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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.
The ViewPad 7 offers the full, undiluted Android 2.2 experience, and includes the official Android Market for all the latest and greatest apps. We've seen other Android tablets this same size, but so far only the Galaxy Tab can match the ViewPad's support for Android 2.2 with Android Market.
Of course, for the $150 or so you'd save by choosing the ViewPad 7 over a contract-free Galaxy Tab, you're making a number of sacrifices. For example, at the time of this review, the ViewPad 7 does not support Adobe Flash (though support is said to be coming). The ViewPad 7 also doesn't benefit from the tablet optimizations Samsung made to common utilities such as calendar, notes, contacts, and e-mail. Nor does the ViewPad 7 include Samsung's video download and rental service, Media Hub. Unlike for the Tab, there are no accessories for video output support, and the rear camera does not include a flash. Some of these differences can be bridged with software updates, but many are baked into the hardware.
You're also going to need to spend some money on a microSD card for the ViewPad 7, because the limited amount of integrated memory is reserved just for the system. Sure, microSD cards are fairly inexpensive these days, but it's a disappointing corner for ViewSonic to cut. You get the product out of the box and connect it to your computer expecting to transfer over your music, photos, and videos, but instead you're stuck making a run for a memory card.
Bluetooth 2.1 support is included, though, offering wireless audio streaming along with device support. There's also GPS support that works nicely with the included Navigation app. The Wi-Fi receiver is limited to 802.11 b/g, so it's not going to smoke an iPad or Tab running on an 802.11 n network--if that's how you roll.
As far as app support goes, we make the same complaints here as with the Tab, Streak, and Archos devices. The fact is, most third-party Android apps just aren't designed (yet) for the larger screens of tablets. With all the extra room, some apps stretch unnaturally to fill the space (Pandora), whereas others appear like large-print versions of their original smartphone incarnations. Until Google commits to the tablet form and offers developers and consumers a way to distinguish tablet-optimized apps from smartphone apps, this is going to be a recurring headache for everyone.
If productivity is your thing, you'll be happy to know that the ViewPad's calendar and e-mail apps readily took to our Gmail and Exchange accounts. We were also pleased to see the ThinkFree Office app preinstalled, which allowed us to view and edit Microsoft Office documents. That said, for serious document editing, it makes more sense to spend the same amount on a Netbook with a larger screen, reliable keyboard, and peripheral support.
For audio and video, the ViewPad disappoints. The lack of integrated memory for user content is strike one. For audio, the timid maximum volume level is a letdown. As for video, we experienced a dramatically poor viewing angle when tilting the screen upward and were unable to play any files beyond standard-definition fare.
As a Web browser, the ViewPad 7 isn't shabby, but the current lack of Adobe Flash support puts it behind the Galaxy Tab. The browser does support pinch zoom, which is an advantage over many of the budget tablets we've seen from Archos and others. Compared with the Apple iPad, you're getting half the screen real estate, which makes for a browsing experience closer to a smartphone than a laptop.
We tested the Viewsonic ViewPad 7's battery life at full screen with a720p video. See below for results.
|Video battery life (in hours)||Maximum brightness (in cd/m2)||Default brightness (in cd/m2)||Contrast ratio|
|Viewsonic ViewPad 7||6.2||257||120||988:1|