ViewSonic ViewPad 10s 3G

The ViewSonic ViewPad 10s comes in two variants, the Wi-Fi only or the 3G version. We managed to get our hands on the 3G version of the 10-inch Android tablet looking to bring entertainment to the masses, with the added bonus of keeping you connected on the move, thanks to the integrated 3G radio.

We were relatively impressed with the build quality of the, albeit under-powered, ViewSonic ViewPad 7 that we saw in 2010 - solid construction rimmed with a metal band that had a sort of Apple elegance about it. The same, unfortunately, can’t be said about the ViewPad 10s. The ViewPad 10s is cheap in materials and construction, using plastics throughout to pull the device together. The tablet measures 275.5 x 178.5 x 14.5mm, giving a rather wide bezel around the screen. It weighs 730g, which is fairly substantial for this type of device.

The expansive plastic back of the ViewPad 10s has a hollow feel to it and is flexible when you put pressure on it. It’s a far cry from the sort of premium feel you get from Apple’s iPad and at £329 for this 3G version, you’re most of the way towards iPad prices (starting at £399, Wi-Fi only). The ViewPad 10s Wi-Fi will set you back £279, which still sounds like a fair whack, considering the likes of the Advent Vega is only £250 for a similar device when it comes to tech specs.

It’s a shame that ViewSonic couldn’t ape the design of the ViewPad 7 in some way, or bring some of the official Google certification that the smaller device has. As we’ve seen a number of times before with Android tablets (from Advent, Archos, Creative, etc.), the ViewPad 10s comes with Android 2.2, but misses out on the Google endorsement, so that means no official Gmail, Google Maps, Contact, Calendar, Android Market…

It’s one of the biggest sticking points for Android tablets at the moment. For some, getting their hands on a powerful tablet to then hack wide open and fill with unofficial Android goodness is part of the fun: despite the size and the power on offer, the ViewPad 10s is still cheaper than the likes of the Samsung Galaxy Tab or the forthcoming HTC Flyer, but as we’ve already mentioned, there are some even cheaper rivals out there, including the reasonable offerings in the Creative ZiiO range.

Without a complete Android offering, the ViewPad 10s does feel slightly hobbled. Android apps can be hunted out online, from the bundled App Centre (which itself sometimes redirects you to the Android Market, which you don't have), or sourced from various other websites like GetJar but the experience is far from compelling. Hopefully the Amazon Appstore (when it hits the UK) can gather enough pace to provide a reasonable alternative that all these non-Google devices will benefit from.

ViewSonic haven’t left you completely high and dry however. On first turning on the device you’ll find that you are greeted with a note on the display saying that the tablet has already been optimised for Adobe Flash. This is something of a concession as it does open the door for a more complete internet experience and in truth the browser isn’t too bad, being a stock Android browser. However, the message is rather finite: it goes on say “Please don’t download and install any other Flash Player from various website” [sic], which also leaves you wondering whether you’d be able to update Flash in the future, should the need arise.

The browser is, however, a far cry from the tabbed goodness of the Honeycomb browser in Android 3.0, but there are other browsers you can try, like Skyfire or Dolphin, which offer a little more functionality given the space you have to play with. At least, as standard, Flash video does work in the browser, so you can head over to some sites and watch what you like, such as from Channel 5’s Demand 5 service. BBC iPlayer is Android 2.2 happy, so you’ll be able to watch BBC video, although the quality isn’t the best once you jump it up to the full screen size.

In terms of software, beyond the basic addition of Flash Support, ViewSonic have done little to enhance the ViewPad 10s. Perhaps that’s what we should expect on a budget tablet - you get email and calendar apps and Fring, but beyond that there is nothing of real value to enhance the offering. The music player is the default basic Android player and anything else you might want to do will need to be sought out from various app stores as already mentioned.

Like other devices of this ilk, the ViewSonic ViewPad 10s acquits itself as a large, capable, media player with some skill, even if it lacks finesse. The powerful Nvidia Tegra 2 chipset provides you with adept graphics handling and the dual-core 1GHz processor, with 512MB RAM, cuts through common formats of video, offering smooth playback of your HD content - DivX HD and MPEG4 included.

