Viewsonic ViewPad 10s £279.99
18th Mar 2011 | 16:48
Will this Android-toting 10" tablet right the wrongs of its predecessor?
Viewsonic ViewPad 10s: Overview
There is a ludicrously thin 9.7-inch shadow over tablet releases at the moment. The iPad 2 has landed, and we judged it the best tablet yet. However, that doesn't stop the march of Apple's competitors.
We first saw the ViewSonic ViewPad 10s at CES, and we quite liked it. However, we also remember the pitiful excuse for modern electronics that is the ViewPad 10 (Note the lack of 's').
Fortunately, the ViewPad 10s has much more in common with the Motorola Xoom than it does its own predecessor, packing in Nvidia's Tegra 2 system on a chip for power. It actually beats Moto's great tablet in one area: Flash is included for internet browsing.
That means twin 1GHz ARM processor cores and powerful graphics capabilities, backed by 512MB of RAM, which should keep Android 2.2 running smoothly on the 10.1-inch 1024 x 600 display.
The ViewPad 10s is very similar in build to the Tap UI-totign Hannspree Hannspad, but while the US-only Viewsonic G Tablet has that same overlay, the Euro-zone 10s has vanilla Android 2.2.
The Hannspad features nearly identical specs to the ViewPad 10s, right down to the multi-touch capacitive touchscreen, so we were interested to compare the two.
The ViewPad 10s also features HDMI output at up to 1080p, 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 2.1 and a microSD card slot. This last feature is vital, since there's only a few megabtes of built-in memory. A 16GB microSD card is included, but it instantly puts it behind the Hannspad, which had 16GB built in, which could then be expanded further with a memory card.
There are twin speakers on the back, for blasting out all those Flash videos, or your other movies and music. On the front is a camera, rated at 1.3 megapixels. There's no rear-facing camera, which could disappoint some.
There's also a full-size USB port, along with a 3.5mm headphone jack. No HDMI or USB cables are included in the box, and headphones are absent, too.
The ViewPad 10s is on sale for just under £300.
ViewSonic ViewPad 10s: Features
Good news! We get to talk about what a tablet looks like without constantly comparing it to the iPad. The ViewSonic ViewPad 10s is a modern tablet that doesn't look like Apple's creation.
Well, it's still got the black bezel, we admit, but the overall shape brought to mind the Samsung Galaxy Tab instead when we first picked it up.
The first thing you'll notice is that the bezel appears extremely thick. Certainly, it's pretty hefty in its own right, but what really makes you notice the size is the lack of any buttons or branding on the front.
With no visual distractions, the pure blackness of it really stands out. The only blemish is the small front-mounted camera hole.
The back of the device is glossy black plastic, to match the front visually. It feels nice and premium in the hand, but is a bit slippery. Cunningly, to mitigate this, there's a small, nearly imperceptible ridge on one side.
If you're looking at the ViewPad in landscape, with the camera at the top, this is on the left side, making it slightly easier to hold and then operate with your right hand. It's a small addition, but the details count when it comes to something that spends all of its time in-hand.
The actual build quality isn't quite as tidy as the materials used. The back bends in without much pressure applied, but it feels like a light drop wouldn't do it too much harm. There's a little panel on one edge of the tablet's rear that looks and feels as though it should open up to a port, but actually doesn't open at all. It's just there.
Speaking of ports, we're blessed with several of them on the ViewPad 10s. On one of the short edges (on the right if you hold it with the ridge in your left hand) sits the 3.5mm headphone jack, the charging port and a really fiddly cover. Under the really fiddly cover is a microSD card slot, a full-size USB port and a full-size HDMI port.
That's right – no expensive new cable connectors needed to get your ViewPad hooked up to your TV, just any old HDMI cable. Viewsonic spoils us.
Also on this side is a volume control, while just around the corner on the device's top edge is a multi-purpose on/off/Home key and physical rotation lock switch (always a nice touch) and a physical Back button (which we'll explain the need for later).
The last physical feature worth mentioning is the proprietary dock connector on the bottom. Well, we say worth mentioning… nothing in the box uses it, so unless the accessories industry really takes off for Viewsonic, we're not sure it'll ever get any use.
Each of the edges of the devices are quite pointy where the plastic rim meets the screen, but you don't tend to notice this when holding the tablet normally, only when picking it up.
The US-version of the 10s, the Viewsonic G Tablet, runs an interesting Android overlay called Tap UI. We saw Tap UI in action on a finished product first on the Hannspree Hannspad, and we were impressed with the way the software hid just enough of Android 2.2 to really make the most of a tablet's screen space.
