ViewSonic VSD220 Android monitor review

3 out of 5
£330

For

A nice monitor, decent number of sockets, cables for HDMI to micro-HDMI and USB supplied

Against

Android feels slow, low-spec Android hardware, poor app support, too expensive

The VSD220 two things. First, it's a monitor - which is obvious, you can tell that just by looking at it. Second, it's an Android-powered all-in-one computer - which isn't obvious, and would be hard to tell by looking at it.

Costing about £330, for a 22-inch LCD monitor, it isn't the cheapest display you'll ever consider. You could get a bigger monitor for less, so ViewSonic is clearly hoping that the Android portion will tempt you sufficiently. Is it worth it though? Well that's what we're here to determine.

Design

It looks like a monitor, but it also looks a bit like a TV. We suspect that's deliberate, because there are several uses for this screen. ViewSonic obviously considers it suitable to use as a monitor, as an Android mega-tablet and even as a TV - when connected to, say, a Freeview or Sky box.

The styling isn't bad, perhaps a little old-fashioned, but it's a solid and largely easy-to-like design. On the front, there's a power button and a speaker grille. On the left is a headphone socket and micro-USB, on the right, a set of two standard USB sockets.

At the rear, there's a removable cover. Under it, you'll find the power input, microSD card slot, micro-HDMI input and Ethernet socket. Don't worry, there's wireless built-in too, so you don't have to use that wired network point if you don't want to.

There's also a stand, a fold-out foot which gives you a little control over the angle of the screen. It's enough for most uses, but we'll come to the practicality of using this display on its own, as a massive Android tablet, a little later on.

The bezel on the VSD220 is reasonably thin too, which is a good thing - giving you more screen and less edge - and while 22-inches isn't large by modern monitor standards, it's a step up from what most people are using.

An average Android device

Honestly, looking at the specs of the VSD220, we weren't that sold. It's a dual-core 1GHz CPU, with 1GB of RAM and there's just 8GB of storage. That's the sort of spec we're seeing on bargain-basement Android phones now, the sort that cost tens of pounds, rather than hundreds.

But, we never judge a device by its spec, so the only way to know how the ViewSonic performed was to fire it up. As we did, we noticed that the whole procedure is just the same as it would be on an Android tablet. Albeit a massive, heavy one with an integrated kickstand. Once we'd plugged in the the various information Android needs, we were off. Some help information gave us hints and tips, but anyone who's used Android before will be entirely at home here.

The 220 runs Android Ice Cream Sandwich, which is a step or so behind the current version. It's fine though, and works well on "tablets". We found the basic performance utterly awful. Scrolling around was a ponderous process that felt like our home screen animations were running through treacle and in general we didn't find most apps felt all that snappy.

Google Earth too, highlighted just how bad the multi-touch was. While we were able to get it to respond, it was quite jumpy and it just felt like the multi-touch wasn't properly tracking our fingers. It works better on other devices we've tested it on.

Apps are the biggest disappointment

If you're buying an Android device, you're probably doing so for access to the apps. While Apple has more in numerical terms, the Google Play store has a lot of excellent software to help your productivity

This is, in fairness, the fault of both ViewSonic and Android. Mostly, we think, Android, because for some reason there just hasn't been much tablet-specific app development happening. That means there aren't very many apps suited to run on HD screens. On a 7 or even 10-inch tablet, that wouldn't be a problem, but on a screen like this you'd need the extra detail to make things usable.

So browsing through the Play app store is a bit frustrating. Apps you know exist just aren't there - we wanted to try both Cut the Rope and Where's my Perry, but neither works on the VSD220.

What did work was Plex, a media streaming app that we use a lot, in conjunction with some software running on our desktop PC for streaming media. It was here that the ViewSonic shone. It produced detailed and mostly smooth video - we pushed it with 1080p, at high bitrate, and there were problems, but mostly we think because of maximum Wi-Fi throughput, rather than the device itself.

Even given the slightly reduced selection, there's enough her to keep you entertained. There are also apps such as Skype, which are very useful for a device like this, as it's ideal for people who want almost an "internet cafe" type machine, for simple tasks and internet things, without reduced risk of viruses.

