Review: ViewSonic’s ViewPad 7 and ViewPad 10

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Apple wasn’t first.

A decade ago, ViewSonic was one of the earliest companies to begin producing tablets – specifically, tablet PCs – in an effort that never seemed to gain traction in a market still focused at the time on desktops and traditional notebooks.

Now, in 2011, ViewSonic is among the first channel-friendly companies to deliver an Android-based tablet to solution providers with the ViewPad 7. And with its follow-up ViewPad 10, ViewSonic has delivered a dual-boot tablet that allows for working in either Windows 7 or Android operating systems.

The result: two mobile tablets that give the channel a real choice in delivering options, and significant promise that ViewSonic is on a trajectory in this space to get stronger over time.

The CRN Test Center has examined both the ViewPad 7 and the ViewPad 10, and while neither reaches 100-percent perfection, they are good entries in this space and provide enough functionality for business users to make it worthy of a look.

The ViewPad 7, a 7-inch tablet built around Android 2.2 that can double as either a smart phone or mobile, handheld PC. (It’s a little too big, realistically, for a phone even though it contains a slot for a SIM card.) While it’s not a perfect device – the Android industry itself is still so new that there really aren’t any perfect Android devices yet – it’s solid and provides great entry-level value in this space.

Specifications worth noting:

The device weighs less than 13 ounces, is 7 inches-by-4.5 inches-by a half-inch thick, and is built with a metallic side that makes it look like a big iPhone.

The keyboard isn’t much to write home about: it’s got a QWERTY keyboard that can be used, or a dialpad. They get the job done, but feel a little clunky to the touch. There is also not much in the way of on-board storage: 600 MB. To take photographs, video, listen to music, watch video or work with data on the device itself, you need to first insert a microSD card.

But here’s where ViewSonic makes a big difference:

Its display is at least as brilliant as the Retina display in the Apple iPhone, and we found its touch screen to be just sensitive enough.

We had it turned on for 24 hours, using it for web surfing and apps, and the green battery indicator didn’t even go down by a smidge.

With street pricing of about $425, but access to the world of Android apps, ViewSonic deserves a seat at the table with the ViewPad 7.

But what about the 2-operating systems-for-1 ViewPad 10? As you might expect, the story there gets a little more complicated.

The hardware design of the ViewPad 10 is thinner, rounder and sleeker (more iPad-like) than the ViewPad 7. It weighs less than two pounds, and its screen is – like the ViewPad 7 – bright, clear and crisp.

As a dual-boot device, pressing the “on” key takes you to a boot menu that lets you choose between Windows 7 Professional or Android 2.3. Each OS boots quickly and gets you to the main screen just fine.

A few comparisons between Windows 7 and Android on the same tablet:

• Windows looks crisper and has the familiar navigational framework – so you don’t need to initially search all over for basic functions and files. Android is fine, but because its GUI is slightly different on each device – and because as an OS it handles different sized-screens differently – you need to tool around the system for a while to determine where different features are located.

• Android has an easier-to-use touch-screen keyboard than Windows, and one would have to owe that to the fact that Android was written with touch-screen keyboards in mind. Windows’ on-screen touch keyboard is awkward, doesn’t automatically pop up inside browsers as it does with Android, and was never more obviously written for a keyboard and mouse as when its installed on a touch-screen tablet.

• In the ViewPad 10, signing in to our lab’s WiFi didn’t work the first several times we tried. We found the network, entered the correct password, but it never accessed the wireless network on the first boot. However, when we logged in to Windows 7, we did sign into our wireless network immediately. Only after that, and booting again into Android, did the wireless connection work. Odd, but that’s what happened.

• Skype worked flawlessly in Windows 7, but on Android provided us with a message that we didn’t have enough processing power to make voice calls. (That’s the first time that ever happened to us using an Atom-based system.)

Still, accessing our Windows applications and files, and downloading and installing Android apps from the App store, all worked fine. This is huge, and a major differentiator that ViewSonic has delivered. The fact that one device will allow for access to apps and files on both platforms could serve as a major bridge to mobility for many.

As with the ViewPad 7, ViewSonic provides the ViewPad 10 with little on-board storage so an SD card is necessary to store data on the device. However, the ViewPad 10 also comes with two USB ports, allowing it to be accessible to thumb drives.

The on-board webcam built into the ViewPad 10 – which we were able to use in Windows with Skype – is clear and crisp. The microphone and on-board speakers work well, too – well enough to conduct a WiFi-based call with no more latency than a PC.

The system provides, essentially, all-day battery life – though its battery does not appear as durable as the ViewPad 7.

Street pricing on the ViewPad 10 ranges between $560 and $580.

For those looking for just an entry-level Android experience, the ViewPad 7 is small enough to fit neatly into a briefcase or a larger vest pocket, for example, provides access to the Internet via 3G or WiFi, and does the trick.

If someone is tepid about entirely leaving behind the Windows world to try such a nascent platform as Android, but would like to have access to Android apps and that environment over time, the ViewPad 10 is a very good solution.

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