The ViewPad 10s doesn't do that. This final version has scaled back on it drastically, with Tap UI's bar at the top - featuring software buttons for Home, Menu and Back - but none of the other Tap UI features.
These three options are missing from the front of the device, but Back and Home are catered for with the buttons around the edge of the ViewPad.
Why? Well, the custom UI is scaled back so far that it's back to stock Android apps, some of which go fullscreen without the bar at the top sticking around (they're designed to be used on phones with real buttons, after all). To get out of these apps, you'll obviously need to hit one of the physical buttons.
The menu bar with the Home, Back and Menu buttons in is a solution similar to Android 3.0, but beat it to market. Generally, it works fine, though it can have some performance pauses (as detailed on the next page), and the notifications bar functionality can get in the way of presses.
The slightly useless notifications on offer in the full Tap UI are replaced by the normal Android pull-down bar, which is a distinct improvement, even if you do trigger it accidentally every so often.
Whereas the full Tap UI had a specially designed screen for widgets (which wasn't very good) things are rather more free here. Five fairly normal Android Home screens are available, with various widgets on offer, and more can be downloaded.
Just to be clear, you don't download those new widgets from the Android Market. This isn't a Google-certified device, so no Gmail, no Google Calendar and no Market.
There is an app store, though. The App Center is a fair stab at recreating the eclectic Android Market without Google's support, but just can't match it for scale. It also can't match it in some other, more important areas, such as official Twitter or Facebook apps. Actually, any Facebook app at all. Oh dear.
Viewsonic has foreseen this disadvantage, and actually provides a page on its website with links to APK files for Twitter, Facebook and Angry Birds, among others. It's a nice idea, but who (other than reviewers doing research) is going hunting in the 'Resources' section of the Viewsonic website? Either preload them properly or make it more obvious, Viewsonic.
That said, it didn't do us a lot of good anyway – Angry Birds and Twitter both failed to install correctly, and so promptly deleted themselves. Facebook survived, though.
Another good thing that's come from not using Tap UI is that the normal Android browser is in use, with all the blistering speed that entails. A custom version of Adobe Flash 2.1 is installed, much to the Motorola Xoom's chagrin, no doubt.
As far as media goes, the ViewPad 10s supports up to 1080p playback of H.264, H.263, DivX and Xvid for video, while music formats including AAC, MP3 and Vorbis are catered for.
ViewSonic ViewPad 10s: Performance
When we reviewed the Hannspree Hannspad, we noted that the usefulness of its Tap UI overlay was crippled by a combination of a poor touchscreen and occasionally sluggish operation.
The two seemed to very much be linked, so we were hoping that a better touchscreen and tweaked OS could result in a more compelling experience.
We sort of got what we asked for, but not in the way we wanted.
The touchscreen is an order of magnitude better here than the Hannspad's, that much is clear. In fact, it's just about on a par with all the tablet big boys. Typing was nearly impossible on Hannspree's offering, but is perfectly fine on the ViewPad (though the keyboard layout takes a bit of getting used to).
So what about those tweaks to the interface? As we said on the previous page, 99 per cent of the OS is stock Android 2.2, leaving the bar at the top and the App Center as the last remnants of what we liked so much about the Hannspad's interface.
Again, though, that's not an entirely bad thing. More flexible widgets, more Home screens and the notifications bar are all welcome. The browser in particular is stunningly fast.
Flash video was very strong, just as it was on the Hannspad. While we saw it struggle on many single-core 1GHz phones when first introduced, Flash video has been fine on the LG Optimus 2x, Hannspree Hannspad and now the ViewPad 10s. It's pretty safe to say that dual-core power was necessary to get it working smoothly.
However, the problem remains that there's a lack of touch-friendly controls for Flash players, so it can be fiddly to get things playing perfectly on-screen.
There are plenty of bad points from the changes to the UI, though. The music player doesn't have the clever windows that spread across the screen, while the default Gallery app gets rid of the menu UI bar, so you'll have to resort to the hidden physical back button. A clear, unified OS vision this ain't.
When the Tap UI overlay completely hid Android on the Hannspad, we could forgive the lack of Google apps, since it didn't feel like an Android device. But here it does, so we're lumbered without the real Android Market, no Google Maps and a Calendar that only accepts Exchange accounts. It doesn't present itself well.
