ViewSonic ViewPad 10e £199
17th Jan 2012 | 17:30
An ultra-cheap tablet for those who won't buy an iPad
The ViewSonic ViewPad 10e pairs what, at face value, appears to be an acceptable array of entry-level specs with a cheap and relatively cheerful shell to appeal to those not convinced by the iPad's much higher price tag.
Looking to steal a couple of market share percentage points from Apple, ViewSonic has forgone a number of core Android values when adopting Google's operating system for the ViewPad 10e, most fundamental of which is the overlooking of the now standard 10.1-inch display in favour of an iPad-mimicking 9.7-inch offering.
With the unwritten rule of the tablet market seeming to be 'if you can afford it, plump for the iPad', ViewSonic has looked to dramatically undercut the market leader in an attempt to win favour with the masses, jumping in at a low price with a very impressive £199 retail tag in the UK, and $399 cost in the US.
This is significantly cheaper than the entry-level iPad 2, which starts at £399, or $499.
The ViewSonicViewPad 10e is also cheaper than the leading Android tablets, save for the currently US-exclusive $199 Amazon Kindle Fire, and even ViewSonic's own 7-inch offering, the original ViewPad 7, which retailed at £300.
Sadly, as will all facets of the tech market, this low-end price tag does come with a number of device-hampering limitations, with a somewhat shoddy build quality combining with a number of lower-end components and weak specs to fulfill the old truism 'you get what you pay for."
While the ViewSonic ViewPad 10e does run Google's Android operating system, it isn't a true Android tablet.
Unlike a number of its roughly 10-inch Android tablet competitors, such as the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, Motorola Xoom 2 and the Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime, the ViewSonic ViewPad 10e doesn't run a fully certified version of Android.
Instead it opts for a slightly flaky version of the OS that means, among other things, it has no official Android Market.
Despite some hardware and software restrictions, ViewsSonic has done something with the ViewPad 10e that the likes of Apple, Motorola, Samsung, Sony and Asus have failed to do: get the tablet to market with a price that will appeal to the everyman, not just those with a hefty wedge of spare cash and a keen interest in tech.
Although a sub-£200 price tag can't counteract all problems, a number of the ViewSonic ViewPad 10e's issues can be overlooked when you consider the device's price compared to its competitors - a trait that will no doubt be adopted by a number of consumers looking to enter the tablet scene.
Having replicated the iPad's 9.7-inch form factor, ViewSonic has taken further design hints from Apple's tablet when crafting the plastic-backed ViewSonic ViewPad 10e.
Lining up at just 9.1mm thick, the ViewSonic ViewPad 10e is a mere 0.3mm thicker than the iPad 2, a difference barely noticeable when the devices are viewed individually, but one that keeps the ViewSonic tablet's near-perfect replication of the iPad 2 dimensions safely on the correct side of complete patent infringement.
While its form factor might be quite similar to that of the iPad, the build quality of the two devices is a world apart. Although some plastic-backed Android devices have come in for criticism due to their lack of structural rigidity compared with the aluminium hewn iPad, the ViewSonic ViewPad 10e takes this to new, painfully low levels.
Despite a good feel in the hand with the 620g weight well balanced throughout the device, the ViewSonic ViewPad 10e is let down by a number of large design and construction faults.
The join between the locked plastic back plate and plastic outer frame leaves a sharp and uncomfortable join where the two meet that repeatedly catches your fingers. But with very little pressure the frame pulls away from the side of the LCD display, leaving edges of the 9.7-inch screen unveiled.
Although the ViewSonic ViewPad 10e's 9.7-inch XGA LCD screen is touted as sporting an impressive 1024 x 768p resolution, boot the device up to the home screen and this seems a farcical overestimation.
Images appear grainy, with dull colours and a frankly ridiculous Ask search bar that looks likely to have been plucked as an unmodified afterthought from a browser from the last decade.
In truth, however, under further inspection the XGA offering does provide strong image quality that is let down by the poorly-constructed faux Android home screen. When viewing images and streaming videos, colours are crisp, with a wide viewing angle enabling users to work around the direct line of sight limitations of some devices.
Where the ViewSonic ViewPad 10e's display struggles, however, is in changeable light conditions. With no light sensor offering auto dimming options, on-screen content can become drowned out by bright artificial light or become difficult to make out in darker settings.
Moving on to the processor: a 1GHz Cortex A8 CPU paired with 512MB of DDR3 RAM shows its age, with commands taking some time to be acknowledged, often causing quite a stuttering fuss when they finally kick into life.
