Viewsonic has dabbled in the tablet market before, with its ill-fated Smart Display ('Mira') product — the Airpanel V150 back in 2003. This time, the company is latching onto a market kick-started earlier this year by Apple's iPad. However, the £429 (inc. VAT, £365 ex. VAT) ViewPad 10 is the first tablet we've seen running both Windows 7 Home Premium and Android 1.6. This is no giant smartphone, though — that honour belongs to the company's 7in. Android 2.2-powered ViewPad 7. Although the ViewPad 10 has a SIM card slot at its top edge, this is non-functional in the current product, no doubt giving ViewSonic the opportunity to offer it in the future. But rather confusingly, the quick-start poster still explains how to turn mobile broadband on and off.
The ViewPad 10 weighs 835g and runs both Windows 7 (Home Premium) and Android (1.6)
The ViewPad 10's bright 10in. LED-backlit capacitive touch-screen has a resolution of 1,024 by 600 pixels and is housed in a 14.5mm-thick chassis with a brushed aluminium panel covering the underside. At 835g, it's heavier than an iPad and isn't particularly comfortable to hold for long periods. Next to the screen are three buttons for power, Home and Enter. In Windows, the Home key becomes the Esc key, while a long press on the Enter key toggles the Wi-Fi (802.11b/g/n) on and off.
ViewPad 10 connections: power, microSD, Mini-VGA, USB 2.0, headphones, mic
Three small blue and red LED status lights sit above the screen, next to the lens for the front-facing 1.3-megapixel webcam. To left are the I/O connections, comprising two USB ports, a microSD card slot, a mini-VGA connector (Viewsonic has no cable available for this yet), a headphone jack and an integrated microphone. There are vents on the underside for the two tiny speakers plus an air intake. On the top is a vent for the CPU fan, which is noticeable but not distractingly so. The whole tablet feels solid enough, although the bottom panel of our sample creaked ominously when held at the USB port end.
On power up, you're presented with the Grub bootloader screen, from where you choose the OS using the Home and Enter keys. The OSes are installed on separate partitions on a single 16GB SSD, but files can only be shared via the micro-SD card slot; in the Windows partition, only about 3GB is free. Android boots in well under 20 seconds, while Windows 7 takes under 40 seconds from cold.
Once the novelty of using Windows 7 in touch-screen mode wears off (this doesn't take long), you realise that it's not ideal for devices like this. You lose the excellent handwriting recognition features, and many actions (such as menu selections) require precise touches that quickly become frustrating. The Snap and Aero Peek features do come into their own, but you're constantly wanting to use a stylus. Adjusting the touch options helps a little, and you do gradually get used to it, but it's never a particularly enjoyable experience.
The on-screen keyboard is good, but if you don't like it at least you have the option of plugging in a standard USB keyboard and mouse. A geo-sensor rotates the screen automatically, but the 16:9 aspect ratio makes it look odd in portrait mode. The display is bright and clear, but the viewing angle is atrocious from below, although it's good from above and both sides. Consequently, we preferred using it 'upside down' most of the time.
Android, perhaps unsurprisingly, gave a much better touch experience, although it has its own problems. Many of the apps aren't designed for a screen of this resolution; the SPB TV and camera apps, for instance, just show tiny pictures in one corner of the screen.
Other apps, such as the camera, won't work without a microSD card inserted. Functions that are dependent on a mobile connection, such as text messaging, obviously don't work either. There's no Android Market, just a dismal third-party App Store. However, as a lightweight email and browsing tool it's fine, assuming you can get by without Flash support. The standard version of Documents to Go is installed, but we couldn't get the keyboard to work in the Word application, and the app itself would not update.
Battery life from the ViewPad 10's 3,200mAh Li-polymer battery was 2.5 hours when viewing a 720p video in Windows (the system's 1.66GHz Atom N455 processor struggled with 1080p content). Passmark Software's Performance Test 7 overall score of 168.8 compared unfavourably to a similarly-specified netbook (246.7), mainly due to poor sequential read/write results from the SSD.
The ViewPad 10 is unlikely to dent the iPad's dominance of the touch-screen tablet market. But, like the Airpanel before it, the problem is not so much with the hardware as with Microsoft: although Windows 7 is a much better proposition for touch-screens than its predecessors, it still can't compete with operating systems designed from the ground up to work with fingers rather than keyboards. That said, if you need the familiarity and compatibility of Windows 7, there are currently few alternatives to the ViewPad 10.