The ViewSonic ViewPad 10s tried to jump on the Android tablet bandwagon, but fell off the back. It's decent for surfing the Web, but its confusing array of buttons, poor screen and lack of Google features mean you shouldn't put it on your shopping list.
Don't confuse the 10s with the ViewPad 10, which runs both Windows 7 and Android, and has an Intel processor. The 10s only runs Android, and has an Nvidia Tegra 2 processor.
We tested the Wi-Fi-only version of the 10s, which costs £275 from Misco, among other vendors.
Missing in action
Like the Samsung Galaxy Tab, the 10s uses a version of Google's Android software that was designed for mobile phones, not tablets -- version 2.2 Froyo. Android 2.2 works well on the Tab, since its 7-inch display is only 3 inches or so larger than that of a big touchscreen phone. On the 10s' 10-inch screen, however, the menus look comically huge. The effect is even more absurd when the tablet's held in landscape mode so that the menus are stretched out even further.
Samsung also tweaked Android on the Tab so that many of the features took advantage of the big screen. In contrast, ViewSonic's tweaks largely consist of stripping Android of most of its advantages to keep the tablet's price down.
For example, you don't get any of the wonderful Google-designed apps usually included with Android, from Google Maps to Gmail. Yes, you heard us right. There's no Gmail and no Google Maps apps, not to mention a distinct lack of YouTube, Listen, Goggles and many more.
You don't even get access to the Android Market for downloading apps. Instead, you get a different app store, AndroidPit. The name is apt -- this app store is the pits. It's missing key options, like the official Facebook and Twitter apps, for example.
Plenty of manufacturers, including HTC and Samsung, add their own choice of apps to their gadgets. But they don't cut the Android Market out completely -- they just offer a few choice apps to get you started. Without access to the thousands of apps in the Market, Android is crippled, and adding a cut-rate app store just adds lemon juice to the open wound.
In theory, you could load Android apps onto the 10s over a USB cable, or download them directly from the Web. ViewSonic even has a page of links that will let you install various Android apps. But it's far less convenient than using an app store on the device.
We should add that the 10s isn't totally without email support -- it has an email client, just not the dedicated Gmail app. Most popular email accounts, including Gmail and Hotmail, are easy to set up just by typing in your email address and password.
If we were looking to buy a tablet, the lack of Google features would put us off the 10s immediately. But, in case you're not convinced, we'll mention a few of its other drawbacks.
The 10-inch screen has wide-screen dimensions, just like a netbook's screen. We can see the attraction of this when it comes to watching video, but there are some disadvantages. For one, the screen's 1,024x600-pixel resolution means it doesn't look very sharp. This isn't helped by the fact that some small icons are recycled into blurry-looking big ones -- those on the notification bar being a prime example.
The viewing angle of the screen is also poor, so it seems to darken towards the edges when you're not looking at it dead on. This definitely isn't a tablet for sharing a movie with a friend. Finally, the weak 1.3-megapixel camera doesn't shoot video in the same aspect ratio as the screen, so there are black bars around the blurry, stuttering video you've just captured.
The tablet that never sleeps
We have one last blow to land on the 10s' liver. Typically, Android phones have four touch-sensitive buttons below the screen -- search, back, home and menu -- and a physical power button that turns the device on and also wakes it from sleep. On top of its bezel, the 10s has both a small power button that doubles as a home button, and a tiny back button. Between them is a sliding switch that can prevent the screen orientation from rotating. There are no physical menu and search buttons.
We found the buttons hard to find in the first place, and confusing once we'd located them. The power/home button is particularly confusing, and we never figured out how to put the tablet to sleep quickly -- we had to go through the menus to put it on standby. For a tablet with such poor battery life, that's a problem. Leaving it to fall asleep on its own meant that we went from a full charge to a charge of 75 per cent with only a couple of hours of intermittent use.
There are on-screen buttons for the home, menu and back functions, but they're not always visible. When you're using the camera, for instance, there are no on-screen buttons.
On the plus side, ViewSonic hasn't skimped on ports around the bezel. There are full-sized USB and HDMI ports, a standard 3.5mm headphone jack, a microSD memory-card slot, a power jack and a multi-pin dock connector.
There's even a mysterious little blank cover on the top, which is where the 3G antenna goes in a different model. Or maybe it's where the sadness is injected into this gadget.
Savvy Web surfer
The 10s has the latest 802.11n Wi-Fi connectivity and takes memory cards of up to 32GB. But so does a £50 budget Android phone these days, so we're not going to praise it too much for that.
The tablet is reasonably fast and responsive, though. It also has a decent Web browser, courtesy of Android. But the wide-screen aspect ratio isn't brilliant for surfing the Web -- it's either too wide or too narrow, so you have to do plenty of scrolling. But pages are rendered quickly and accurately, and Flash videos play perfectly, too.
ViewSonic has worked hard to keep the cost of the ViewPad 10s down, by not licensing any of Google's good apps and equipping it with a cut-rate screen. But the company's blown the savings on a plethora of ports that aren't as important as simple, usable software. The 10s is much cheaper than the big-name Android competition -- the Motorola Xoom, for example, costs £500 -- but it shows. We'd steer clear if we were you.
Edited by Charles Kloet