Here. It's late 2010, and the era of tablet computing has arrived. New slate style (or
tablet) devices are appearing so fast that even I can't keep up.
Of course there's the iPad, and there are some PC tablets and
convertible Laptops that still run Windows, but the excitement and the
fastest growth is in devices that run Google's Android operating
system, which has Linux at it's heart.
A great surge in the quantity of new products, however, does not always mean a great surge in the quality
of these products. I've already reviewed two of the "lesser tier"
Chinese tablets here and here. Now were are going to take a look
at something intended to more closely and honestly compete with Apple's
iPad. The Viewsonic G-Tablet.
The unit described here is being sold at Sears, as well as Staples and
Office Depot. It bears the Viewsonic name, but as with many of
these Android Tablets, it is also sold under other names.
How does this unit compare with the Apple iPad that it is
intended to compare with? What are it's limitations and
fixes? Could it actually be better in some ways that an real iPad?
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10" Internet Tablet
(Model UPC-300 2.2) Specifications
Display: 10.1 in. 1024x600 Capacitive touch screen
CPU: 1GHz NVIDIA Tegra 2
RAM: DDR2 512MB
Internal Storage: 16GB
Expansion Slots: SD/MMC card slot up to 16GB
OS: Android 2.2/TnT
Wi-Fi: 802.11 b/g/n
Battery: 3650 mAh Lithium Ion
Front Camera: 1.3-megapixel
Rear Camera: None
Bluetooth: 2.1 + EDR
3 Axis Accelerometers
No (working) Compass
in the box with the G-Tablet is a getting started sheet, and another
sheet of paper that in summary says: "We know people have been
complaining, but eventually you'll get a software update that may fix
some of the issues, so don't return the device." We'll talk about
these problems in the remainder of this article. Also in the box
is the AC adapter and US plug contacts, a standard USB to mini USB
cable, and a screen cleaning cloth.
The included AC charger is rather chunky, and the fact that it has
removable prongs does not make it much easier to pack for travel.
Only US prongs are supplied, and finding other prongs that will fit is
likely impossible, so it does not help those traveling to other
countries either. The adapter does have a light, which is
nice for finding outlets that actually work in scanky hotels.
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like the Augen Gentouch 78 Tablet reviewed previously
was a "textbook" implementation of the Telechips System On a Chip
(SOC), the ViewSonic G-Tablet is a textbook implementation of the
NVidia Tegra 250 SOC. The difference of course, is in those 2
chipsets themselves. The Tegra 250 is a dual core ARM Cortex
this chip should blow away the iPad and the iPhone 4's A4 chip, which
is based on a single optimized ARM Cortex A8 core. Is
all this power used effectively in Android right now? No, but at
least a machine like this is theoretically at least somewhat future
proof in the near term.
In addition to the processor, the G-Tablet wins the bragging contest
for having 2 speakers and both micro and standard (host) USB ports
(more on USB compatibility later). The iPad has only one speaker, so
you cannot play
stereo sound without headphones or speakers. The sound from
the two tiny speakers in the ViewSonic tablet is not going to set
off the neighbors car alarm, but you do notice the stereo effect. When
the 3.5mm sound out is connected to a decent amplifier and speakers,
the sound seems to have lots of volume and frequency range.
The G-Tablet also has a coaxial charger port. The
mondo 3650 mAh battery in this thing can't be charged over USB. I
don't quite get why they think that the micro SD card slot, and the USB
host connector need a cover, but the rest of the ports do not.
It's not going to make much difference in the long run because that
flimsy cover is not going to last.
Apple iPad - One proprietary port, no card slot.
ViewSonic G-Tablet - Standard USB ports, and a MicroSD card slot.
The Viewsonic Tablet also has a 30 pin iPod like connector on the
bottom that's used for
-- well, nothing at the moment. There is not even any associated cable in the box. It's not
actually iPod/iPad compatible, and very sadly, it is not the new PDMI
standard. Theoretically, Viewsonic will be coming out with cables
and docks that break this connector out into HDMI, charging, USB,
etc. Again, it's only theoretical at the moment, but the G-Tablet
should be able to crank 720p HD Video out that port. Also seen at
the left of the unit in the following picture is the tiny hole for the
30 Pin proprietary port? The G-Tablet has one of them too.
It's not Apple compatible -- It's for the -- Uh -- Well, nothing at the moment.
I've read several complaints about the screen having a poor viewing
angle. Apparently it's just a netbook LCD sandwiched behind a
capacitive touch panel. Now that I've read those comments, I
notice the viewing angle problem, but seeing as that you can hold the
tablet as needed for personal viewing, I don't find it to be much of a
problem. It's 1024x600 pixels, which is what an iPad would be if
you cut the screen down so that it had a 16:9 aspect ratio. It's
more pixels than most 7" Android Tablets, but given that the Color Nook
has the same resolution on a 7" screen, we see that the big screen just
makes everything bigger, it does not give you more real estate, or
allow you to see more of a web page at once for example. Although if
your vision is not great, or you are using the tablet as a presentation
device, bigger pixels can be a good thing.
