifi and other things working.


Wanting the iPad form factor but not wanting the limitations an Apple product represents, I went with the Viliv S10 Blade, a Windows 7, Atom processor-based PC in a 10” screen tablet convertible form factor. It is roughly the same height and width as the iPad, but twice as thick, and 50% heavier. This is no iPad killer, but it's not meant to be. It is instead a fully capable PC in a pleasingly iPad shape. I've been using it for three weeks now and I must say it's a very good device, and if the right software were to come along to address its software-based shortcomings this could truly become great.

The machine I bought is the 2 GHz model, 60 GB SSD, no WWAN, with Windows 7 Home Premium for $1127 from Dynamism.

Hardware

I must confess my first impression of the computer at the time of unboxing was that the case felt a little cheap. The plastic they used, or perhaps its construction, feels a little unsatisfying. When you pick up the unit the case creaks like a floorboard in my dead grandmother's house. It even creaks when your palms press against the top as you type. You just don't expect that in a device which cost as much as this one did. I've been able to move past it and not let it get on my nerves, and in fact the longer I've had the S10 the better I've felt about its aesthetics and construction. It may make unnecessary creaking noises but otherwise feels solid.

Switching to and from tablet mode is a typical convertible tablet affair, and the screen hinge feels solid. Some people had written in reviews that the lack of a latch to secure the screen in place on the screen was a problem, but I'm pleased to say I've had no problems with it.

The keyboard is solid. I was struggling with my previous netbook's keyboard, which had almost no action and routinely failed to register 20% of my keystrokes (the keys would bind if my fingers were a little off center). I can type on the Viliv's keyboard for hours and hours and be quite happy.

The multi-touch supporting touch pad is good, but its buttons are lousy. The rocker design they use for the mouse buttons is unfortunate because it requires quite a lot of force to depress, and the force required depends on how far you are away from the fulcrum. And that wouldn't be awful if there was some tactile indication that the click had been registered, but instead you just have to press until it seems like the button won't go any further, which is a problem when the plastic they use is creaky. It's not a fatal flaw, but you may find yourself using a bluetooth travel mouse more than you would if the buttons were more satisfying.

One of the truly most bizarrely confounding issues is that you can never leave the device in tablet mode between uses! No buttons, not even the power button, are accessible in tablet mode! You therefore need to lift the screen up almost all the way to expose the power switch located at the top of the keyboard just to turn the unit back on. This is a truly unfathomable decision. With this one simple design decision they guaranteed that no one would ever mistakenly compare this device to an iPad.

Similarly annoying for tablet users, all of the lights (power, sleep, hard disk, battery, and wifi) are inaccessible in tablet mode, since they are right next to the power switch, and covered by the display. And when you're in non-tablet mode if you're anything like me you'll find yourself annoyed by the blue wifi light. It flashes every time a network packet is sent or received! The little light is almost dead center in your field of vision and it's blinking a million times a second, which is truly annoying! There is no way to turn it off in BIOS, Viliv Manager, or elsewhere! After a week or so I've learned to look past it, but there were moments when I was seriously considering covering it with a strip of electrical tape.

The screen is quite good, bright and clear, with a native resolution of 1366x768. I haven't been bothered by the thin lines I've heard some others complain about, the resistive touch screen wires. The high resolution is a huge benefit over traditional netbooks.

The resistive touch screen performs well, and supports an under-utlized three point multi-touch. While you can pinch to zoom this just uses the zoom implemented by the native application, like Firefox or Internet Explorer. Because of processor slowness or the operating system or something the zoom is not “real time” which makes it very awkward. I try to zoom in but because nothing happens right away I am always going to over or under pinch, and because the zooming isn't smooth but done in whatever increments Firefox/IE are using it's just clumsy and not worth the trouble. I don't doubt multi-touch can be useful, and will be useful, but for right now it's really not. I also tried the Microsoft Touch Pack applications but performance was so poor that it's not worth the trouble.

The biggest problem with tablet PCs which do not use an active digitizer is that you can't rest your palm on the tablet surface as you would naturally expect to were this a piece of paper on a table. Without this, writing on a capacitance (like the iPad) or resistive touch (the Viliv) isn't entirely natural. My hand tires easily when it is suspended above the screen as I try to write. I would have hoped with the multi-touch design of this tablet that they could create software that would be able to ignore the touches associated with a palm resting on the screen. I would have thought software could make reasonable decisions to ignore certain touches which it could reasonably conclude were from a palm (based on placement and activity). I have begun to experiment and see if I can create such software.

