There's a saying in tech that when it comes to buying the latest computer you should always spend as much as you possibly can to make sure you get something that will last you as long as possible.
But with tough economic times ahead, that isn't always possible. The ViewSonic ViewPad 10e, available for just £199, seems like a fantastic way to have your cake, eat it and still have plenty left over. But is it money well spent or will you be angered by the corner cutting? Or, is this the best deal on the market?
The ViewSonic ViewPad 10e sports a 9.7-inch TFT-LCD (1024x768 XGA) capacitive touchscreen. It is surrounded by a black bezel that features three touch sensitive buttons for menu, home, and back.
The front also houses the tablet's only camera; a 1.3 megapixel offering designed for video calling rather than taking pictures of things you see, but we don't see that as a bad thing. People who take pictures with their tablets are a strange folk anyhow.
Flip the ViewPad 10e over and you reveal a rather uninspiring matt black back complete with ViewSonic logo that fits in with the whole "budget" label ViewSonic has given this tablet. The device is thin (241.6 x 188.6 x 9.1 mm), so budget here doesn't mean ugly and fat, and the build quality is certainly better than many devices we've seen - including HP and it's phone and tablet offerings in the past; yes HP Pre, we are talking about you.
The main action happens on the top edge of the Android tablet. You get a power in (there is no USB charging supported), micro USB connector for side loading content from your PC, a headphone jack, mini HDMI out to connect it to a TV, and a micro SD card slot for expanding beyond the internal memory.
Android, or is it?
ViewSonic's approach to the 10e is that you are getting it for a price that is considerably cheaper than the Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime for example, and there is a reason for that. The big difference with this tablet, over rivals, is the software. Asus, for example, runs software which is 100 per cent certified Android, from Google, the ViewSonic ViewPad 10e does not. Ah the wondrous joys of Android, certification, fragmentation, and being able to run the operating system without the 100 per cent approval of the company that makes and creates it.
That means that you won't get the official Android Marketplace. You can load it on, if you are clever, via nefarious means - but it is a lot of faff though. As a result of all this, you won't get all the Google apps pre-loaded as you might expect.
Before you panic and put aside any urge to buy the ViewPad 10e at all, for some it won't be as bad as it sounds. ViewSonic get around the sticky problem by pre-installing a third party app store called 1Mobile Market.
We looked through this alternative app store, and it seems to have most apps. But not all. There is, for example, no Skype or RockPlayer, but there is Angry Birds, Dropbox, Dolphin, and others that you'll want. The 1Mobile Market store also offers all the standard Google apps, so you can, after a couple of minutes of downloading, be up and running very quickly with the likes of Gmail, Google+, and Google Reader.
You can also download, via a browser, the Amazon App Store, and between the two stores you should be able to get apps you need. The Amazon App store has Skype for example, as well as lots of games, but like 1Mobile Market there are holes. Downloading Tiny Tower via 1Mobile Market didn't work and Amazon doesn't list it - shocking.
ViewSonic also goes some way to giving you some apps pre-loaded like Amazon's Kindle app and a movie player. Without doubt, however, you're going to need to start getting on those third-party stores to beef-up your collection of amazing apps.
Our suggestions are: download a better keyboard (we recommend Swiftkey), download a browser that won't crash on you every couple of minutes - either try Dolphin or Firefox - and get Gmail on pronto if you plan to the ViewSonic for email.
If the lack of Google certification will worry you, then you'll likely be even more disheartened to see manufacturers still putting Gingerbread on their tablets. With Google having explained that this version of the OS is unsuitable for large-screen devices, it's fairly concerning to see it still happening.
While some manufacturers, like HTC, can just about get away with older versions of the OS, due to the heavily customised interface, ViewSonic doesn't. It has tried, but it's not pretty. And the upshot is, you're running what basically amounts to a 9.7-inch phone, with phone software, without the ability to make phone calls.
It also means that you don't really get to benefit from the screen size to the same extent as you would if the 10e was running Google's dedicated tablet software - Honeycomb or the newer Ice Cream Sandwich. Gmail looks awful, for example.
Ice Cream Sandwich
ViewSonic acknowledge the lack of a tablet operating system on a tablet. It has confirmed to Pocket-lint that the 10e will be getting an upgrade to Ice Cream Sandwich in February 2012. But again, like the current OS (Gingerbread, Android 2.3), it won't be a certified version. That means, once again, no app store.
But even so, £200 for an Android Ice Cream Sandwich tablet certainly seems appealing.
Niggles about software aside, how does the 10e actually perform? Sadly, slowly is the only answer we can honestly give.
For those that like to list specs the ViewPad 10e comes with a 1GHz Cortex A8 CPU, 512MB of RAM, and 4GB storage for apps, video, music, pictures and other files. While that should be enough to get you enjoying Angry Birds and watching low-res movies, it isn't enough to do anything substantial.
Film support includes MPEG1, MPEG2, MPEG4, AVC, VC-1, Flash video, motion JPEG, VP6, DivX, XviD and WMV9.
Overall, the menus seem sluggish with everything taking that little bit longer to perform than it should. Even when watching movies the array of different video playback apps installed on the device struggled with anything of any decent quality. If it's HD you wan,t forget it. This is a netbook circa 2009 experience.
It's not that the videos won't play, it's just that you'll notice jagged movement as the processor struggles to cope. The only improvement comes if you kill every other application running, and even then we aren't entirely happy with the end results.
On the surface the ViewPad 10e looks to be a bargain, while the promise of Ice Cream Sandwich tantalising. In reality though, this is really a folly for those that like to tinker and have money and time to spare.
If it was a powerfully enough machine that with some care and tweaking lavished upon it, could become an amazing machine we would be recommending you go out and do a little "customising" to get a bargain.
Sadly, even after all that extra effort, we were left with an experience that still wasn't worth the bother.
If you are looking for something just to check email, surf the web, and read e-books, then this will just about do. But if you are expecting more from your tablet, or don't want to have to find workarounds at every turn, we would recommend you save up for another couple of months at get a fully featured, Google certified tablet instead.