Centered above the screen (when in landscape) is the 1.3 MP
camera. Don't expect much from it. It has no flash, and no
auto-focus. It's primary purpose, again, seems to be bragging rights
iPad worshiping friends. It'd be fine for video conferencing, but
none of the Android VoIP/Video call software that I use seems to run on
There's also a charging LED that actually works correctly - Red for
charging and Green for fully charged. Capacitive touch buttons
for the standard Android functions - Search, Home, Menu, and Back -
line the right side. These buttons are not illuminated, and you can't feel them.
Next to an iPad, The plastic-backed G-Tablet is a bit chunky, but not as bad as a Cruz Tablet or the cheap Chinese units.
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First Boot, and Initial Impressions (or How to Ruin a Good OS):
story of the G-Tablet is basically a Good New -- Bad News -- Good News
story. As indicated above, the hardware is simply fantastic.
Unfortunately, the software loaded on this tablet when you buy it makes
the pretty hardware almost completely unusable.
G-Tablet ships with something called Tap-n-Tap installed over Android
2.2. When booted, you are are presented with a Tap-n-Tap (here after
referred to as TnT.) desktop instead of the standard Android Home
Screens. You can't quit TnT and you can't get to the Android
Home Screens. I personally don't like the look of TnT, and I
don't want the day's morbid news greeting me every time I wake up the
tablet. Granted, TnT is highly customizable, and with about an
hour's worth of setting it up, I could probably get info on it that
would actually be useful to me. But the point is that I don't
want to be forced to do this. If TnT were optional, that would
be fine, but it's not. UPDATE
Newer Official Viewsonic Firmwares do allow the standard Android
Launcher instead of Tap-n-Tap, but many of the other issues mentioned
here still remain.
TnT also replaces many other Android functions, including the
keyboards, Settings Panels, and even the Status line. It also
includes it's own apps. In the TnT functions, the Android Menu
Key is not used. For a while, I actually thought it had a hardware
problem. Not only that, but there are glaring bugs in TnT.
For example, the portrait mode keyboard does not even have a Return key.
Many features are also missing from the TnT version of the settings
panels. Of particular note is an omission in the time and date settings.
The setting to automatically set the time is missing, and, -- yes it
gets worse -- there seems to be a bug that causes the unit to
occasionally loose the time when it is rebooted.
Every time you wonder if it can get any worse, it does.
Upon first boot, basically everything I tried resulted in a Force Close
(FC). That's the equivalent of one of those red stop sign "X's"
you get in Windows all the time. A software update that will load
the first time you connect to the network fixes most of the FC's, but
many bugs remain.
The browser is also not the standard Android browser. It works
OK, but many features are not present. It's one of the apps in
which the menu button does not work. Space at the top is
wasted displaying what should be in a Menu panel.
Worse? Yup. There's no Android Marketplace on this
machine. For the first time user, finding and installing apps
would be very difficult. With no Android Homescreen, those
thousands of cool and useful Android widgets and wallpapers won't work.
short, Tap-n-Tap is horrible. It reinforces what the open source
critics say. TnT really makes Android look bad, and Google is
powerless to stop designers and vendors from using it.
Fortunately, the critics are wrong, and the fact that Android is open source allows us to fix most of the problems easily
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Fixing (removing) Tap-n-Tap:
With the offical update from ViewSonic, the underlying Android
2.2 is greatly improved. If we could get rid of TnT, we'd have a
usable system. Fortunately, the smart folks over at
xda-developers have done just that (See Links Below).
To be clear for those considering
purchasing this unit: Installing an unofficial firmware is required to
make this device usable. If you are not willing/able to do this,
I must recommend against buying this unit at this time.
Using the stock updated firmware, user "roebeet" has made a "TnT Lite"
firmware. It removes the TnT desktop, and puts back a normal
Android Homescreen and Launcher, as well as some other standard Google
Apps, including the Market. Installing this update is not difficult
even if you have never used Android before, but some basic experience
unzipping files, and copying them to various directories is needed.
It takes only a few
minutes. You do not have to open the unit to update the firmware.
It can be done from a Mac, PC, or Linux.
In addition to "TnT Lite", there are also other unofficial firmwares to
try. Several are in active development as of this writing.
In addition to flashing a unofficial firmware, it is necessary to do a few
other simple steps to get things like the Android Marketplace, and
Adobe Flash working. These topics are beyond the scope of a
review, but can be found by surfing around the relevant forums on
xda-developers. I do understand, of course that a user should not have to do this to get a working system.
That's right -- I said Adobe Flash working
. We're getting to the second Good News part, and one more bragging right over your Apple loving friends.
The remainder of this review is based on 3rd party firmware, NOT the stock ViewSonic Firmware.
UPDATE: There are now several very good firmwares for this tablet, including a CyanogenMod firmware
based on the Android 2.3 "Gingerbread" Source code
and optimized for the Tegra chipset. This is the only large
tablet that there is currently a CyanogenMod FW for. What
does this mean, Well for one -- Not only do you have bragging rights
over your Apple user friends, but
you now have bragging rights over most other Android owners. If
you install this ROM, you'll basically be getting a tablet that won't
be available to most consumers for almost a year.
reobeet's firmware does not replace the TnT browser. It seems to be a
stripped-down version of the standard Android browser, but it does work.