Wifi reception is very poor. On my iPhone I'll have four wifi bars where my Viliv has only one. I went to a cafe the other day that I've taken three other wireless devices (two other laptops and my phone) and never had a problem. But my Viliv kept getting and losing the signal, making it impossible to use the network. I've been using the S10 for about two weeks now and while the reception issue is definitely real, it's only been a show stopper in one or two locations, in which case I have to get internet via my tethered cell phone. You can always get a little USB wifi dongle to work around those occasions, it'll only set you back $20.

Battery life is good, and could approach the 10 hours claimed, assuming you are reading an e-book or doing something else not very CPU intensive, but I'm seeing about 4-6 hours in my real world conditions. I've never run it completely down, so I'm guesstimating based on the displayed percentage, which is probably a poor measure. The battery readings on this device can be a little odd, presumably the calibration is off. For the first 30-45 minutes my battery still reads 100%. It then begins a fairly normal decline. The battery reading when you subsequently plug in the computer seem to be artificially low. I'll have 60% battery life, plug it in and then suddenly my battery is reporting 10%; this could have nothing to do with charging and may instead be an issue with the battery number being wrong after awakening from sleep, I'm not sure. I've also seen it not seem to update the reported % during charging, lingering at 30% for an hour or two, then suddenly being 100% the next time I use it.

One concern I had before getting the S10 was the 1 GB memory limit. I had bought another netbook a few months ago and found it initially sluggish until I installed an additional 1 GB memory. So being limited with the Viliv to 1 GB was a reasonable concern. While I'll never know how much better the S10 might be if I had 2 GB of memory in it, I can say at least that the speed of the S10 is generally good (I have the 2 GHz model). I have adopted somewhat radical approaches to keeping the system in check, which I'll post in my follow-up on S10 and UMPC customization/configuration.

The inclusion of an SD card slot is great, but oddly placed. It's on the front, and this would be fine, but it pokes out just enough that I have quite a few times found the card had ejected itself on my journey to and from places, when it's been in its case. I have also accidentally ejected the card myself a few times when I've been typing, body a little contorted, on my couch. Since I use the SD card for ReadyBoost, it's not ideal to have it ejecting itself at undesired moments, but aside from one system freeze that seemed related, it's not a real problem.

Software

The Viliv S10 Blade is limited more by its software than its hardware. While most of the limitations are related to the operating system and not Viliv, I believe quite a bit more could be done by Viliv to unleash the full potential of this platform. I'll cover this in greater detail in my next article on Viliv/UMPC customization/configuration. For the moment I'll just focus on a few of the basic items.

Viliv did little on the hardware side, such as power button placement, to make this device feel like a tablet; they should have supplied software that made this device more touch friendly.

FastWeb and VilivPlayer

The token attempts Viliv made to deliver customized software for this form factor are mostly unsatisfactory as delivered. For example, they included a few custom applications which were clearly meant for other devices. They include a browser called FastWeb and a media player called VilivPlayer, but both were intended to run only in landscape mode at a resolution of 800x600. They run fine in other orientations, but it rather defeats their purpose of being touch friendly. What they should have done was made FastWeb and VilivPlayer scale to a larger screen or made them temporarily alter the resolution and rotation while you use the applications. They did not. Nor have they given you any easy way to change the resolution or rotation when in tablet mode. Frustrated by this serious oversight I created the FastWebLauncher and VilivPlayerLauncher which changes your resolution and rotation, then restores your original resolution and rotation when you exit the applications. You can get these when you download the free Besiex Touch Pack.

The most basic thing you might want to do with a tablet is easily rotate the screen and/or change the resolution. But in tablet mode there is absolutely no easy way to do this, and in non-tablet mode only rotation is easy to change with a hotkey. Typically tablets use a button or accelerometer to make these things easy. I was so frustrated by these glaring omissions that I spent the better part of a day writing some little executables needed to quickly change between resolutions and orientations. I've made these available when you download the free Besiex Touch Pack.

The included Viliv Soft Keyboard is anemic. The buttons seem a little too small to accurately press, and to my mind the layout is less than ideal. A better option might be the third-party solution provided by Comfort Software's On-Screen Keyboard using one of the UMPC keyboard layouts. I'm still not quite sure how much better it is, though. Typing is better, but I'm getting double presses, delays, and their keyboard is not always appearing when and how it should. I may still need to adjust the configuration. I hope I can resolve those problems, because it would be much better than the Viliv one, and the Windows 7 virtual keyboard requires using a stylus.

Conclusion

The Viliv S10 Blade is a very capable tablet PC and with customization and configuration I don't doubt this can truly be a great device. I recommend it for anyone who expects to like it out of the box or those willing to put some work into customizing their experience of it.

As a happy Viliv owner and software developer who would like to see the Windows tablet form factor live up to its potential and at least approach the easy navigation of the iPhone and iPad I'm hopeful more and more software might become available to improve the tablet experience.