It’s a shame, then, that much of the native offering the ViewPad 10s is let down elsewhere. Video play back may be good, but the Gallery app in Android was subject to frequent crashes, as was the browser, so navigation was frustrating. The screen too, at 10.1-inches with a resolution of 1024 x 600, offers a rather low 117 pixels per inch and isn't bright enough for outdoor viewing. The viewing angles are poor too - place the tablet flat on the table and you often won’t be able to clearly see what is on the screen. It is capacitive, however and we found it to be responsive enough to our touches, although the mentioned software foibles mentioned will sometimes make it appear unresponsive.

Control is a little fiddly. Unlike the ViewPad 7, which had the normal four touch controls in the bezel like a mobile phone, the ViewPad 10s doesn’t. There are some hard buttons around the edges, but the majority of your control is going to be via the home, back and menu buttons that reside on-screen in the notification bar at the top. These are rather crude in appearance, especially compared to the simplicity of Honeycomb, the Android OS designed for tablets, which is much neater and practical, especially when dealing with things like full-screen video.

The control problem is slightly compounded by the dubious collection of buttons. The power button doubles as a home button, rather than a standby button, so if you want to put the ViewPad into standby (i.e., screen off) you have to long press the power button and select Suspend - perhaps it is better to adjust the display settings to knock “Screen timeout” down to 1 minute, from the default 10 minutes. The same menu offers Silent mode and Power off: it’s unconventional, but also a little impractical when you just want to throw it into your bag.

Other hard controls include an orientation lock so you can fix it to landscape or portrait, but the switch is hard sharp plastic, so it feels pretty nasty when you come to use it. Finally you have a back button and a volume rocker is on the side. So overall, you have a collection of hard and soft buttons to navigate around your device and it all feels a little awkward.

In terms of connections, the ViewPad goes beyond many other tablets, which might account for its somewhat bloated dimensions. You get a regular 3.5mm headphone jack, as well, on our version, a slot for a SIM card on the top. Hiding under a flap down the side a three more connections: a slot for the microSD card you’ll use to expand the memory over the 512MB on-board (a 16GB card is provided), a full sized HDMI, offering you HDMI mirroring and finally a full sized USB, a rarity on tablets.

There is no Micro-USB which is altogether irritating, and as such you’ll find that charging takes place through a regular DC input, and the regular connection to a PC isn’t an option. There is also a dock connector on the bottom of the device, although we found no associated cable in the box. As such, the most common method of loading the device with content will probably be to remove the card and add content directly from a PC. No provision is made for streaming content, so if you have videos on your home server you want to watch, you’ll have to find an app to stream them.

The interesting thing about this range of connections is that you’ll be able to connect USB devices to the tablet and using the bundled iFileManager you’ll be able to access files on those devices. However, we had mixed results at this, the software often refusing to index the drive and needing to be restarted to get it going again. We also tried direct connections to another Android device and a digital camera, but the ViewPad refused to recognise they were attached. 

The settings menu offers the option of enabling a USB camera and there is a camera built into the bezel above the screen. This claims to be a 1.3-megapixel camera, but on the superfine settings only gave us an image that was 320 x 240 pixels and of extremely low quality. Low resolution video capture is also offered.

The addition of the 3G radio means that potentially the ViewPad 10s can keep you in the picture on the move, although you miss out on many of the benefits you’d get if you had chosen, for example, a Samsung Galaxy Tab with its full Android experience. We also encountered problems connecting to the mobile network over 3G, despite it showing a connection - a better option would be to invest in Mi-Fi and then you have a portable hotspot for all your devices. Battery life is nothing to get excited about offering up a cited 7.5 hours.

Verdict

The end result is a tablet that only really feels comfortable browsing the web and watching video, and then accepting that crashes are more frequent than they should be in these areas and the screen could be better. For some that might be acceptable, but despite being asked to pay a little more than you might elsewhere, there is seemingly little to get excited about. The ViewSonic ViewPad 10s, overall, isn’t particularly stable as a software build and the feel of the tablet in the hand isn’t that good either, making it difficult to recommend.

 



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