ViewSonic ViewPad 10Pro £550
5th Sep 2011 | 08:20
Dual-boot Android 2.2 and Windows 7 on a slate tablet sounds clever, but does it work?
The ViewSonic ViewPad 10Pro has a confusing name, operates much like a Microsoft Tablet PC from years ago and, while the concept of a "dual boot" tablet sounds appealing, it actually just runs Android 2.2 in Windows 7.
However, the ViewPad 10Pro has a few interesting perks that could line up well with the needs of some users, especially those in a corporate setting. The most important one is battery life. The 10Pro lasts for over eight hours, which is twice as long as the first ViewPad model, the ViewPad 10s. That means, for mobile pros who need to run Windows apps and switch over to Android, the 10Pro will last all day.
The 10Pro weighs a rather jaw-dropping 893.5g and is 14.73mm thin. For those keeping track, that's nearly twice as heavy as the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, and almost twice as thin.
Still, this is a full Windows 7 tablet running the Intel Oak Trail platform – essentially an Atom Z670 processor that's fine-tuned for 1.5GHz performance and long battery life. With this chipset, you can install any operating system you want, including Ubuntu 11.04 with touch support.
There's one USB port that works with just about anything you can think of: external disks, keyboards and mice, a USB hub or even other tablets you connect to swap out files.
ViewSonic also offers a mini HDMI port for connecting the ViewPad 10Pro to an external monitor or to your HD TV.
With Oak Trail, you can expect to play full 1080p feature films without any stuttering or degradation in colour quality. More on that later, because it does seem to depend on which movie and where it is stored.
Unfortunately, the ViewSonic ViewPad 10Pro is extremely hard to recommend for most users. We live in a different age to 2004, when the Tablet PC tried to capture our attention.
Tablets must be thin and bright, designed for spontaneous movie watching and quick app downloads. The touchscreen must be highly responsive.
We have no patience for tablets that screw up screen resolution with elongated icons and videos. But even the login screen for the ViewPad 10Pro stretched the ViewSonic icon in portrait mode – it's butt ugly.
Apps in Windows 7 aren't designed for tablets at all, so there are constant operating system irritations. This, and the Android virtual app, is incredibly slow and barely even works correctly most of the time.
That puts the ViewSonic ViewPad 10Pro somewhere at the bottom of the pack – not even more useful than the Toshiba AT100, which is a low-end Android tablet in terms of overall quality.
Pit head-to-head against the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 or the Apple iPad 2, or even the 10-inch Acer Iconia Tab A500 and Asus Eee Pad Transformer, the 10Pro seems like a hybrid model with only one major trick up its sleeve – namely, running Android 2.2 as an app.
Worse yet, the ViewSonic ViewPad 10Pro is expensive. We tested a 16GB SSD version with 2GB RAM that costs $599 in the US, which is more than the base version of the Apple iPad 2 or the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1. There's also a $699 32GB version in that comes with Windows 7 Professional instead of Home Premium. Both versions come with Wi-Fi connectivity.
In Europe, however, there are two versions, which both come with 32GB SSD. One version has 1GB RAM and on has 2GB, and while one has standard Wi-Fi internet, one also offers 3G connections. They look set to be priced around £550 for Wi-Fi and around £600 for 3G in the UK.
The ViewSonic ViewPad 10Pro is a puzzling slate tablet right from the start. When you turn it on, if you're holding it in portrait mode, you'll see an elongated ViewSonic logo stretch on half the screen, along with the familiar Windows login button.
Once you log in, you'll see the familiar Windows start button, a few app icons (which you have to double-tap with your finger) and the taskbar.
The ViewSonic ViewPad 10Pro is also confusing because it doesn't really act like a tablet at all.
Like a Tablet PC (and that's really what this is), the apps are all designed for a computer with a keyboard and mouse. The touchscreen is quite poor – you'll find yourself pressing several times to minimise a window. You can press and drag a window, but good luck making that process work reliably.
The ViewSonic ViewPad 10Pro has a 1.3MP front-facing webchat camera, but there are no built-in camera apps or any way to capture video – not in Windows, and not in the Android virtual app.
The backlit 10.1-inch LCD screen looks like something from a few years ago. It's not that bright compared to the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, and the contrast ratio of just 500:1 means movies look washed out.
The 1024 x 600 resolution is just not clear enough for the modern age of touchscreen tabs.
The ViewSonic ViewPad 10Pro has a few typical tablet features: 802.11n Wi-Fi, 3G on the premium 3G version (in Europe), Bluetooth 2.1, a sensor for auto-tilt and ambient lighting, but no GPS for navigation or mapping.
The tablet is 14.8mm thick, which is just not going to work for most uses – it feels too much like a notebook computer.
There's also one full-size USB port, one mini HDMI port (we wish it was the more common micro HDMI), and a Micro SD slot. To use the HDMI-out, you need a mini-to-full HDMI cable. When we connected the tablet to a 20-inch LCD screen, the second display had a poor refresh rate and odd sizing.