I'll do my part and release the free software I develop for my Viliv, which will hopefully help others with the Viliv or other UMPC and tablet PCs.

Download my free Viliv/Tablet/Touch software improvements/customizations

Send me feedback and I'll try to improve things.

^Quinxy

Comments (7) Trackbacks (0)
  1. I’ve also just gotten a Viliv S10 and really like the device, keyboard is probably one of the best i have seen on a Netbook and the touch screen is extremely accurate.

    I’m also having thr wifi issues and also HSDPA has the same issue unfortunately.

    I do have a question, how can i enter the BIOS? i have looked in the manual and on the web and cant find what key to press on boot to enter BIOS.

  2. I’m afraid I don’t know which keys gets into BIOS, I just got in by mashing every possible key (ESC, F1 – F2, F8 – F12, DEL, INS, BRK); one of them worked.

    I strongly recommend you try out my free helper apps for the Viliv, which will let you change resolutions/rotations easily, and also will auto launch the FastWeb and VilivPlayer in the right resolutions/rotations. I’ll be adding some more in the next week to address some other things I wish was easier. And I’ve also got an update on my ExactTouch touch screen helper thing, while my screen is accurate, I still miss with some clicks. If you have any feedback or anything you’d like, let me know. I’m trying to help the Viliv succeed.

    Q

  3. BIOS key is Delete, this and other details can be seen by pressing tab immediately after power-on.

  4. I have been using one of these since April 2010 (S10, 64GB SSD, 1.6GHz, 3G model) and struggled for months and months with regular BSOD’s and driver reliability issues. Crashes were frequent (>6 times a day a one stage) and almost resulted in me throwing the machine out of the window of my car on many occassions. Persistance has paid off though, thanks to regular Windows 7 updates and the latest s/w updates from Viliv. I have never managed to isolate the issue completely, but BSOD’s were commonly associated with using the trackpad in MS Office. The Viliv Manager program also is very suspect until v2.0.7 seemed to fix most (not all) of its stability issues. Windows 7 Service Pack 1 is a must install to improve stability.
    Recently stability has improved to around 1 BSOD a week – not fantastic, but way better than it started off with and confirms that my issues experienced are more likely s/w based and not a h/w fault.
    The S10 is a nice tablet netbook with excellent battery life. I use it for business so can’t comment on battery life when using it to watch movies, etc. It is an Intel Atom based netbook so expect glacial performance when comparing to a full notebook or desktop PC. I tried readyboost a while ago with a fast SDHC 4GB card and did not notice any improvement (actually seemed like more BDOD’s at the time) and I’d put the performance issues down more to the capabilities/limitations of the Atom CPU and the SSD in this device. 1GB of memory also hampers multi-tasking in Win 7. Again though, this is a netbook and using it like a notebook will always disappoint – it will be slower, but shouldn’t crash like my Viliv has many times.
    As per the review, the case creaks and tablet mode hides the power button, etc. Sleep mode was unusable for ages (always a BSOD when resuming) but now this feature works fine 90% of the time. The other 10% of the time I have the system resume but the screen still off. Sometimes a press of the spacebar will fix. If that doesn’t fix it, then a Windows key, right arrow x 2, and enter combination will send the S10 into hibernation, which you can then recover. Painful yes, but a workaround at least.
    The USB ports are also recessed too far for some devices to plug in fully.
    Would I recommend the S10 to others? In a word, no. Why? From my experience, the reliability issues of my S10 are its Achillies heel. It doesn’t matter how many positives it has going for it when it has poor stability. Support from Viliv = none, or next to none. The download page on its site hasn’t been updated for ages. Next time I will look at an ASUS or other brand that seems to offer more support with drivers, etc.
    Note: Australian users looking for mobile broadband. Don’t bother with the 3G model as Telstra don’t support it and you’ll be stuck like me using one of their USB modems or tethering your mobile. Don’t know about other carriers, nor do I care as I live and work in rural areas.

  5. Jason

    Thanks for the review and thoughts. Yeah, it’s sad, I’ve pretty much stopped using my Viliv S10. It felt like a poor tablet, a horrible laptop, or a decent but insanely overpriced netbook. The only things about it I can say I truly liked was the keyboard and the battery life. Everything else, not so much. The main complaints being that the mouse buttons were criminally unusable, the touch screen far too inexact to be useful, and the system responsiveness highly variable (most likely due to the painfully limited memory). Now I use a $250 Barnes & Noble Nook Color running CyanogenMod 7 (Android 2.3 Gingerbread) for what I had hoped and expected to do with my Viliv S10, namely: browse the web, listen to music, check email, etc. Unlike the Viliv S10, this little device works! I never wait for it to finish whatever it’s doing in the background, never wait for it to turn on or boot up, never wait for it to realize I multitouched the screen. It’s a shame… The S10 could have been great, only it wasn’t.

