With the exception of the Samsung Galaxy Tab, most Andoid tablets we've tested have been marred by poor design, a lack of apps, lackluster performance, or all of the above. The Viewsonic ViewPad 7 ($459 starting in mid-December) is a cut above those also-rans. This device not only looks attractive, it has full access to the Android Market, lasts more than 7 hours on a charge, and can even be used to make calls--when you plug in a SIM card. However, compared to Samsung's slate, you'll have to make some sacrifices. Is the ViewPad 7 worth it or should you just spring for the Tab or iPad?
Editor's note: We've updated this review as of November 23, to reflect further 3G testing and additional information Viewsonic made available about video chat capabilities and Swype.
While many tablets have been likened to oversized iPhones, the ViewPad 7 probably comes the closest to imitating Apple's design. But is that a good thing? Like the iPhone 4, both the front and back of the ViewPad 7 are glossy black, and the edges are bordered in a silvery plastic. While the overall look is somewhat sleek, it picks up and shows fingerprints fairly easily.
Overall, the 7.1 x 4.3 x 0.45-inch ViewPad 7 is about the same size and weight (13.2 ounces) as the Samsung Galaxy Tabs, but where the Tabs have a slightly rounded underside, the ViewPad 7's is flat, making the edges somewhat sharp, a la the iPhone 4. Still, it's comfortable to hold.
To the right of the display (in landscape mode) are the Android icons: Back, Search, Home, and Settings. Home is not the standard icon, which confused us initially. On the two short sides are small speaker grilles; next to one of them is the power button. The top of the ViewPad 7 has volume controls, as well as a plastic cover that protects the miniSD card and the SIM card slots. The bottom has a combo mic/headphone jack and a miniUSB port.
The ViewPad 7 comes with a protective case; two small plastic tabs allow the tablet to lock into the case. It's a small but welcome feature.
Display and Audio
While the ViewPad 7 has a 7-inch screen, its resolution (800 x 480) is significantly lower than the display on the Samsung Galaxy Tabs, all of which have resolutions of 1024 x 600. However, the smart phone-like resolution of the ViewPad 7 means that Android apps designed for smart phones show up nicely on the device. The capacitive touchscreen was quick and responsive, and we were able to execute pinch-to-zoom gestures with ease.
The two speakers on either side of the ViewPad 7's display served up fairly good sound for a tablet. They were plenty loud when watching movies and the like. We could easily hear The Bravery's "An Honest Mistake" from across a medium-size office, and the audio wasn't too tinny at maximum volume.
UI and Keyboards
While it runs Android 2.2, the ViewPad 7 only has four home screens, a minor quibble. Still, we like the 3D scrolling when viewing the list of installed apps, and it's a simple matter to place a shortcut or widget on the screen.
The ViewPad 7 gives you three keyboards to choose from: a standard QWERTY, a modified QWERTY (two letters per key), and a dial pad-style keyboard; you can swipe to change between them. It was easiest to type using the standard keyboard, although your thumbs have to reach for the middle keys in landscape mode. The keys on this layout are actually bigger than the Galaxy Tab's, while the latter tablet has more space between the keys.
You can activate haptics to get physical feedback when you press a key, but we found that it slowed us down when trying to type fast. Don't bother turning on the keyboard sound; it's laughably loud. You can also turn on a dictionary that guesses at words while you're typing them, which had fairly good prediction.
A nice feature in the web browser's keyboard is a "www.*.com" button in place of the space bar, which inserts the standard beginning and end of a web page address. You just have to remember to hit this button before you type the URL.
A late December firmware update will add a Swype keyboard to the ViewPad 7, according to Viewsonic.
The ViewPad 7 has a 600-MHz Qualcomm MSM7227 processor under the hood, compared to a 1-GHz Hummingbird CPU for the Galaxy Tabs. Nevertheless, this slate performed pretty well, which may be due in part to the clean install of Android 2.2. Whether it was playing Angry Birds, Raging Thunder 2, or scrolling around Google Earth, the ViewPad 7 was able to keep up.
