You like the idea of a tablet, but you also don't want to ditch you notebook, after all tablets aren't that cheap. So what's a gadget hound like yourself to do? Well Viewsonic believes the answer is a dual boot system that lets you have your cake and eat it, but is it really that simple? We went hands-on at IFA to find out.
The premise of the Viewsonic Viewpad is simple. It's basically a dual boot Windows 7 and Android 1.6 powered tablet that when out and about lets you go Google and when you want to do some real work boot up Windows. Before we get to usability, it's worth ticking the specs box to tell you what you actually get.
The ViewPad 100 has a 10-inch LED, 1024 x 600, capacitive display and is powered by an Intel Atom N455 1.66GHz chip, with 1GB of DDR3 RAM. There is a 16GB SSD on board, and you can add a further 32GB of storage using the microSD slot. It has also got two USB ports and a mini-VGA output for playback on your big screen.
Those USB sockets are powerful enough to support a keyboard and hard drive - handy when you're in Windows 7 mode. On the connectivity front your are offered Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and GPS and there is also a G-sensor. A 1.3-megapixel webcam is present for video-calling and overall the size and weight isn't that much bigger or heavier than the iPad.
On the software side of things you get Windows 7 Starter edition and Android 1.6. It's Android 1.6 rather than 2.2 because according to Viewsonic, Google doesn't yet support the hardware set-up in the tablet with the later versions of the mobile OS. Whether that means it will be upgradable in the future and if the company will supply this upgrade is a different matter.
In use and the Android 1.6 offering is a vanilla one with Google Android doing what it does best just on a bigger screen than your average smartphone. Of course 1.6 comes with its limitations - like no Wi-Fi hotspot creation or Adobe Flash player 10.1 support to name a couple of headline features. That said, the OS makes good use of the specs that it has, with the Android side of things being nippy.
Fed up of Android? The ViewPad 100 offers to switch OS at the press of a button. You can't live switch mind you, and you'll have to shut down one to boot up the other. In the pre-production prototype we got to play with that meant running through the bios start up and choosing the boot option. It's incredibly ugly, incredibly geeky, and luckily Viewsonic are aware of this. Come launch, you'll get a smooth graphic-based option with you just having to press a big on-screen button.
Fire up Windows 7 and you'll be presented with the desktop that you know and are familiar with. There is touch support, but our initial experience wasn't great. We struggled to select windows and open applications - but this is just like the desktop implementation of Windows 7 touch rather than the fault of the Viewsonic ViewPad 100. Thankfully you can plug in a keyboard and mouse and work it from there.
We weren't able to load many apps up, our time was brief, but we can tell from the specs that this isn't going to be a work horse that will be able to multitask with much skill. Think netbook and you'll be on the right lines, which brings us to why you would want such a device in the first place.
If you're going to use it as a netbook why not just get a netbook?
Six months ago there were no tablets on the market, now you've got to offer something different to stand out from the crowd. For Samsung and its Tab that is a 7-inch offering that is well built, fast and powerful. For the Viewsonic ViewPad 100 it's the idea that you'll be able to mess around with Android and the apps that it offers when you want something quick and easy to use, and Windows 7 for when you actually need to get work done.
Add in a keyboard and mouse and you start to see that power and usability come through, but then you've suddenly turned your £550 gadget into something you were trying to avoid in the first place. We've seen dual-boot Android/Win 7 netbooks and again didn't really see the appeal due to the clunkiness of operating Android without full touch support. This is a different twist. Some will like the fact that they can run their mobile apps, but also fire up fully-featured Windows 7 applications.
It will be interesting to see how the final unit performs when it turns up in October, but for now, like the Viewsonic ViewPad 100 we are undecided.