Detailed Review
 Viewsonic G-Tablet 10" Android 2.2 Tablet

Nov 2010
Last update: 22 Jan 2011


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Viewsonic G-Tablet
Viewsonic G-Tablet
10" Android Tablet
(Photo: Viewsonic)

Basic Description:

It's 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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Viewsonic G-Tablet
10" Internet Tablet
 (Model UPC-300 2.2) Specifications

Display: 10.1 in. 1024x600 Capacitive touch screen

CPU: 1GHz NVIDIA Tegra 2
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 3G
No (working) Compass

What's in the boxIncluded 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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The Hardware:

Tegra LogoJust 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 A9.  Theoretically, 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.

Ports on the G-Tabet vs those on the iPad

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 microphone.

GTablet Bottom

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 over your 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 the G-Tablet.

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):

The 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.

TapnTapThe 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.

In 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.

CyanogenMod LogoUPDATE:  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.

Web Experience:
Unfortunately, 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:
Out 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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Media Support:
Even 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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WiFi Performance:
This 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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Battery Life:
Again, 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:
Adapters - We don't want or need youApple 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 adapters.

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 drive, 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.  Some 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.

ADB (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 Bluetooth.  I was able to pair it with a Macintosh, and easily transfer files.  Pairing with a Phillips Bluetooth equipped audio system was also 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 Rocketfish Bluetooth 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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Discuss this article on the Forum
Official ViewSonic G-Tablet Page
Viewsonic G Tablet section at the xda-developers forums

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