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For an Android tablet to truly go head-to-head with the Apple iPad, it needs to offer a comparably large 10-inch screen. That seems like a fairly logical premise, but, surprisingly, most of the Android tablets we've tested in 2010 have a screen size of 7 inches or less.
The ViewSonic G Tablet ($499 list, $399 street) is the first name-brand tablet we've seen step up to the challenge of adapting Android for a 10-inch screen. The result isn't an iPad-killer, and doesn't live up to the best of what Android can offer--but it stands out as a unique alternative.
The G Tablet's form and weight are similar to the iPad's. Measuring 7.75 inches tall, 10.5 inches wide, and 0.5 inch thick, the G Tablet is large enough to deliver Web pages and documents at their intended size, but not so big as to cause your hands to cramp.
As with most Android devices, you'll find four capacitive touch buttons along the right side of the screen, controlling navigation features such as search, home, menu, and back. The bottom edge includes a pinhole microphone and a docking port for accessories. A volume rocker sits up top, conveniently positioned within fingers' reach. The geeky stuff is sequestered off on the left side, including a USB host port (for peripherals and thumb drives), microSD card slot, power button, Mini-USB sync port, headphone jack, and power adapter socket, and there are integrated speakers on the left and right sides. The only unfortunate result from this arrangement is that gripping the tablet in its preferred landscape orientation tends to cover up the speakers. If you decide to plug in a pair of headphones, your left hand has to awkwardly accommodate the headphone cable sticking out.
The most important design decision ViewSonic made on the G Tablet revolves around the onscreen user interface. The expected Android customizable desktop has been replaced with a large dashboard of utilities, including weather, news, notes, clock, contacts, and calendar. You can customize this view to some extent, swapping around the different preinstalled modules--but it's nowhere close to the customized nature of the Android desktop we've come to know. Granted, some of that custom application-organization functionality is still available in the toolbar and app drawer running across the bottom, but fundamentally in its interface metaphor the G Tablet is closer to the Sony Dash than, say, the HTC Evo 4G.
Features and performance
Here's the part that kills us. The G Tablet's spec sheet reads like a dream. It's running Android 2.2 (though you'd never know it from the interface) on top of an Nvidia Tegra 2 processor with 1GHz of muscle. You're given 16GB of integrated storage with room to grow via microSD. There's wireless support for 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 2.1 (although no A2DP audio streaming). A 1.3-megapixel Webcam sits above the screen, and common sensors for automatic brightness adjustment and accelerometer control are all here.
Try browsing the Web or installing an app, though, and things start to fall apart. To ViewSonic's credit, the manufacturer went to great lengths to ensure that the Web browser would be worthy of the G Tablet's 10-inch screen, presenting pages in a standard format instead of the mobile format that most Android tablets load by default. In many situations these pages look great, delivering sites like NYTimes.com in their full glory and supporting the capability to use pinch gestures to zoom in and out of content, similar to the iPad. In other instances, such as Google's own Web-based Gmail and Reader apps, pages are sometimes frozen and useless. Without Flash support (though we're told it's coming soon), sites such as Pandora, YouTube, and CNET TV don't work at all.
Now, you may be thinking, "Why not just download the apps for these services?" Well, we tried. That's the second heartbreak with the G Tablet--the official Android Market for apps isn't here (not to mention core Android apps such as Gmail, Maps, Navigation, Places, YouTube, and Voice Search). Instead, ViewSonic deftly works around the issue by providing a link to Handango's online Android app download store. Using the storefront, you can browse, download, and install many third-party apps, including Pandora, Qik, Fring, and Yelp. Unfortunately, none of these high-profile apps worked properly on the G Tablet. Pandora failed to launch, Qik crashed, Fring let out a burst of crackles, and Yelp couldn't get a lock on our location (due in part to the G Tablet's lack of GPS or Wi-Fi triangulation). In short, don't expect your favorite apps to be supported.
If there's a silver lining, it's this--video playback rocks. Chalk it up to Nvidia's smokin' Tegra 2 processor or ViewSonic figuring that people want to use a 10-inch screen for watching videos, but the G Tablet loads most video formats with ease and supports resolutions of up to 1080p. We threw everything at the G Tablet, including MPEG-4, DivX, Xvid, H.264, and MOV, and they all worked quickly and without a hitch. That said, the tablet is still missing Adobe Flash support (yes, it's coming), which means much of the Web's video content isn't going to work. We've laid this same complaint against the Apple iPad; however, with the selection of iTunes media and streaming-video apps Apple has on offer, we think it's fair to say most iPad users aren't feeling the pinch on content.
ViewSonic rates the G Tablet's battery life at 8 to 10 hours of mixed use. From our initial use, we think that number is probably in the ballpark, though the arrival of Adobe Flash support will likely take its toll. Here are our official CNET Labs tested results. More tablet testing results can be found here.
|Video battery life (in hours)||Web site load time (in seconds; lower is better)||Maximum brightness (in cd/m2)||Default brightness (in cd/m2)||Contrast ratio|
|Viewsonic G Tablet||7.8||8||364||123||1,093:1|