You can use SD cards up to 32GB, and you'll need them: the 16 or 32GB of internal memory fills up fast with Windows itself, the junk apps you won't ever use and the Android data.
The ViewSonic ViewPad 10Pro also has a 3.5mm headphone jack, two speakers on the back and a two-cell 5000mAh battery.
There's a germ of an idea on the ViewSonic ViewPad 10Pro that makes sense. Why not use Windows 7 Home Premium for business apps (say, a CRM tool that requires Internet Explorer) with an Android overlay for the fine touchscreen control and Angry Birds series?
The Android 2.2 operating system runs in a window using the Blue Stacks OEM software, that enables you to switch between the Android and Windows interfaces.
This isn't an app you can just download and start using – it runs only on specific tablets such as the ViewSonic ViewPad 10Pro. As such, it's a compelling feature for those who need Windows and Android on a touchscreen tablet.
Unfortunately, this concept doesn't play out well. Android runs too slowly, for one thing.
The Linpack benchmark test scored it only 8.02 – far below every other Android tab. The Antutu app, which we normally use to test benchmarks on most Android tabs, wasn't available on the Amazon store.
That's another "feature" on the ViewSonic ViewPad 10Pro, too. There's an app for downloading Android APK files, with a handful of good apps such as Pulse.
There's no way to search for apps, though. Once you actually select an app, you're redirected to download the Amazon app store app. Then, you can search for one of many thousands of apps and install them, although Android seems blissfully unaware of the process.
Confusing? Yes. Switching back and forth between Windows 7 and Android 2.2 is fairly slick, though. The Android 2.2 virtual window loads quickly even if it runs apps extremely slowly.
And, because of how Windows memory management works, once you load the Android window and close it again, if you re-open the window later it loads even faster – in our tests, almost instantly.
ViewSonic also includes a full-screen interface that runs on top of Windows 7. The idea is sound: in Windows 7, you can touch large buttons to start apps. There's even a touch browser that worked well for touching large buttons that refresh the URL or move you forward and back.
The icons included with the Windows UI are all just links to Windows functions and the web browser. So, there isn't a Facebook app for the interface, the button just loads Facebook.com in the touch browser. Still, it's a novel attempt.
The user interface would be much more useful if there were apps you can download and use for it.
Android market and apps
App selection is just average on the ViewSonic ViewPad 10Pro – good, but not great. The ViewPad comes with a few apps for Windows 7.
One app called vsPresenter is designed for running presentations from the ViewPad, which is a logical use. The app functions about the same way as the Windows control panel for switching your display to the secondary screen.
Another app called ViewDraw enables you to draw anywhere on the screen and save the file. The idea is to use the app for annotating a presentation, but it also works well with the slate tablet.
ViewSonic also includes a management app that's essentially just a link to the Windows 7 functions you can find through the Start menu anyway.
Of course, the real draw here is the Android 2.2 operating system. A few of the included apps worked fine – we tested the Pulse news reader and the Twitter client, plus about a dozen other apps that were pre-installed, and they worked smoothly, if a bit slowly.
When we tried installing additional Android apps, however, the ViewSonic ViewPad 10Pro started having some serious problems.
We couldn't even install Angry Birds or the Wooden Labyrinth 3D app. Fruit Ninja failed to load. Oddly, in all of these cases, the download proceeds just fine and the install process completes, but an error appears stating that the app install failed.
This is because Android 2.2 is a smartphone operating system that has been retrofitted to work on a tablet, and here it's running in a virtual window. ViewSonic said it's working on the problem.
Judging the ViewSonic ViewPad 10Pro screen is a bit challenging because, in a side-by-side comparison, there's no way to pull up the same Android interface on another 10-inch tablet.
We had to compare the Android 2.2 virtual window on the ViewPad 10Pro to the Android 3.1 operating system on other tablets.
Still, the ViewSonic ViewPad 10Pro screen isn't that amazing.
Its 500:1 contrast ratio is partly to blame, but the real culprit is the screen technology. We're used to seeing AMOLED screens and IPS technology that makes a tablet viewable from almost any angle, in a bright and colourful resolution. The 10Pro uses older LCD technology and runs at just 200cd/m2. At an angle, you can barely see the icons.
Movies looked washed out – we tested several HD films including a 1080p rip of the movie Priest, and the screen was so dark that we could barely see that there was anyone on the screen.
In a side-by-side playback with the same movie running on the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, there was no comparison. The ViewSonic ViewPad 10Pro playback was too dark, with a poor refresh rate.
Testing large tablets like the ViewSonic ViewPad 10Pro reveals that currently in the tablet market, you have to go thin and light. Toshiba's recent announcement of a much thinner Android tablet proves the theory. The ViewPad is just unwieldy for anything but casual use, mostly at a desk.