When watching videos using the YouTube app, we found that action was smooth for the most part, but we noticed some hitching with the HD trailer of Tron: Legacy. Also, the ViewPad pauses for about a half a second when the display switches from portrait to landscape modes in the browser, as well as when using the keyboard in Notepad.
On our synthetic benchmarks, the ViewPad 7 didn't fare as well as other Android devices. In Linpack, the tablet scored 7.5, which is on a par with smart phones such as the Epic 4G (7.9) but well behind the Galaxy Tab (13.1), not to mention the T-Mobile G2 (28.7). Also, the ViewPad 7's AN3DBench score of 5,526--which measures graphics performance--was well behind the Galaxy Tab (7,123).
The ViewPad 7 is one of the few Android tablets available that can access the Android Market. Apps such as Angry Birds and Slacker filled the screen nicely, as did the Raging Thunder 2 racing game.
While there's nothing here like the Samsung Media Hub for premium movies and TV shows, Viewsonic pre-loads the ViewPad 7 with Aldiko, Documents to Go, Google Latitude, News and Weather, Notepad, Voice Note, and a file browser.
The ViewPad 7 has both 802.11b/g connectivity and a SIM card slot capable of accepting T-Mobile and AT&T cards. In the settings menu, you can choose between GSM and WCDMA networks, or have the tablet switch automatically. After entering the correct APN settings--something users won't have to do, according to Viewsonic--we were able to surf the Web and make phone calls (via the speakerphone or a Bluetooth headset) with an AT&T SIM card.
Despite what appeared to be a full HSDPA signal, browsing speeds were quite slow. It took an average of more than 20 seconds to load the full New York Times site, and almost 45 seconds to load laptopmag.com. ESPN's mobile site, however, loaded in a quick 7 seconds.
Viewsonic says some of the issues we encountered may be due to the fact that we tested an early unit. We'll update this review at a later date. We hope things do improve, because you can also use the ViewPad 7 as a wireless hotspot for free. Sprint charges an extra $29 per month for its version of the Galaxy Tab.
The Viewpad 7 has a 3-megapixel camera on its rear, and a VGA camera on its front; unfortunately, we couldn't get Fring, Qik, or Tango to work with the front-facing camera for video chats. In fact, the only app that recognized the front-facing camera was the Camera app, and even then, when we switched to camcorder mode, the option disappeared, and we could only use the rear camera. Viewsonic says an update to the firmware, due by the end of December, will enable the front-facing camera will work with Fring.
Whether it was photos or videos, quality from the rear camera was fairly decent; it picked up fairly warm tones and colors. Images from the front camera were quite grainy, though.
On the LAPTOP Battery test, the ViewPad lasted 7 hours and 26 minutes over Wi-Fi; that's about an hour shy of the Verizon Galaxy Tab (8:18) and the iPad (9:28), but that's still decent endurance. We will update this review once we've had a chance to test the ViewPad 7 over 3G.
At $479 (expected to be lower through some outlets), the Viewsonic ViewPad 7 is worth a look for those who crave an inexpensive Android tablet that's easy to tote, especially if you don't want to be locked into a two-year contract. It's about $100 less than the Verizon Galaxy Tab, and you should be able to plug in a SIM Card for making phone calls and surfing the web when you're beyond hotspot range. Unfortunately, we couldn't get the 3G to work as advertised.
Among Android Tablets, right now we prefer the Galaxy Tab because of its crisper, higher-resolution screen, faster processor, and Samsung's customized software. However, you can't purchase a Wi-Fi-only model of the Tab yet, which may sway some in the ViewPad 7's direction. The iPad is still the best tablet for our money, thanks to its vast collection of apps. But as the number of Android slates multiplies, this one does enough to warrant some attention.