Has Apple lived up to its own hype with its new flagship device?
ViewSonic ViewPad 10e review
What is it?
ViewSonic's latest is a full-size tablet at a lower price than its rivals. There may be a reason for that
The price is hard to beat and the 9.7-inch screen is way better than might be expected.
It's not fast, or responsive. The lack of the Google Play Store, while not surprising at this price, is a pain. Build quality is really lacking.
The bottom line
There are good things about the ViewSonic ViewPad 10e and it is highly affordable. But the build quality, slow software and lack of the Google Play Store are all disheartening.
Look quickly at the ViewSonic ViewPad 10e and you could be forgiven for thinking it's an iPad. Check the price tag and you'll see it's less than half the price of an entry level iPad 2 from Apple. So that must be good, no? Well, nearly.
The ViewPad 10e has a great screen, matching the iPad's for size, resolution and in-plane switching (IPS) technology (which improves vertical viewing angles and colour reproduction), the sort found on pricey tablets but rarely on cheaper ones. IPS looks better, so its inclusion here is a real plus. Of course, the latest iPad has a resolution four times higher, but this one equals the iPad 2.
The ViewPad 10e feels good in the hand, with a largely metallic back, though build quality is not on a par with more expensive tablets - hold the tablet by the wrong corner and the plastic strip down the back almost pops out. And because the strip falls under your left hand if it's held in portrait mode, it creaks. Repeatedly.
This is Android, so there's plenty of room for customisation and ViewSonic includes a very cool 3D carousel of the homescreens. This looks great, but seems to make a stiff demand on the processing power: touch the icon of the ViewSonic birds and swipe left and right to turn from one page to the next. All good, except that little icon and the screens that are rotating struggle to keep up. They're always half a screen behind your finger. ViewSonic has stressed that this is not a games machine, it's a halfway house between a basic Kindle on the one hand and a full-blown high-end tablet on the other. It's aimed at displaying photos, ebooks and more rather than the super-high-quality graphics of a game or other memory-hogging app. For these basic tasks, it's good. Still, it should have been able to handle its own graphics better.
Beneath the screen are three capacitive buttons: Menu, Home and Back. Back, inexplicably, points upwards rather than the more conventional left direction. That's a minor issue. More seriously, the ViewPad, which uses the Gingerbread (which was designed for phones not tablets), not Ice Cream Sandwich or even Honeycomb as its version of Android, does not have access to Android Market, or Google Play Store as it's now called.
Though this absence is not unusual in non-3G Android devices, but it's a shame. The tablet comes with access to 1Mobile Market, a third-party market with plenty of apps. But it's not quite the same thing. There are mods that can be performed to hack Android Market into the ViewPad 10e but, frankly, life's too short.
Still, the tablet handles Flash so you can play back YouTube without alteration, though playback sometimes juddered. And don't worry that the tablet only comes with just 4GB of storage - it has a microSD card slot, so you can add to the capacity. Take that, Apple. And in another iPad-beating move, there are two speakers on the back of the ViewPad 10e. Sound quality isn't great, for all that, but it's the thought that counts, isn't it?
There's no rear camera, but a front-facing one is 1.3-megapixel resolution, again more than either of the iPad 2's cameras could muster. Not great for stills, then, but good enough for shooting video.
Tablets have big batteries, and this is no exception. Even so, it didn't seem to last as long as its lookalike tablet, the iPad 2. You will get a decent day's usage out of it, but not much more.
For all that, there are things to like about the ViewPad 10e. If you fancy something like the Amazon Kindle Fire, but want a bigger screen, then a books-centric tablet like this may well appeal. After all, the Kindle app comes pre-loaded.
The ViewSonic ViewPad is great value, really. In fact it's just dropped to £149.99 at Argos, so it's now cheaper than the heavily discounted PlayBook. The display is great and ViewSonic has done its best to make it an enjoyable experience. Overall, though, we'd suggest saving up for an iPad - the software is slow and often lags behind you, the build quality is ropey and the absence of Android Market an annoyance. If all you want is a big-screened ebook, however, it's worth a look.
Display: IPS capacitive LCD touchscreen, 1024 x 768 pixels, 9.7-inches
Dimensions: 241.6 x 188.6 x 9.1 mm
Internal Memory: 4GB storage, 512 MB RAM
Card Slot: MicroSD up to 32GB
Audio playback: 3.5mm Ear Jack & Speaker
Processor: 1 GHz single-core processor
Operating System: Android 2.3 Gingerbread
Battery Life: 5h 30m talk time (3G)