That's actually one selling point, though. The brick-like lack of mobility at least means the tablet will stay flat on a desk and won't slip around.
ViewSonic offers a small dock you can use for propping up the tablet, and you can also connect a USB hub and then a mouse and keyboard. When you use the HDMI-out port to connect the tablet to a desktop display, the ViewPad 10Pro becomes a desktop PC.
Of course, slate PCs with this functionality have been around for years. However, it's handy to run Android 2.2 in a full-screen view with a keyboard and mouse. The only other way we've done that recently is with a Motorola Atrix smartphone. But the desktop operating system, once the tablet's docked, isn't actually Android anyway.
The tablets-as-desktops approach has some advantages, but not as many as we'd hoped. For one thing, few Android apps ran correctly. We'd imagined playing Angry Birds at a desk, then switching over quickly to Word and typing up a long document, then going back to Android.
Until ViewSonic figures out the app support problem, its ViewPad 10Pro even has limited appeal in a desktop configuration.
Media support is woefully lacking on the ViewSonic ViewPad 10Pro, at least for Android. Once you run the virtual window for Android, there's no way to play movies.
The Gallery app enables you to browse photos you've loaded. But the options for capturing a photo or video don't work because apps don't recognise the built-in 1.3MP front-facing camera, which is unfortunate.
In Windows 7, the Intel Atom processor, running at 1.5GHz, is up to the HD challenge. Movies played back smoothly and without any stuttering, with good audio quality using two rear speakers.
Music played using the Windows Media Player also sounded distortion-free with rich bass. In fact, the ViewSonic ViewPad 10Pro is a capable media machine in terms of the hardware specs in Windows 7.
The problem is that Windows 7 isn't designed for touch, despite what Microsoft tells you. When you play music in Windows Media Player, you'll find yourself clicking several times to play songs. There's no cover flow interface where you can quickly flip through albums to play the one you want.
And what about games? We tested those included with the tablet, which are those included with Windows 7, and most of the card games worked fine. But none of the Android games we downloaded, including Angry Birds and Fruit Ninja, would even install.
Movies we played over the HDMI port, connected to a 20-inch monitor, looked terrible. The refresh rate was too slow, so our test movies were unwatchable.
Worse, when we played a movie, the entire tablet started running slowly, so resizing in a small window while typing in Word didn't work either.
One of the weakest links on the ViewSonic ViewPad 10Pro is the built-in camera. For starters, it doesn't work at all with the Android 2.2 virtual operating system.
There's no bundled camera app at all, so to even to use the camera you'll need to add an app such as Windows Live Messenger. There's something archaic about this approach: the device seems blissfully unaware of modern times when people routinely use tablets to snap photos.
Photos we snapped with the Messenger app looked dark and unusable.
Since there's no camera app dedicated to touch control, using Messenger is awkward at best. There are no large buttons for quickly setting white balance or exposure.
There isn't an app that enables you to switch quickly between photo mode and video recording, either.
And, there isn't a touch app for editing recorded videos – you're stuck with Windows Live Essentials and the lame Movie Maker app.
What could ViewSonic have done to fix these problems? A proper camera app for Windows 7, that uses a touch interface, would have helped. Making the camera work in the Android interface would have also helped.
Using the touch interface to even browse through photos depends on the mouse-driven Windows operating system.
The somewhat ambitious "dual-boot" ViewSonic ViewPad 10Pro tablet misses on almost every count. It's not a great Windows 7 tablet and it's a poor Android tablet.
We certainly like the idea of a dual-boot tablet. This isn't it, because Android just runs in a window, but the concept of running business apps in Windows or Android apps would have made sense.
The ViewSonic ViewPad 10Pro works reasonably well as a media playback device, as long as you stick with Windows 7 and can put up with the LCD screen, which looked a bit dark and had poor contrast.
There are quite a few features for connecting PC hardware to the tablet, and vice versa. You can attach just about any USB device, and even other Android tablets. And, the ViewSonic ViewPad 10Pro connects to a desktop display using an HDMI cable.
The tablet also supports Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connections, and 3G internet on the premium version.
The speakers on this tablet, located on the back, are better than average.
Where do we begin? The ViewSonic ViewPad 10Pro misses on several counts.
The most important problem is that Android runs in a window, so this isn't really a dual-boot tablet.
Apps tend to run extremely slowly, few of them will install at all and the tablet runs the smartphone version of Android.
Android also has trouble with the built-in camera. In Windows 7, there isn't a dedicated camera app, and there are few touchscreen-enabled apps – only those few pre-installed ones.
Connected to a desktop display using HDMI, movies played with too much screen stutter and the refresh rate was too slow.
Even those few users who might benefit from having Windows 7 and Android on the same device will find some serious problems with the ViewSonic ViewPad 10Pro.
Android runs too slowly to be useful and apps didn't install. The screen is also too dark.
Overall, this is a tablet we can't recommend.