This article originally appeared in issue 97 of Linux User & Developer magazine.
OS: Android 2.2
Processor: Qualcomm MSM 7227 600MHz
Memory: 512MB RAM, 512MB ROM
Dimensions: 179 x 110 x 12 mm
Display size: 7” (800×480 resolution)
Expansion: 1x SIM card, 1x SD card
Features: 802.11 b/gWi-Fi , Bluetooth 2.1, G-sensor, A-GPS, 3G, Quad-band GSM
Homepage: ViewSonic ViewPad 7
Price: From £303 online
Pros: The aesthetic is excellent, Android 2.2 is left untouched and battery life is also very good
Cons: There’s no Flash support and the upgrade route to Android 3 is barred by its single-core CPU
There are immediate parallels to be drawn between the ViewPad 7 and the iPhone 4. It boasts the same black gloss finish, the same silver faux-metal banding around the belly and very similar tightly curved edges. For our money it’s actually one of the better-looking tablets on the market at the moment, not to mention one of the more affordable.
Considering the price, the build quality is bordering on fantastic too. It doesn’t look as expensive as an iPad or Samsung Galaxy Tab and on very close inspection it is built from slightly inferior materials, but considering you’re making a £100 saving, as far as build quality goes you’re certainly not going to be disappointed. Though quite weighty at 375g, the smaller 7” frame makes it feel considerably more portable and even pocket-friendly. It fit in our jacket breast pockets no problem and just about crammed into the back pocket of our jeans (though we certainly wouldn’t actually dare sit down).
As with almost all Android tablets, the front face of the ViewPad 7 is all but completely clean, dominated by its wide 800×480 resolution screen and complemented by the four default Android buttons. There’s only a small black thumbnail-width surround around the screen, which is great in respect to the device’s small footprint, although it can hamper handling. The biggest problem we faced was when holding the ViewPad 7 in landscape orientation. We were consistently causing accidental presses on the function buttons with our right hand. This is one of the drawbacks of touch-sensitive buttons – the small amount of travel from physical buttons can really make a difference here.
With a straight vanilla install of Android 2.2 taking care of business, there’s really not a great deal to say about the user experience itself. We’re hoping for minor improvements from Android 2.3 in this regard since 2.2 doesn’t really lend itself wonderfully to tablet use, but with the full force of the Android Market at your beck and call, there’s little you can’t do with the ViewPad 7. That is, unless, you want to upgrade to Android 3.0 upon its release. Since ViewSonic’s tablet only has a single-core 600MHz processor, it simply isn’t powerful enough, so those wanting to future-proof their tablet experience might be better waiting for future tablet releases.
Another problem that the ViewPad 7’s slower processor throws up is that it inhibits the install of Flash 10.1, so there’s no Flash support either. The damage to your user experience that this causes is likely down to the usage scenarios you have in mind, but it didn’t greatly affect us personally. The final bugbear we encountered was the lack of decent storage. With only 512MB of internal storage on offer, the purchase of a micro SD card is all-but essential.
Perhaps in compensation for these shortcomings, however, ViewSonic has thrown a faux-leather case into the bargain. There might be no danger of ever confusing it for the real thing, but it provides excellent protection and also ingeniously doubles up as an adjustable rest for tabletop video viewing, or on-screen typing.
While some critics have berated the ViewPad 7 for its inferior storage capability and slower processor, very few have really spotted the true value it provides. It comes complete with a case, saving around £30 on an essential accessory that can be hard (if not impossible) to otherwise obtain. Also, besides ruling out Flash support, the slower processor on offer doesn’t actually impede the performance of Android or the myriad apps available in the Android Market. This loss is also paid back twofold by virtue of greatly extended battery life – the ViewPad 7 is one of the few devices that manages to live up to the manufacturer’s claim of six hours.
Anyone under the impression that the highest build quality, sharpest screens and best HD video playback can be both affordable and offer market-leading battery life clearly doesn’t understand the basic mechanics of the technology industry. In the absence of this tech nirvana, we’re more than happy to settle for a processor clocked 200MHz slower, and a screen with some 200 less horizontal pixels, in return for an affordable tablet with a battery actually able to last a day in the field.
Provided you knowingly enter into the deal with the ViewPad 7, it represents remarkable value while realistically sacrificing very little. Being brutally honest, the Flash situation on Android is far from perfect anyway, and for us HD video support is best served through a media player (or better yet, a 40″ screen). On this basis, you’ve got a great deal on your hands with impressive build quality, front and rear-facing cameras and superior battery life.