Strangest of all is the on/off key. It seems like it should be a lock key, but it's actually designed to be a Home key, as we mentioned. If you want to lock the screen, you need to hold the key for two seconds, bring up the menu and choose 'Suspend'. But don't hold it for four seconds! That turns the thing straight off. We don't know about you, but we reckon just a simple lock key would have been in order here.
However, the UI inconsistencies are only a minor part of the story. They're annoying, but they're not the biggest OS problem. It pauses. A lot. When it's going, it's fast enough, but it frequently just doesn't do anything for a while.
What's particularly annoying about this is that it queues up commands during that time. If you tap the Back icon at the top-right of the screen, it may not do anything for a few seconds. There's no visual feedback on those added menu buttons, so you'll inevitably assume you missed it the first time, and tap again. And again. And then they'll all catch up, firing you back several screens.
The first time this happens, it's a bit annoying. Eventually, it becomes infuriating. The Home screens do the same thing, with you swiping several times before anything happens, at which point you skip several screens to the right or left.
The music player is perhaps most obviously a phone interface holdover – the sheer volume of wasted space is just ridiculous. It's functional enough, though, and the built-in speakers belt out music better than they do voice.
There's one major problem the ViewPad 10s has that so many cheap tablets do. The viewing angles on the screen simply aren't good enough. It's better than the appalling display on the Hannspree Hannspad, but not by a huge marging, and remains an area that can really spoil the tablet experience.
It negates the point of tablet's as a place-anywhere, social computer. Want to show a group of people something? You'll all be crowding for that sweet spot.
Video playback was excellent, just as it was on the Hannspad. 1080p video played back smoothly, in supported formats, and it looks great when viewed straight on – just not from anywhere else.
The HDMI mirroring also works well. It has little effect on performance, and our range of standard definition, 720p and 1080p videos all worked fine. There was a problem where they refused to play once, but a restart solved it.
The speakers are easily drowned out or muffled when your lap, but are OK most of the time.
Battery life generally isn't that great. In one 24-hour period of typical, quite light use, the battery fell to less than 50 per cent. Like the Hannspad, it simply uses too much battery in standby mode.
It's also a bit finicky when charging. It refused to do at all on one wall plug, and once we got it working, it wouldn't believe it was no longer charging.
The built-in camera isn't bad, with even soft orange lamp light in the evening producing a good enough image for video calling on the included Fring app.
The USB port is a funny old thing. Plugging a USB stick into enabled us to browse the files using the pre-loaded iFileManager app, which is superb. It played videos over the connection fine, though it threw a hissy fit at music in formats it's fine with when they're on the microSD card.
However, it steadfastly refused to connect to our PC. Which makes getting your media onto the device something of a massive pain. Frankly, if we had to choose between being able to connect the tablet to our PC or USB storage to the tablet, we'd choose the former.
ViewSonic ViewPad 10s: Verdict
Once again, a promising Android tablet crashes on the jagged rocks of poorly optimised UI and performance problems.
After the advent of the Motorola Xoom, we're left convinced that anything before Android 3.0 won't cut it on tablets without heavy customisation, so being served an Android 2.2 tablet with minimal tweaking, we're left unimpressed.
While we happily admit that the price is pretty compelling, there's currently a window to pick up the original iPad for less than £50 more, which undermines the value argument somewhat (even if it isn't permanent).
The touchscreen is nice and responsive, which is always a good first step for tablets.
The video playback is great (save for the screen's problems), and the HDMI mirroring was good, too. USB hosting is always a nice feature to see, as well.
It's got good build quality and design for a budget device, too.
16GB of included storage is fine, but we'd prefer it was built in, rather than on a microSD card, since it means you're limited to a maximum of 32GB (with a 16GB card left knocking about).
The modified UI of teh G Tablet has been scaled back so far as to be nearly pointless, which reveals the folly of tablets based on the phone version of Android (and that goes double for those without Android Market or other Google apps).
While it's generally fast, the frequent pauses are hugely annoying. They happen so often that it really does get in the way of the experience. The fact it won't connect to a PC over USB is also a major irritation.
The screen's poor viewing angles are also really disappointing, and the battery life just isn't up to scratch either.
The ViewSonic ViewPad 10s doesn't come across as a tablet catastrophe, but decent internal specs simply can't match up to an experience with cut corners and a lack of optimised software.
It doesn't stand up as a budget machine against the likes of the Advent Vega just below it in price or original iPad just above it (while it lasts), and in terms of overall experience it's just not even fit to gaze upon the iPad 2 or Motorola Xoom.