As mentioned above, once Flash is installed, Videos play properly right
in the browser. It's also fast, and web pages look beautiful on
the 10" screen. Pinch to zoom works, and it's pretty smooth
thanks to that NVidia Tegra processor.
Alternative browsers are also available in other Firmwares, and on the MarketPlace.
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Productivity and Office Formats:
of the box, there simply is no Office compatibility. With the
Android Marketplace working, however, we can simply install either Quickoffice,
or Documents to Go, and office compatibility, including simple editing,
is available. Note that both Quickoffice and Documents to Go are
paid apps, so figure that in with the cost of the device.
Most of the 3rd party Firmwares includes the Google email app, which supports MS
Exchange email, including Corporate Address lookup (auto completion),
and MS Exchange Calendar sync.
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with the fixes above, a serious bug exists with respect to playing or
displaying all types of media. Without getting too technical, The
media players will not see media on an SD card. I inserted an SD
card in the unit with several Gig's of MP3's, photos, and Movies on
it. The Music Player, and Gallery both reported that there was no
media on the device. There's no option to scan for media, and no
way to select the card as a location for media. UPDATE: This is fixed in some of the 3rd Party Firmwares.
ES File Explorer is included, and using this, individual files can be
played, or entire media collections copied to the internal 16G storage,
but is in not intuitive to the non-savvy user.
Media installed on the internal 16 Gig storage plays fine, and Android
is great at playing lots of media formats well. Again, that Tegra
processor really shines.
Once the fix for the Android Marketplace is done, the Nook software, or
other eBook software can be installed, and the G-Tablet becomes a full
page eBook reader.
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one's easy. Even with the stock firmware (with the official
update) WiFi performance is simply superb. roebeet's firmware is
100% stock in this respect, so don't fear to install it. WiFi
connects quickly, has good range, and usually re-connects almost
instantly upon waking from sleep.
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this is something that should be a model to the other products out
there. Between the fact that a 10 inch tablet allows plenty of
room for a huge battery, and the fact that the NVidia Tegra chipset
really is very
efficient, battery life is phenomenal.
You pay for this in terms of weight, and there have been complaints
that the unit gets pretty heavy to hold after a while, but the trade
off is a true full day of work, reading or movie watching.
As with many of these devices, sleep still seems to drain the battery in
about a day, but if you turn it off between occasional uses, even days away from
the charger is possible.
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USB/Bluetooth Device Support:
Apple iPad users can buy a set of little adapters that fit the Apple proprietary connector, and then allow you
to plug in a USB camera, or a full size SD card from a camera.
Note the word camera
. It's strictly pictures from a camera that can be accessed. In the iPad walled garden, you
cannot access, copy, or utilize other files of any other sort, even if you buy these
The USB ports on the G-Tablet are standard, and work with
many (but not all) types of USB devices.
The mini USB connector allows the G-Tablet's
internal 16G storage to appear as a standard USB storage device when
connected to a PC (or Mac). Even if you do not have an app on the G-Tablet to
access a particular file type, you can still use the G-Tablet to carry
it around from PC to PC.
The larger USB connector is a USB host port. If you insert a USB flash
you can access not only pictures, but any file that has an associated
app can be opened. To be fair, if your camera has a full-sized SD
card, you'll still need a USB card reader to access it since the included slot is microSD.
USB keyboards work, but interestingly, Apple USB keyboards don't. I cannot help but to
wonder whether this is an accident or not given the way Android is competing
with Apple products.
(a special communications protocol for connecting to, and loading
software onto, Android devices) worked fine first shot on both
Macintosh and Linux systems. Windows users have to install special USB drivers.
I should also mention that the Viewsonic G-Tablet has
I was able to pair it with a Macintosh, and easily transfer
files. Pairing with a Phillips Bluetooth equipped audio system
effortless due to the fact that Android tries auto pairing. The iPad
unnecessarily asked for a PIN. A quick attempt to pair it with a
keyboard did not work. (For the Linux pro's out there, BT keyboards can
be made to work from the command line if you install the BT hidd tools
from a Google Code page. Also, some other available firmwares
support BT keyboards directly.)
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The Viewsonic G-Tablet gives you fantastic hardware that is
almost totally crippled by the included software. Fortunately,
it's easily fixed with one of several available unofficial firmwares.
Speaking in terms of the hardware, you get more in this device at $399
than you get in an iPad for a minimum of $499. Don't forget to
add the cost of those adapters to get some USB functionality in an
iPad, so the minimum equivalent cost of the iPad is really $529.
How much is your time worth? Basically you've still got $129
worth of free labor to spend fixing your G-Tablet, and you end up with
a superior device.
If you are not in a position to deal with downloading a firmware from
an unknown source, and installing it, and your OK with the Apple
lockdown on your data, your much better off with an iPad. If
you're willing and able to do the necessary work on the G-Tablet,
you'll have a truly fantastic tablet, some spending money in your
pocket, and bragging rights over your iPad toting friends.
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