With just 4GB of internal storage, the incorporated microSD slot is key to this budget tablet's success. With the expandable storage enabling you to fully use the device's music and multimedia players, the option to upgrade to an increased capacity via a cheap memory card helps make the hardware hampering entry-level price tag appear even better value.
Featuring few physical buttons, the tablet's edge is well-used, with a micro USB connector and 3.5mm audio jack featuring on the top of the device, enabling easy file transfers and music playback.
With physical volume controls neatly nestled atop the ViewSonic ViewPad 10e's left side, the only other physical button, the power and unlock switch, is poorly designed and infuriatingly difficult to use.
Farcically small and fiddly, the power button is represented by a small plastic nubbin that needs to be slid and released to lock or unlock the tablet. Removing any ease of use, the button sits almost flush with the frame, resulting in perhaps the device's most important button creating more frustration and irritation with every use.
Interface, performance and battery
Due to its lack of full Android certification, the ViewSonic ViewPad 10e is missing the sleek interface and selection of experience-enhancing Android applications found pre-loaded in the likes of the Motorola Xoom 2 Media Edition and the Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime.
When it comes to the ViewSonic ViewPad 10e, the user interface is a two-pronged affair fought out between the options of acceptable mediocrity and completely awful. The lack of necessity in offering two varying user interfaces is further compounded by the distinct lack of effort put in to the 'Launcher' option.
A crass copy of its unlicensed Android 2.3 Gingerbread base, the Launcher UI has taken a bare minimal approach. The only addition to the basic, untouched, unrefined Android foundation is a dire Ask search bar, which appears to feature less than half the image resolution of everything else on display.
The second UI option - the bespoke ViewScene 3D UI - is more refined, with 3D widgets providing a more high-end and professional feel that makes the £199 price tag seem like a steal. There's little judder in its transitions between the numerous home screens.
A quick access tool enables you to view content and shortcuts across all seven home screens simultaneously within a 3D panning mode, accessed simply by swiping a navigator at the base of all home screens.
Falling between the beginners market and the tech-savvy fans of bespoke UIs, ViewScene 3D is an acceptable interface for a device that costs £200 less than an iPad 2 but would struggle to be first pick for a more renowned and high-profile product. Due to the hardware limitations, it often takes a considerable amount of time to access.
Set to appeal to all user needs is the ViewScene's ease of use and ability to fill the selection of home screens with a variety of app shortcuts and live widgets offering updatable information on the weather, news and calendar alerts.
Sadly for those looking to use the ViewSonic ViewPad 10e as a long-term device, there has been no clear updates plan announced for its already dated Gingerbread innards.
One Android feature that has remained the same across the board from fully-certified smartphones and tablets to those that are less officially endorsed is the trio of Android navigational buttons.
On the ViewSonic ViewPad 10e this collection of touchscreen controls is a little unresponsive, with a lag between pressing and seeing a visible reaction causing you to constantly second-guess whether your command has been acknowledged.
Once again going down the road of needless duplication, these controls are repeated on an unattractive and unresponsive bar across the top of the screen while in a number of applications, and across home screens and menus.
Despite a number of hardware restrictions, there are a few areas where the latest ViewSonic tablet comes into its own. While audio played through the device's 3.5mm jack is relatively unremarkable, the tablet's inbuilt speakers pump out sounds far superior to what the £199/$399 price tag would suggest.
Exceeding expectations, audio played through the integrated speakers is surprisingly crisp, with little distortion or reverb when played at higher volumes.
Like a selection of the leading smartphones, given a full charge you will be lucky to get a full day's use out of the device. Unlike its tablet counterparts, however, the ViewSonic ViewPad 10e will run from full to flat after just a couple of hours' heavy use. Furthermore, left on standby following a brief spell of activity, the battery will continue its fast drain, running flat within three days.
While lower performance levels are to be expected on a device that features a price tag less than half that of the market leader, for a tablet designed for portable use, the longevity of its battery is of primary importance and an area where costs shouldn't be cut.
Another negative mark for the ViewSonic ViewPad 10e's battery is that the device can't be charged by its USB port. With the majority of smartphones and tablets - Apple devices excluded - now featuring a universal micro USB charging port, the ViewPad is behind the curve.
It features the correct connection but fails to use it as a source for power replenishment, instead opting for a frankly ridiculous and rather chunky power adaptor - although this does provide a slightly speedier way of juicing up your device.
Given the tablet's questionable battery life, this lack of USB charging means any multi-day jaunt, tablet in tow, will see you needing to take yet another charger - a frustrating and somewhat unnecessary hassle.
