At half the price of the iPad, the $249 ViewBook 730 is designed specifically for first-time tablet users and eBook readers. But even this target audience has expectations when they put down a nice chunk of money for a new slate. Read on to find out if the ViewBook should come home with you or stay on the shelf.
The ViewBook 730 has a black plastic chassis that feels fairly solid but looks somewhat cheap. A single stripe of glossy black runs along the edges of the ViewBook, adding a bit of style to the tablet's otherwise vanilla appearance. A second strip of plastic surrounds the tablet's 7-inch display, the bottom of which houses touch-sensitive Back, Home, Search, and Settings buttons. The ViewBook's speakers sit beneath this strip.
At the top of the ViewBook 730's face, you'll find its 0.3-megapixel front-facing camera. Up top are the ViewBook's mini USB and mini HDMI ports, as well as its microphone, headphone jack, and power button. On the left side of the device is the ViewBook's microSD card slot, while the right side is home to the tablet's volume rocker.
Weighing 1 pound and measuring 8.2 x 5.2 x 0.6 inches, the ViewBook 730 is larger and heavier than Acer's Iconia Tab A100 (7.6 x 4.5 x 0.5 inches and 0.92 pounds) but smaller than eFun's Next5 tablet (8.9 x 6.7 x 1.2 inches and 1.2 pounds). This slate should slip nicely into a small purse or bag.
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Display and Audio
Click to enlargeThe ViewBook 730's 7-inch, 800 x 480-pixel display was servicable at best. There's a noticeable gap between the screen and the image, and we could literally feel it give a little when we tapped. When we watched a trailer for The Dark Knight Rises, colors were vivid, but the picture appeared grainy, distorting the finer details of Batman's suit. But issues such as that are almost expected with a lower resolution display like the 730's. Viewing angles proved to be sub-par, with images washing out at a roughly 45-degree horizontal angle.
One of the few bright spots of the ViewBook 730 is the surprising amount of power ViewSonic packed into the tablet's speakers. Fela Kuti's album Best of the Black President sounded crisp and clear. Brass instruments screamed out from the tablet, filling a large office meeting room.
Click to enlargeResistive touchscreens are often mixed bags for consumers. They are cheaper than similarly sized capacitive displays, but they are usually less responsive and accurate. That's the exact problem we ran into while testing the ViewBook 730. There were a few occasions when we had to repeatedly select an app or scroll down a web page before the tablet recognized our input. To ViewSonic's credit, the sensitivity issues were few and far between and primarily occurred while we were surfing the web. Nevertheless, the issues were still there.
We also took issue with the lack of multitouch input. Zooming in on images and web pages was a chore, requiring us to constantly tap the screen. A simple pinch-to-zoom interface would have been greatly appreciated. You'll definitely need to zoom when selecting text links to make sure you hit the right one. Unfortunately, the typing experience was also frustrating; we often had to go back to correct certain words, either because the keyboard registered the wrong letter or didn't register our input at all.
Photos we snapped using the ViewBook's 0.3-MP front-facing camera were generally pixelated and blurry. The camera had a difficult time adjusting to changes in lighting. When we took pictures in a darkened room with a bright light source behind us, our faces appeared overly shadowed and were indistinquishable. Image quality improved a great deal when we took pictures in areas with better lighting, but even then the photos still looked distorted. When we tried to download Fring from the Amazon Appstore to make video calls, the app downloaded but didn't show up on our device. We then downloaded Tango, but ran into trouble when the camera wouldn't display our image for our friend during a call.
Compared to most of today's tablets, the ViewBook 730 is downright underpowered. Loaded with Google's older Android 2.2 operating system, the ViewBook features a 1-GHz ARM Cortex A8 processor and 512MB of RAM. During the AN3DBench test, the ViewBook could only muster a score of 5,275, well below the category average of 6,905. Acer's Nvidia Tegra 2-powered Iconia Tab A100 notched 8,081.
In the FPS2D benchmark test, which measures graphics performance, the ViewBook performed surprisingly well, managing a relatively high 59 frames per second. That's lower than the category average of 64 fps, but better than the HTC Evo View 4G (55 fps) and the Dell Streak 7 (58 fps). When we put the ViewBook through the NenaMark test--which measures a device's ability to use OpenGL ES 2.0 in frames per second--the tablet fell on its face, scoring only 15 fps, where the average is 34 fps.
The ViewBook performed considerably worse in our real-world testing. When using various apps, such as the Amazon Appstore, we noted significant system slowdowns. And at various points during our time with the ViewBook--whether we were using an app, surfing the web, or adjusting system settings--the tablet would crash for seemingly no reason at all. When we rotated the tablet, the accelerometer was quick to respond most of the time, but would occassionally freeze up entirely.
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Apps and eReader
While the ViewBook 730 doesn't support the Android Market, it does come with Amazon's Appstore. Here you'll find such popular choices as Angry Birds, Plants vs. Zombies, and Slacker. Amazon's store even offers one paid app for free each day. The one downside to the Appstore is that it has significantly fewer apps than the Android Market. ViewSonic also loaded the ViewBook 730 with Amazon's Kindle eReader, Amazon's MP3 store, and the Amazon Mobile app.
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As an eReader, the ViewBook 730 works well. We ran through several pages of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice and Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island using the Kindle app and didn't notice a single hiccup. Text was somewhat grainy, but increasing the font size and changing the page color improved visibility. We didn't notice any delay when swiping pages.
The ViewBook also features the MediaFly Mobile app, which allows users to stream video and find podcasts. The TuneIn Radio app turns the ViewBook into a functional AM/FM radio receiver that can also stream podcasts. For users looking for audio books, ViewSonic included the Audible app.
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Browsing the web with the ViewBook 730 was a straightforward affair, though it wasn't particularly fast. When using our office Wi-Fi connection, it took 35 seconds to load Laptopmag.com and 17 seconds to load CNN.com. Zooming in with a double tap resulted in a stuttery animation, but it worked. Since this is not a Honeycomb tablet like the Iconia Tab A100, you don't get support for tabbed browsing out of the box. The ViewBook comes loaded with Flash, but if for some reason you are unable to load Flash-based sites, ViewSonic included a Favorites section that links you to the company's website where you can download the latest version of the software. Our tablet didn't include Flash, and we can report that the download and installation worked fine. But it was another hassle that we had to deal with.
The ViewBook 730 doesn't excel in the endurance department. The device lasted only 5 hours and 46 minutes on the LAPTOP Battery Test. That's an hour less than the category average of 6 hours and 51 minutes. Even eFun's Next5 managed to last 6 hours, although the Acer Iconia Tab A100 had a shorter runtime of about 5.5 hours.
The ViewSonic ViewBook 730 delivers decent features for $249, and we like that the Amazon Appstore is included. We also appreciate the loud speakers. Overall, though, this Android tablet underwhelms even when you consider its low price. The display is lackluster, and the sluggish performance and system crashes we experienced give us pause. If you're looking for an affordable color eReader that can run apps, we prefer the $249 Barnes & Noble Nook Color for its superior screen. But if you're in the market for a full-featured 7-inch tablet, we say spend the extra $80 on the Acer Iconia Tab A100. It offers a better capacitive LCD, the latest Honeycomb software, and dual-core punch.