Windows tablets have finally started to show a little bit of life, with the recent Asus Eee Slate EP121 and even the Acer Iconia Tab W500 offering a vision for the future of tablet-PC hybrids. Standalone Windows slate-style tablets, however, have always fared less well (and we've been reviewing them for years before the iPad). The $599 ViewSonic ViewPad 10 attempts to position itself as a more useful tablet by including both Windows 7 and Android--a good idea, on paper at least.
While the ViewPad 10 hardware has been out since late 2010, our interest was piqued by the recent upgrade from Android 1.6 to Android 2.2. It's still not the latest Honeycomb 3.0 version, which is a much better fit for tablets, but it at least makes the ViewPad a bit more usable (although Android fans may also be put off by the preinstalled third-party app store in place of the more popular Android Market).
Asus Eee Slate EP121 review
The Windows side, which we were primarily concerned with (our benchmark tests below reflect Windows scores), falls victim to the same fate as other Intel Atom-powered tablets: sluggish performance. On top of that, the Windows interface is simply not built for touch-screen devices, and the default Win 7 onscreen keyboard is hard to use on this elongated 10-inch 1,024x600-pixel screen. These complaints are true of any similar Windows tablet and aren't specific to ViewSonic. There are, however, several problems specific to the ViewPad, such as the lack of a physical volume control, frequent Wi-Fi issues, unintuitive buttons, and poor battery life.
For a Netbook-like price, perhaps under $300, this dual-booting tablet could find an audience with those who need to be able to switch between Android and Windows on the fly, but with 16GB of SSD space (and only a couple of gigabytes are actually free to use after the twin OS installations) for the same $599 as a 32GB iPad, it's hard to call this a satisfying consumer experience.
|Price as reviewed||$599|
|Processor||1.66GHz Intel Atom N455|
|Memory||1GB, 667MHz DDR2|
|Hard drive||16GB SSD|
|Graphics||Intel GMA 3150|
|Operating system||Windows 7 Home Premium / Android 2.2|
|Dimensions (WD)||10.8x6.7 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||10.1 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||1.9 pounds / 2.5 pounds|
The ViewSonic ViewPad 10, while not as slick as an iPad or Motorola Xoom, is still an upscale-looking device with an edge-to-edge glass screen on the front and a metal back panel. It's sturdy, and a bit hefty, yet slim enough to fit into even small bags.
That said, the lack of physical controls on the chassis for audio volume or to lock the screen orientation is incredibly frustrating. Even the button-averse iPad includes those.
While the ViewPad 10 is available in both Wi-Fi and 3G versions, we tested the Wi-Fi-only model. One of our major pain points was the machine's Internet connectivity. On both the Android and Windows sides, the Wi-Fi antenna repeatedly turned itself off and required frequent troubleshooting to fix.
The ViewPad 10 has three physical buttons along its right side: power, home, and a curved arrow that acts as a back or Enter button, depending on the context. In the Android mode, pressing the home button sent Web browsers and control panels back a step, while holding it down sent you back to the Android desktop.
While booting, you encounter a choose-the-OS screen that stays open for a few seconds before defaulting to Windows. To switch to the other OS, you'll have to remember to press the middle (home) button, move the highlighted selection down from Windows to Android, then hit the bottom button to enter your selection. To be fair, the included documentation covers this, informing the user, "Short press for down select; long press for up select," but it's about as unintuitive as you can get. Also covered in the included documentation, but similarly unintuitive, is the fact that holding down the bottom of the three physical buttons will turn the Wi-Fi antenna off and on, which solved some, but not all, of our networking problems.
Touch response on the screen is quick and accurate, but simple tasks such as flicking up or down a long Web page don't really work--again a problem with Windows 7 as a touch platform, rather than a particular issue with this hardware. Onscreen typing is similarly a nonpremium experience, and the cramped, built-in Microsoft onscreen keyboard offers itself up when you tap on some text-entry fields but not others.
The 10.1-inch display has a 1,024x600-pixel resolution, lower even than many 10- or 11-inch Netbooks, which ramp up to 1,366x768 pixels. It's a large-enough screen for personal video viewing, although the smudge-friendly surface filled up with fingerprints quickly. Off-axis viewing was surprisingly good, but don't expect too much from the tiny, tinny speakers.
|ViewSonic ViewPad 10||Average for category [Netbook]|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone jack, built-in mic||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||2 USB 2.0, microSD card reader||3 USB 2.0, SD card reader|
|Networking||802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth||Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth|
For a tablet, the ViewPad 10 has a decent set of ports and connections, especially compared with something like the iPad. The two USB ports are especially useful for hooking up an external keyboard and mouse. The microSD slot can hold a card up to 32GB in size, which is important as the internal 16GB storage is mostly used up with the Windows install. In fact, many functions, such as installing some apps, actually require an SD card to be installed.
On the Windows 7 side, testing the performance of the system was as easy as testing any Netbook or laptop, especially as it uses the Intel Atom N455 CPU, a familiar face from the Netbook world. The ViewPad 10 ran our benchmark tests about as well as Acer's W500 Windows 7 tablet, which uses AMD's similar C-50 CPU, and was also comparable to a Dell Latitude 2010 Netbook, with an Atom N550 CPU. We've seen some tablets try to get away with using Intel's lower-end Z-series Atom CPUs, such as the Archos 9 PC Tablet, and the ViewPad easily surpasses that level of performance.