Bringing the ViewSonic ViewPad 10e back down to reality is its camera. Opting to forgo the near-standard rear-mounted snapper, a 1.3MP CMOS camera on the front supplies poor, grainy images, with truly terrible light management giving most shots an unwanted hue.
Internet browser, apps and games
Headed by an oversized address bar, ViewSonic has used the navigational space of the ViewPad 10e's browser poorly, with an awkwardly positioned and unnecessarily small back button the only navigational tool on offer.
With no ability to skip forward to a recently viewed page or even refresh the one you're currently on, the need to download a replacement browser will no doubt be top of many users' to-do lists.
While the browser loads pages in a respectable time, just marginally slower than the iPad's Safari browser and the offering found on the Motorola Xoom 2 Media Edition, the ViewPad struggled to render images quickly when zooming in on content, creating stuttering.
A major bugbear of the ViewPad's browser is its keyboard. An unpleasant affair that's poorly scaled, the on-screen QWERTY lacks a number of essential shortcuts such as a dedicated '.com' button - a simple yet affective feature that saves the tiresome repetition of entering the most-used URL suffix. This poor keyboard means another trip to the device's app store is required, to download a replacement.
With the lack of Android certification meaning no access to the official Android Market, app downloading responsibilities fall to the Android-aping 1Mobile Market, a simple but effective alternative that offers the majority of applications most users would require.
Although the 1Mobile Market might not be as sleekly laid out as the official Android offering, its insistence on offering only free to download content makes it a perfect addition to a device that's key selling point is clearly its sub-£200/$400 price tag.
Featuring fewer bells and whistles than the official Android Market, the 1Mobile Market is not without merit. A designated 'AppLinks' tab on the app outlet's homepage offers well catalogued app groupings based not on the usual genres (this feature is available elsewhere in the store) but by a selection of current events and popular topics.
Covering a wide variety of personal tastes and potential search options, AppLinks hosts selections of apps ranging from the "Loosen Up!" group - a host of strange, silly app-based games - to the "Amazing Asia" collection - a collaboration of the best apps for Asian-inspired wallpapers.
Another area the 1Mobile Market excels in is its expansive offering of games. While the ViewSonic ViewPad 10e's ageing 1GHz processor does at times struggle to open app-based games in a prompt and timely manner, once open the tablet has little issue handling the large-scale programs. Graphics render well to ensure fluid images with little motion blur or stuttering.
Far from the finished Android tablet that would appeal to the hardened tech fan, the ViewSonic ViewPad 10e does just about enough to appeal to its budgeting target audience, with its impressive £199/$399 price tag a redeeming factor for some but not all of its downfalls.
Thin, light and pleasant in the hand, the ViewSonic ViewPad 10e is, for the most part, a well styled tablet that ticks all of the boxes in terms of portability and first impressions aesthetics. Despite being poorly pieced together, the black plastic exterior even suits the device.
With a screen that offers extremely wide viewing angles while displaying crisp, vibrant images, the tablet is more than capable of being a personal entertainment hub, with its speakers providing impressive audio that far exceeded expectations.
What appeals most about this entry-level device, however, has to be its price tag. At just £199/$399, a £200/$100 saving over the lowest-specced iPad 2 will be too hard to overlook for many entering the tablet market for the first time. And for that money you could do a lot worse.
Having Google's fully-certified Android operating system installed on the ViewSonic ViewPad 10e as opposed to the rehashed copy that actually features would bring more credibility to the tablet and offer a much smoother, more functional and better-looking user experience.
Elsewhere, poor construction further highlights a number of design faults exaggerating their troubles. Top of this quite expansive pile is the device's power and unlock button. A seeming design oversight, the button is infuriating to use, bringing down the mood of excitement as soon as the tablet is out of the box and providing disappointment before it's even turned on.
Sputtering its way through standard task requests, a dated CPU and ill-implemented software ensure that a smooth, pleasant user experience is always just out of reach, with each redeeming quality quickly offset by an equally infuriating stumbling block.
By far one of, if not the best-looking budget Android tablets on the market, the ViewSonic ViewPad 10e has traded a sleek, ultra-thin form more reminiscent of its higher-end competitors for basic function. Having compromised on a number of key components, primarily the uncertified Android operating system, smooth user interaction is never quite on the cards.
While to achieve such a low price point we know some corners must be cut, such poor craftsmanship to the point where the screen is easily coming free from the frame is inexcusable, no matter how much money it saves.
That said, for just £199/$399 the ViewSonic ViewPad 10e is a well positioned entry-level tablet for those looking for the latest plaything and little else. While it might struggle with more taxing tasks, chances are that it'll come up against them on very few occasions.