- Review Date: 01/25/11
- Bottom line:
On paper, Viewsonic Viewpad 7 has a long and impressive feature list, but its flaws far outnumber its features.
Responsive touch screen. Accepts SIM cards from any GSM carrier. Makes and receives voice calls. Full access to Android Market.
Expensive. Screen resolution warps graphics. Odd on-screen keyboard configuration. Both cameras produce blurry images. Tinny sounding stereo speakers. Little internal storage.
There's no shortage of Android tablets these days, and most of the options available are almost completely indistinguishable. Viewsonic, however, has made smart moves in trying to set itself apart from that cadre of me-too products with the Viewsonic Viewpad 7 ($599 direct). The Viewpad 7 is a 7-inch Android tablet with a wider-than-typical assortment of features including voice calling, dual cameras, stereo speakers, and full access to the Android Market. The problem, though, is that for all the things the Viewpad 7 does, it doesn't any of them particularly well. For its high price, and given its competition, this tablet doesn't work well enough to recommend—despite its promising specs.
The tablet's design isn't notably different from most other Android tablets, from the Cherrypal Cherrypad ($188, 2 stars) all the way up to the Samsung Galaxy Tab. It's a 7.06-by-4.33-by-0.45-inch (HWD) rectangle with a black bezel, black back panel, and silver sides. It's made of plastic, but still manages to feel solid. It's slightly thinner and shorter, but slightly wider, than the Samsung Galaxy Tab, but they feel essentially the same in hand. The device weighs 13 ounces, and is much more manageable to hold than an Apple iPad ($499-$829, 4 stars).
The top of the tablet houses the Power button and a speaker. An additional speaker sits on the bottom panel, and on the right side are volume controls and slots for a micro-USB card and a SIM card. (More on that SIM card in a moment.) On the left are a mini-USB port, a headphone jack, a microphone port, and a Reset button. Included in the package are a USB cable, an AC adapter, and a set of decent earphones with a few pairs of ear tips in various sizes. There's also a case that opens and closes like a book around the Viewpad 7, but it can't be used as a stand, and the flap gets in the way when you're holding the device sideways.
The screen is a 7-inch, 800-by-480-pixel capacitive touch display, with the four typical Android buttons below—Menu, Home, Search, and Back. The buttons all have unique, somewhat indiscernible icons, but I got used to them easily enough. The touch interface is solid (something that can't be said of every Android tablet), and even super-sensitive games like Angry Birds worked well.
When I first laid eyes on the screen, though, I couldn't help noticing that something just looked…wrong. The Viewpad 7 appears to render the Android operating system at a slightly different resolution from the display, so icons and text look noticeably stretched. The 800-by-480 resolution was likely used to make Android Market apps look better and run in their native resolutions, but every image displayed slightly stretched—circles become ovals, and text and icons blur a bit. For an Android tablet priced near the top of the market, this is inexcusable. I asked Viewsonic about this, and the company's response was that the resolution was chosen in order to make apps look better and to ensure access to the Android Market, to meet Google's regulations for what is allowed to access the Market. No matter the reason, the Viewpad 7 just doesn't look right.
Speaking of things that feel strange, calling the top of the Viewpad 7 "the top" is slightly misleading—the device is clearly designed to be used primarily in landscape mode. The Home and Phone dialer screens, as well as some menus and apps, only function in the horizontal orientation. Other apps, like the browser, do work fine in both orientations, but the inconsistency is frustrating.
Features and Performance
The hardware Viewsonic packed into the Viewpad 7 doesn't sound as impressive as some other Android tablets, but it's serviceable. There's a 600MHz processor inside (instead of 1GHz on the Galaxy Tab), 512MB of internal storage (some other tablets have 8GB or more), integrated Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, and 3G and GPS capabilities. The slower processor does create the occasional, slight lag in scrolling and launching apps, but it's not too noticeable. Unless there are a large number of apps running at the same time, the Viewpad 7 handled most tasks just fine in my tests. Viewsonic rates the battery life at 4-6 hours of heavy use, and my experience was close to that; though, of course, it varies with various combinations of tasks.
With the Viewpad 7, you get all the standard Android functionality—e-mail, Web browsing, music, and video playback. The Viewpad 7 runs an almost-untouched build of Android 2.2, and by offering full access to the Android Market it gives users a lot of the advantages of the Android phone experience. There are inherent issues with Android 2.2 and tablet-sized devices (see our Sprint Galaxy Tab review for more on that), but they're not unique to the Viewpad 7. The aforementioned stretched-image problem, however, is.
One of its best features: The Viewpad 7 is an actual phone. Drop in a SIM card and you can immediately make calls, send text messages, and surf using your data connection—you'll get 3G speeds with AT&T, and 2G with T-Mobile—without spending an extra cent. Using a 7-inch-device as a handset looks ridiculous, of course, so you'll want to use a Bluetooth headset, the included earphones, or the speakerphone—all of which worked fine in my tests. For road warriors who sometimes need a larger screen to work on, but don't want to pay for an additional tablet-specific service plan, the Viewpad could be a viable solution. The built-in GPS chip also works well, and bundled with the always-excellent Google Maps for Android makes for a great, big-screened navigation system.
The Web browser has some issues: pages loaded quickly, but scrolling wasn't always smooth in my tests. Also, the browser defaults to loading mobile versions of Web sites, which sort of defeats the purpose of the large screen. There's no Flash support, but Viewsonic says it's coming soon. My biggest frustration was with the on-screen keyboard, which is critical to the functionality of a tablet. For example, there's a button in the browser to add 'www.' and '.com' to Web addresses, which is useful, except it's a huge button and is oddly placed. There's a lot of get used to with this keyboard.
Nearly every other feature of the Viewpad 7 falls under the category of "does it, but not especially well." There are front and rear cameras, but both are very low quality (0.3- and 3-megapixel, respectively) and take consistently blurry images. Having a gigantic viewfinder for the camera is fun, though. The stock Android music and video player work fine, but since there's only 512MB of internal storage, you're going to need to invest in a micro-SD card to take advantage of them. The two speakers create a stereo image, but they sound tinny and aren't very loud—even the iPad's single anemic speaker delivers better sound.
On paper, the Viewsonic Viewpad 7 ticks all the right boxes—decent hardware design, phone capabilities, data connection, and GPS—but this tablet doesn't do anything particularly well, and the display resolution issue is enough to make the whole experience feel less appealing. It's got the carrier-neutrality thing going for it, but you can't deny that this is a very expensive tablet. At $300 or even $400, some of its flaws could be excused, but at $600 the Viewpad 7 is competing with with the iPad and the Galaxy Tab, and it doesn't deliver enough to hold its own.