Keyboard essential, mouse handy

Although the VSD220 is ready-to-go out of the box, we honestly don't think you'll want to work on it in any meaningful way like that.

The touchscreen is fine for loading apps, but that's about it. Any more-prolonged use of the touch interface, and you're arm is going to get tired from being held out in front of you. Even scrolling is best done on a mouse or keyboard - it's not all that snappy from the screen.

A keyboard will help, for typing, but we also noticed that our wireless USB keyboard was a bit laggy when it came to writing in a word processor. That's a bit of an issue, because it means using the ViewSonic for serious work will be frustrating. We didn't notice it so much in other apps, so it might have simply been a bad bit of software.

A mouse is less useful, but will work with the display if you want it to. In fact, touching what you want is easier than messing with a pointing device, so adding one would only be of use if you wanted to use the screen all day as your main computer, and wanted to stick to traditional desktop ergonomics.

Ice Cream Sandwich. Interestingly, ViewSonic has done very little customisation on Android for the 220. That's both a good, and bad thing. On the plus side, it leaves you with a really clean user interface, and one that's very pleasant to use. On the downside, it means there isn't much in the way of apps that are built for this display. That's a shame, because it means you won't be getting much more from this device than you would from a tablet - beyond the screen size.

From Android to monitor

To switch from Android to using the 220 as a monitor, you press the OSD soft-key, and there is an option to change the picture settings, as well as switch to HDMI. It's very easy to use, and takes no time at all.

Switch back, and you'll find that it's a bit harder - you have to press and hold the power button, because Windows has no way to trigger the switch back to Android. But once you've done that, you'll be back in Android, and your state is saved too, so you can go right back to that game of Angry Birds. If you pull the power though, you'll go through the device's 30-ish second boot sequence again.

A decent monitor

When it comes to being a monitor, we liked the ViewSonic quite a bit more. There's the faff of having to use the micro-HDMI adaptor cable to connect it to a computer - our main desktop doesn't actually have HDMI anyway, so we paired it with a laptop - but that's quite minor, and the cable is supplied.

The resolution of 1920x1080 is pretty standard these days for monitors of this size, and even those larger at 24 or 26-inches. For monitors, it's arguably better to have a 16:10 ratio, but because of the HD TV crossover, it makes sense to send out monitors that are at home playing HD video, and keeping game resolutions similar to those of consoles.

As a monitor, the ViewSonic is clearly not really designed to be the most flexible. It's intended to be used as an Android all-in-one, so it's not got the control of a normal monitor from the firm. But the image quality is good enough: it's sharp and clear.

We've read that it should be possible to make the touchscreen work with Windows 7 - or Windows 8 - over HDMI. We couldn't, however, do this in our testing. It seems logical that Windows would need a driver to handle this, and we weren't able to find one. We're more than happy to be corrected on this point though.

One thing to bear in mind though. As you might expect, this being a touchscreen, it's got a shiny, reflective, hard surface. This means you get a lot more glare and reflections in bright light than you would on a matte monitor. This is bad and when added to the finger grease from using the touchscreen, things become distinctly unpleasant. Invest in some cleaning solution, would be our advice.

Verdict

The VSD 220 does two distinct things, and does one well and one reasonably.

Honestly, we're disappointed by the Android functionality. There's not enough power to make it a compelling Android device, and there's loads of room here to make it perhaps the best specified device on the market.

The dreadful app support is upsetting too. Games like Where's My Perry and Cut the Rope simply aren't compatible - although Angry Birds is. So it's not really going to appeal to power-Android users.

We can see its use, if you want to fire-up a web browser and have a quick look online and nothing more. If you want to do anything more complex, including using word processing apps, we think you're going to walk away quite disappointed.

That said, it's a decent stand-alone monitor, and the Android functionality means you can use a low-power device to check email, surf the web and play a few games, without having to turn on your PC.

We like the idea, we just wish the Android bit was more powerful, and had better app support.