The ViewPad 7 is a bit on on the heavy side compared to rival tablets, though its flat glossy black and silver trim are reminiscent of the iPhone’s new industrial look
The Android OS is generally easy to use, though there’s no set up process to take you through loading on your email and social network accounts, which could make it difficult for first time users to get to grips with
The ViewPad 7's three-megapixel camera and low-res display disappoint, while the HTML browser doesn't support Flash video. But at least you can make calls
Despite packing higher-end capacitive screen technology, we often experienced lag on the Viewpad’s touch-screen
The ViewSonic ViewPad 7 has a pretty mediocre battery life compared with other Android tablet devices
Review by Sunetra Chakravati,12/12/2011 3:59:53 PM
Look and feel
Ease of use
Slick design, runs on Android 2.2, can make phone calls and send texts
Laggy touch-screen, low-res display, slow A-GPS, browser doesn?t support Flash, expensive for its specs
Tablet, tablet, tablet. It’s the buzzword of 2011, and the trend that has everyone from mobile to PC manufacturing like the busiest of bees. Viewsonic, primarily known for its monitors, is part of the first wave of device launches, with two tablets out already. The Viewpad 7 is an Android 2.2 gizmo with all the extra tasty features of that particular version of Android, but can it stand up to the tablets already on market?
The iPad has been accused of being an oversized iPod Touch, but if something were to emulate a giant iPhone 4, it’s the Viewpad 7. Its squared corners, flat glossy black and silver trim are reminiscent of the iPhone’s industrial new look, though instead of a singular ‘OK’ button, there are the classic Android four: Menu, Home, Search and Back. At the back is a three-megapixel snapper, while a 0.3-megapixel front-facing camera lets you make video calls. Power-wise, it’s fairly middling, with a 600MHz CPU, an unimpressive 512MB of on-board memory, and no bundled memory card. The 1024 x 600 pixel screen isn’t very sharp or bright, and though on paper it comes off as an entry-level tablet, its £400 price tag is on par with better specced devices. It’s designed to be used in landscape orientation, and the home screens are locked, despite an accelerometer that will reorient most other screens depending on how you’re holding the device. The power button sits on the left, along with a small speaker, while the 3.5mm audio jack and miniUSB charger port sit on the base. The microSD and SIM cards fit into a discreet slot up top, next to two buttons for volume up/down. It’s not the most minimalist of devices, and its 377g weight feels pretty hefty. Unfortunately, that glossy front and back is inordinately prone to finger smudges. Luckily, it comes with a sturdy leatherette carry case that keeps it safe from your grubby mitts, and it fits snugly in, just like a book in those dust jackets of yore. The case doubles over so you can use it as a media stand.
Starting up the tablet takes about 30 seconds, which is quite a long time for this type of device, especially as it runs on a barebones version of Android 2.2 aka Froyo. Unlike fellow seven-inch Android tablet, the Samsung Galaxy Tab, there is no custom interface, and only a couple of preloaded apps. There are four customisable home screens where you can add any combination of shortcuts, widgets, favourite contacts and web links. It’s pretty intuitive, though there’s no set up process to take you through loading on your email and social network accounts and the Gmail address required to use the phone. Granted, once you try to use any app like the Android Market or Gmail you’ll be prompted to add one, but we would still have liked to see a set up screen to help first time users get to grips with actually using the device. You can send texts and make phone calls with the Viewpad 7, and though you could hold the tablet up to your face, Viewsonic has bundled in an earphone set instead. A small microphone in the base of the device picks up your voice, though we found call quality echoey on both ends. At seven-inches, the screen is a decent size for on-the-go video, though the low resolution means HD content doesn’t look great. The player supports MPEG4, H.264 and H.263 video, but not the increasingly common DivX in which most online video is now downloaded.
Despite packing higher-end capacitive screen technology, we often experienced lag on the Viewpad’s touch-screen. In the browser, there’s a lag of around a second, and we had to press harder for input to be recognised than on the Galaxy Tab or Apple iPad. As you’d expect then, the virtual keyboard won’t exactly make you want to fire off email sagas. In landscape orientation it’s quite hard to type comfortably and the keys are overly large. We had to resort to a two finger tapping method. The smaller keyboard in portrait orientation fared better, but the touch-screen really isn’t responsive enough for fast typing, nor is the auto-correct very, well, correct. To be fair, a device this size isn’t optimised for T9 writing, and apparently a Swype keyboard will come with the next firmware update. For the uninitiated, Swype is an incredibly intuitive way of predictive typing that involves dragging your finger across the keyboard and connecting letters to spell a word – and it works great on tablets.
Gmail is usually the highlight of Android devices, but there’s a slightly different interface here. Gmail on Android 2.2 has the same priority inbox feature as the desktop versions, and so it is on the Viewpad 7. But when you compose a new message, tapping on each text field takes you to a different screen, rather than allowing you to type your message on the same screen. A small thing perhaps, but it makes the whole process clunkier than it has to be. And unlike other Android devices, the browser doesn’t support Flash video, the format you’ll find on news sites such as the Guardian. You can still play YouTube videos, which will open up, in a separate app, so unless news videos totally rock your boat, you probably won’t notice the lack of Flash too much. As we mentioned, there isn’t too much added value from Viewsonic here, though one preloaded app of note is Aldiko, an ereader and ebook store. The store is divided into many – almost too many – categories, some of which are slightly obscure. ‘Free public domain books’ or ‘high school reading’ anyone? It’s no Apple iBooks in terms of elegance, and it doesn’t really stand up to Samsung’s far more comprehensive Reading Hub portal. One last note, though it’s preloaded with Google Navigation for driving directions, we found the A-GPS very slow to fix in central London.
Compared to its near doppelganger, the Galaxy Tab, the Viewpad 7 is really not worth it. For £100 less, you get a slower device with a less responsive touch-screen, low-res display and a browser that doesn’t support Flash. Though the Viewpad 7 is reasonably usable and intuitive, it’ll only stack up worse as increasingly capable tablets are released this year.