  6. Almost one year on since my comments on my S10 and everything I’ve said is still the case. I’m still using this device for work 6 days a week. I am only persisting due to the high price I paid. With all of the negative comments I’ve made on reliability, I must say that the physical aspects of this tablet PC has taken daily use and abuse quite well indeed. All ports, keys, buttons, and the trackpad still work fine. The battery still gets me through a solid day & evening of work. The screen has no dead pixels.

    But:

    – It still crashes at random – varying from a couple of times a day to once/twice a week.
    – No update has fixed the problem – only reduced it.
    – Wi-fi reception is poor.
    – SSD performance is terrible – 5MB/sec in a lot of cases when running tests! Yes, trim is enabled and there is plenty of free space available.
    – Trackpad button is not nice to use at all. Bluetooth mouse much better. Wireless mouse even better again as you don’t always have to keep waking the wireless mouse up by jiggling it.
    – USB ports as mentioned are too recessed for some devices. Keep a USB extension cable handy.
    – 3G Modem was a waste of money – not supported in Australia with Telstra who insist you must use one of their USB modems – unless of course you have an iPad, because Telstra will support them. I guess the S10 Blade has 4G capability if I upgrade my USB modem… at least it’s on par with the new iPad whose built-in modem also isn’t compatible with Telstra’s 4G network.
    – The lock on the battery compartment can unlock with general handling of the tablet. The result is an instant-off and all data lost when the battery breaks contact.
    – The SD card slot is too easy to accidentally eject.
    – Tablet mode I don’t use as it’s too cumbersome with Windows 7.
    – Touchscreen I use every day with work using a customised Access database.
    – Multi-touch – never utilised. Simply too slow to respond. I have an iPhone 4. This is how the S10 should respond to multi-touch gestures – it doesn’t and never will.

    Why do I keep using the S10?

    – It runs Windows. I need MS Office/Access – no exceptions.
    – I did buy an MSI u160 netbook 6 months after the Viliv S10 due to the S10 being so unreliable at the time I needed something.

    MSI u160 vs Viliv S10:

    MSI is:

    – Much, much faster CPU. Celeron SU2300 is no speed demon, but compared to an Atom Z530? Whoah!
    – 2GB RAM = multi-tasking Win 7 is bearable.
    – 320GB 2.5″ HDD leaves the Viliv’s SSD for dead. 50MB/sec is slow on this drive. Very nice.
    – 11″ 1368×768 screen. Nice, same resolution as Viliv, but more readable due to 11″ screen.
    – Nice keyboard, though big keys can take getting used to after Viliv keyboard.
    – Wi-fi actually has reasonable/good reception.
    – It doesn’t crash to a BSOD regularly. It has happened once when updating a driver.

    But MSI:

    – Has no touchscreen.
    – No Bluetooth to my surprise when trying to connect a Bluetooth mouse.
    – Much bulkier due to 11″ screen.
    – Battery life is around 4-5hrs. I can’t work if battery dies in the field and I can’t wait around to recharge.
    – HDD is not an SSD. I don’t like moving HDDs around that aren’t solid state.

    I still use the Viliv S10 daily for 3 reasons:

    – It has a touchscreen. No. 1 reason.
    – It’s battery life.
    – It’s size.

    One more reason is the time required to transfer (software and work files) over to a new device.

    The Viliv S10 is a love/hate relationship.

    I love the size, the touchscreen, and the battery life.

    I hate the reliability (software), performance (CPU and HDD), and lack of manufacturer support.

    If Windows 8 does not fix the reliabilty of the S10, then once something comes along that beats it in all areas, the S10 will be history.

    The Samsung with the active digitiser touchscreen looks good, but they are too expensive. Lesson learnt with the Viliv S10.

    The offerings from ASUS are ok, but still run on Atom platforms – too slow.

    Hmm, an iPad that runs Windows… or Windows that runs on an iPad like device with an x86 compatible non-Atom CPU and has iPad like responsiveness with Windows compatibility…

    Meanwhile back to reality, the S10 is still letting me complete my daily work, in a slow and often unstable way.

    The Viliv S10 reviewed in one-word: AVOID.

  7. Anyone with a Viliv S10 Blade should install Windows 8, it makes a big difference, though the S10 experience is still far from perfect. I wrote this guide to help people get wifi working, update the video driver, and a few other important things: http://quinxy.com/2012/11/15/installing-windows-8-on-the-viliv-s10-blade/

    Q


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