Viewsonic VSD220 £279
3rd Jan 2013 | 17:14
A monitor-come-Android-tablet combo for all your computing needs?
Touch technology has assimilated all manner of mobile devices. Phones, tablets and latterly laptops with tablet-convertible functionality, it's all powered touch technology.
But what about desktop devices? Windows 8, of course, offers a properly developed touch interface for any compatible device. But does touch really work on the desktop?
And what about Google's Android operating system? Might that be a goer on the desktop? Enter the new Viewsonic VSD220.
Not only is it a touch-enabled 22-inch PC monitor. It's also a fully functional Android device complete with the 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich revision of Google's operating system, wireless connectivity and 8GB of flash memory. And all for just £330. Sounds like a steal.
Check out our video walkthrough...
The most interesting part of the Viewsonic VSD220 package is the Android fucntionality. The enabling hardware starts with optical touch technology with support for multi-touch.
Then there's a a TI OMAP4 processor. It's not exactly the fastest chip in Christendom. Many smartphones have more powerful CPUs. By it chugs along at a respectable 1GHz and sports two cores.
As for memory, we're talking 1GB of RAM and a further 8GB of flash memory for mass storage. Storage expansion is amply catered for courtesy of three USB ports and a MicroSD slot.
As for networking and connectivity, b/g/n Wi-Fi is built in, as is a physical ethernet adapter and Bluetooth 2.1. There's a camera, too, for video call duties.
In short, it's a full function Android machine. Compared with a typoical smartphone only lacks GPS, which would obviously be redundant for a desktop dwelling device.
On the software side, Viewsonic has gone with Android 4.0.4, a version of Ice Cream Sandwich. So a fairly recent build, but not the latest Jelly Bean variant.
The screen itself is a pretty routine affair based on TN panel technoogy. It's 22 inches in diagonal and offers a full-HD 1,920 x 1,080 pixel grids. Nothing special for a 22-inch PC monitor, but a hefty resolution by Android standards.
Viewsonics claims regarding panel performance are par for the TN course, albeit the more modern, capable examples of the breed. Contrast comes in at 1,000-to-1 while pixle response is rated at 5ms.
If there's one area where the Viewsonic VSD220 falls short as a monitor, it's connectivity. There's just a single micro HDMI input. In practice, that's fine for most PCs. You can use a DVI-to-HDMI converter to connect to any PC with a DVI port. But it doesn't make for the most flexible monitor.
What to make of the Viewsonic VSD220 as an Android device? Unfortunately, it's hard to avoid drawing the conclusion that it's a little clunky.
Much of that is down to the combination of the mediocre TI OMAP4 dual-core processor and the large 1,920 x 1,080 pixel grid. It makes for frequently sluggish performance and occasionally painful slowdowns.
That applies to everything from demanding web content and third party apps to some of the native Google apps. Even Google Maps feels fairly reluctant.
But even with a more powerful processor, things wouldn't be perfect. For starters, Android Ice Cream Sandwich may not be ancient, but it does feel dated and unfinished.
It also makes for an unsatisfactory browsing experience. Web pages that are capable of detecting mobile operating systems based on browser technology immediately assume you're viewing on a smartphone or tablet and serve up a dumbed down experience.
Admittedly most allow you to switch to the full desktop version. But even here, pages are scaled up as they would be on a tablet. In other words, despite 22-inch diagonal and generous resolution, web pages feel cramped and the scaled-up images are blurry.
There's no support for flash video, either, which doesn't exactly boost the browsing experience. The app experience is patchy, too.
The iPlayer app, for instance, simply doesn't work, stalling at the point of video load. Some apps can behave oddly when it comes to screen orientation, with some elements only running in portrait mode, which isn't much use.
It's a shame, because the screen itself is reasonably responsive and accurate. Overall, there's just enough that works well enough to give a glimpse of what could be a nice little desktop machine for light use, perhaps on a kitchen counter top.
The virtual keyboard, for instance, is great inputting web URLs and short emails, even if you wouldn't want to compose anything truly significant.
The fact that it's Android also means you can slap on your favourite apps – or at least the ones that don't depend on GPS functionality.
For the most part, the Viewsonic VSD220 is a conventional 22-inch TN panel in the modern idiom. That means colours are rich and saturated and the overall image quality is good.
It performs well enough in our test images, with little evidence of compression in either black or white scales.
Admittedly, IPS technology makes for better colour accuracy and viewing angles. And PVA panels have significantly deeper blacks. And by TN standards the pixel response is pretty ordinary.
But this is a pretty decent panel overall. HD video content looks lovely and games look great, too. The recessed bezel housing the optical touch kit doesn't detract from the experience, either. Just bear in mind that with the touch capability comes a glossy, somewhat reflective surface and, inevitably, dirty finger marks.
On the subject of touch in the context of the Viewsonic VSD220's PC monitor capabilities, it's worth noting that it's compatible with Windows 8. However, the usual reservations apply when it comes to optical touch screens and Windows 8.
Using gestures that involving swiping in from off the edge of the display are problematical due to the raised bezel.
The Viewsonic VSD220 Smart Display has an awful lot going for it. £330 might be a lot for a 22-inch PC monitor. But when you factor in the Android functionality along with support for Windows 8 touch, it's a compelling package.
At least it is on paper. In practice, performance in Android mode is often painfully slow. It's just not a remotely pleasant device to use for web browsing or frankly much else. It's not an ideal touchscreen for use with Windows 8, either.
We really want to like the Viewsonic VSD220 Smart Display. It's a great concept that promises a lot and just occasionally delivers.
But it needs a faster processor and an upgrade to Android Jelly Bean at the bear minimum before we can fully recommend it. The wait, therefore, continues for the ideal touch-enabled desktop device.