Editors' note: Thanks to the release of recent, high-quality tablets, the overall score of the ViewPad 7 has been adjusted down from 7 to 5.
The ViewSonic ViewPad 7 is a 7-inch Android tablet that answers the call for a carrier-agnostic alternative to the Samsung Galaxy Tab. Priced around $450, the ViewPad 7 offers an impressive spec sheet, Android Market access, and all the accoutrements of Android 2.2. It isn't an iPad killer, but its accessible SIM and memory card make it one of the most flexible high-end Android tablets available.
The ViewPad 7 is a bit of a brick, with its squared-off edges and paperback dimensions. A few editors remarked on how the silver plastic bezel that wraps around the edge makes it look like a giant iPhone 4. Measuring 4.3 inches tall, 7 inches wide, and .5 inch thick, the ViewPad 7 is slightly more pocketable than the Galaxy Tab, and takes up less than half the space of an iPad.
The screen sports an 800x480 resolution, and is covered with scratch-resistant glass. Like on most Android products, there are four touch-sensitive buttons that run along the screen, providing keys for Home, Menu, Search, and Back. We think ViewSonic's home button looks more like a mushroom cloud than a house, but maybe that says more about us than the product.
A front-facing 0.3-megapixel camera is squeezed into the top left corner of the screen, and is compatible with video chat applications such as Fring. On the back, a 3-megapixel camera sits near the center, but lacks the camera flash found on similar Android tablets, such as the Dell Streak and Galaxy Tab. Still, two cameras are better than none--which is what you'd get on the iPad.
The bottom of the ViewPad 7 includes ports for USB (data/charge) and headphones. A nice headset is included with multiple ear-tip fittings, remote button, and microphone (for voice calls and voice search). Slim speaker grilles are found on the left and right edges, along with a power button on the left that doubles as a sleep/wake control. Across the top you'll find volume buttons and a covered port for a microSD memory card and cellular SIM card.
Overall, the hardware design is solid and well-executed, if a bit forgettable, like many tablets. Unfortunately, once you boot it up, the bloom comes off the rose. A minimum of effort seems to have gone into applying the user interface of the Android 2.2 OS to the ViewPad's 7-inch screen. For example, the dock positions a call button as a primary feature. Granted, the ViewPad's voice-calling feature works well (provided you supply your own SIM card), but it seems an unlikely primary use.
The lack of interface polish really rears its head when you use the onscreen keyboard. There are three keyboard layouts available: QWERTY, 12-key (with letters grouped three per button, as on a feature phone), and CooTek T+. You can switch between keyboard layouts by swiping left and right (a fact not immediately apparent), but the end result is an unnecessary kludge of mobile phone keyboards on a device that really deserves one great QWERTY. Instead, you get a QWERTY that lacks multitouch support and hides common characters such as exclamation marks. With e-mail and messaging being such a big part of why people are drawn to tablets, a half-baked keyboard is a big negative.