Padang Ekspres.net-Viewsonic's ViewPad 7 is a tablet based on Google's Android platform and boasting a 7in screen. As such, it fits uncomfortably between smartphones and Apple's larger iPad, but could find its own niche as a portable device for accessing music and video, the web and e-books.
Available now from Misco and other online retailers, the ViewPad 7 is somewhat similar to the Samsung Galaxy Tab. Both have a 7in touch screen, both run Android 2.2 and both have the ability to make voice calls, unlike the Apple iPad.
Like Samsung's model, this makes the ViewPad either an oversized smartphone or a tablet that can make phone calls, depending on your view. Either way, the unit is too large to be held up to your ear to make calls like a standard mobile, so the voice capability may perhaps be viewed as a secondary function.
However, the 800 x 480 display makes the ViewPad a better device for browsing the web than most smartphones, and Viewsonic has included the full version of Documents To Go by Dataviz, which means that users can create Word, Excel and PowerPoint files on it. Another built-in application, Aldiko, lets it serve as an e-book reader.
In fact, the ViewPad comes with a leatherette cover like those available for some e-reader models. With this attached, the device not only gets some protection against knocks, but it looks unobtrusive and could easily pass for a book or notepad when closed.
The ViewPad is identical to many Android-based smartphones in specifications. It has a 600MHz Qualcomm MSM7227 processor with 512MB internal memory, and supports 3G/HSPA networks, 802.11b/g Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and GPS for location-based services.
It also has two digital cameras: a rear-facing 3-megapixel with auto focus and a front-facing 0.3-megapixel unit.
The device itself feels solid and weighs 380g, almost exactly the same as Samsung's tablet. This is about twice the weight of a typical smartphone but, to keep it in perspective, it is still only half the weight of an iPad.
As if to differentiate the ViewPad from a phone, its home screen displays in landscape orientation, although all other applications will automatically switch if you swivel the device round.
In this orientation, two speakers are set into the left and right edges of the case, with a small power button just below the left hand one.
The top edge has a flap that conceals the SIM card and micro SD card slots, plus volume up/down buttons. On the bottom edge is a jack socket for the supplied wired headset, a mini USB connector and a recessed reset control.
Like an Android-based phone, the ViewPad has four touch-sensitive buttons next to the screen for home, back, search and settings. These are either to the right of the screen or below it, depending on which way you are using it.
By now, most V3.co.uk readers are probably familiar with Android and its user interface. Suffice it to say that Viewsonic has changed very little in the Android 2.2 desktop, save for making landscape the default orientation.
There are the standard five desktop screens, which you can flick between with a sweep of the thumb or finger, plus the on-screen three-button menu linking to the browser, apps menu and dial pad.
In use, we found that the larger 7in screen of the ViewPad made text easier to read, and also made it much easier to tap in text using the on-screen keyboard.
This is particularly so when browsing the web, which is one of the main reasons that most people are likely to choose a tablet rather than an Android-based smartphone. However, like the Orange San Francisco phone that we tested recently, we found that the ViewPad feels a little slow when loading web pages, even over Wi-Fi.
This appears to demonstrate that the 1GHz Snapdragon processors used in high-end smartphones such as the HTC Desire HD really can make a difference to the user experience, so it is a shame that Viewsonic did not design the ViewPad around one of these.
Nevertheless, once a page had loaded, we found the device pretty responsive when navigating around the page and zooming in and out.
Moreover, the larger screen of the ViewPad trumps smartphones in applications such as Google Maps. With a suitable cradle, the ViewPad could thus prove useful as an in-car satellite navigation device.
The full version of Documents To Go allows users to create Word, Excel and PowerPoint files as well as view PDFs. But the editing facilities provided by this tool are somewhat basic, and best reserved for viewing documents while on the go or making minor amendments to files that have been created on a full-sized computer.
One application that seems to work especially well with the larger display is Aldiko, an e-book reader tool that bears more than a passing resemblance to Apple's iBooks on the iPad. Like iBooks, it allows users to browse and download from an online catalogue of books available in the ePub format used by Sony e-book devices.
We found the black text on white background a little hard on the eyes when reading a book for any length of time, compared with the E-ink display of an e-book reader device.
The 3-megapixel camera of the ViewPad seems to take quite decent quality snapshots but, like the Orange San Francisco, takes a second or two to adjust the focus and actually capture the image after you have pressed the shutter button.
It is worth pointing out that the main camera lens is obscured when the ViewPad is in its leatherette wallet, although it is a simple process to pop the device in and out if necessary. A second, front-facing camera is provided for video calls, and this has a much lower resolution of 0.3 megapixels.
While the ViewPad can also be used to make voice calls, it is a tad too large to be used like a standard phone handset. Fortunately, it comes with a wired pair of earphones that has an attached microphone, allowing calls to be made this way.
We tested this and found no problems with call audio quality, but it does feel a little odd to make a phone call this way. Users should also be able to use a Bluetooth headset if they can find one that offers satisfactory call quality.
One potential disadvantage of the ViewPad is that Viewsonic has slavishly followed the trend set by Apple's iPad and the Galaxy Tab in having an internal battery that cannot be swapped out.
This means that you cannot carry a spare with you on long journeys, as you can with most phones. It also means that, when the battery eventually wears out, you have to junk the device or return it to the vendor to get a new battery fitted.
Viewsonic said that it will replace the battery for free if it develops issues within the two-year warranty period covering the ViewPad, after which customers will have to pay.
The battery itself is a lithium polymer pack with a 3240mAh capacity. This has a quoted life of four to six hours continuous use, or 600 hours on standby. We found the ViewPad lasted for a couple of days before a recharge during tests, which is about what you would expect for a phone.
We tested the ViewPad using a SIM loaned by Vodafone, but the device is not available on a subsidised tariff through any of the UK carriers. This means that people interested in the ViewPad will have to pay the full purchase price and supply their own SIM, or else use it as a Wi-Fi-only device.
Viewsonic also does not include a flash memory card with the ViewPad as standard, which seems an oversight to us, as the camera and several other built-in applications will not work without any flash storage present.
Overall, we liked the ViewPad, which is better suited than a smartphone to some applications such as web browsing and reading e-books thanks to its larger screen, but whether potential buyers will stump up £400 for a second phone or use the ViewPad as their only phone is questionable.
That said, a great many buyers have already forked out for an iPhone and an iPad, either of which costs more than the ViewPad.