When we found out about ViewSonic’s $US170 tablet that runs Android’s latest (and definitely greatest) OS, we were more than just a little sceptical. We wanted to believe, but we’ve been hurt before. After some hands-on time, I can confirm that our dead-inside hearts were dead-on.
The 7-inch tablet is light and is very easy to hold. It’s not designed to be an iPad competitor, but an Amazon Kindle Fire competitor. Indeed, I love that they’re aiming for that price-point. The thing is, Amazon actually loses a little money on each Kindle Fire they sell so they can get people buying more books/movies/music/apps, and the nice hardware is how they lure more people into their ecosystem. ViewSonic doesn’t have an ecosystem, per se, which is why they clearly skimped on hardware to get it this cheap.
The most glaringly bad thing about it is the screen (pun not intended, but enjoyed). It had the worst viewing angles I’ve ever seen on a tablet. Pixilation was a problem, and colours were flat, dull and murky. The banner feature here (aside from the price) is Android 4.0, Ice Cream Sandwich. Unfortunately ICS is almost totally unrecognisable. Part of this was due to the awful screen, and part was due to the fact that it didn’t work well at all. It reminded me of a tablet running Gingerbread (Android 2.3), which isn’t a pleasant experience to invoke. Things would skip, apps would crash and, oh yeah, there were like no apps on this thing at all, which made it rather difficult to see what it could do. A word of advice for you, ViewSonic: put some apps on your thing before displaying it for all the world so it doesn’t look like an elephant graveyard when it’s turned on. There’s this game called Angry Birds, for instance. People seem to enjoy it.
Performance was a mixed bag. At times it seemed to be fast enough, and then it would stumble, fall down, go boom. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that ICS probably wasn’t designed with a 1GHz single-core processor in mind, and while we don’t have an official word regarding how much RAM this thing has, I’m going to go ahead and bet “not enough to do any real multitasking”.
The caveat in all this is that they said this is not final software. It may not even be the final hardware. They’re likely going to put their own skin on top of it and give it a serious makeover, which, y’know, don’t do that to Ice Cream Sandwich! So, yes, there is potential for it to get better and when it is ready to be released I will be excited to give it a real test. In the meantime, why show something off at the world’s biggest electronics show that’s clearly so far from being ready? For now, if you want a cheap Android tablet, spend the extra $US30 and get the Kindle Fire — with its infinitely better everything — then hack it and put straight up Android on there. Your eyes and brain will thank you.