Tablets have a long history in business sector — back in the day, they ran Windows and were divided into 'slates' and notebook-like 'convertibles'. Nowadays, a 'tablet' brings to mind Apple's iPad or one of its many Android-based imitators, although Windows tablets still hang on in there. Intel is on the case too, its new Atom-based 'Oak Trail' platform being designed specifically for tablets and other mobile internet devices.
We've seen the Oak Trail platform in one tablet to date — the Atom Z670-powered Fujitsu Stylistic Q550, which couples Windows 7 with a bespoke finger-friendly overlay. ViewSonic takes a different approach with its ViewPad 10pro, a 10.1in. dual-OS Oak Trail tablet with Windows 7 with Android 2.2. In theory this could be all things to all people — but does it stack up in practice?
The ViewPad 10pro weighs 800g for the Wi-Fi-only version, or 850g for Wi-Fi plus 3G, and feels quite heavy when held in one hand for any length of time. Both the Windows-based Acer Iconia Tab W500 (970g) and Fujitsu Stylistic Q550 (870g) are heavier, although the Android-based Asus Eee Pad Transformer (680g) and the iOS-based Wi-Fi/3G iPad 2 (613g) are considerably lighter.
In landscape mode, the ViewPad 10pro measures 26.3cm wide by 17.4cm deep by 1.49-1.65cm thick, which makes it fairly easy to carry around. As with several other tablets we've seen recently, the 10.1in. screen looks a little lost thanks to a large bezel.
At 800g-850g, the 10.1in. ViewPad 10pro is on the hefty side for a tablet; it feels robust, but less classy than some of the competition — notably the iPad 2
The build materials are plastic throughout, and although the ViewSonic ViewPad 10pro feels quite robust it lacks the sophisticated feel we found in the Asus Eee Pad Transformer, which uses a combination of metal and plastic in its chassis. And it can't hold a candle to the classy and svelte iPad 2.
ViewSonic's branding sits on one long edge of the screen bezel, with a tiny lens for the 1.3-megapixel camera in the centre of the other long edge. One of the short edges houses an ambient light sensor, while the other carries touch-sensitive shortcut buttons for Android's Home, Back, Search and Menu functions.
There are small volume and power buttons on the top, along with a Hold button that turns off the screen. Connections are mostly on the left short edge: a small round-pin power jack, a headphone/microphone combo jack, HDMI port and USB 2.0 ports, a microSD card slot and a SIM card slot.
The bottom long edge carries a microphone and a connector for an optional docking station offering two USB 2.0 ports, an Ethernet (RJ-45) port, a 4-in-1 card reader for Memory Stick and SD-compatible media plus headphone and microphone jacks.
The USB 2.0 port allowed us to attach a small notebook mouse that we use regularly, along with the Logitech Wireless Solar keyboard. These were usable in both Windows 7 and Android modes. It ought to be possible, then, to connect a unified wireless mouse and keyboard. You can also read files from a USB stick.
The 10.1in. screen has a native resolution of 1,024 by 600 pixels and is a capacitive TFT with multitouch support. It could do with more brightness, though, and we found its highly reflective surface irritating in almost all lighting conditions — it's almost impossible to view outdoors in bright sunlight.
The ViewSonic ViewPad 10pro is powered by Intel's 1.5GHz Atom Z670 processor, which forms part of the platform codenamed Oak Trail. The only other device we've seen to use this processor is the aforementioned Fujitsu Stylistic Q550.
According to ViewSonic are three versions of the ViewPad 10pro: a 3G+Wi-Fi version with 2GB of RAM costs £490 (inc. VAT; £408.33 ex. VAT); there are also two Wi-Fi only versions — one with 2GB of RAM at £450 (inc. VAT; £375 ex. VAT) and a 1GB model costing £405 (inc. VAT; £337.50 ex. VAT). We found the 1GB version hard to come by online, and prices rather higher. Windows 7 Professional is the operating system in both the versions we found for sale.
What's really interesting about the ViewPad 10pro is that after booting into Windows, you can switch out to Android 2.2 and back into Windows. There's a desktop icon in Windows that lets you get to Android, and another on the Android home screen that takes you back to Windows.
Because Windows is running at the same time as Android, there are some interesting points of crossover. Most usefully, Windows device drivers work in Android, which means that the keyboard and mouse mentioned above were recognised and usable in Android.
Also, when using Android, putting a readable device into the USB slot or inserting a microSD card calls up the Windows user interface, from where it's easy to access files. Windows takes precedence, so that files written using Microsoft Office open into their associated Office applications, while videos and music play in Windows Media Player. When you quit out of whatever activity you're in, Android remains underneath all the opened Windows applications and bits of user interface.
It looks a little incongruous in terms of visual style, but does mean you don't have to leave Android to get to files, making data access very convenient.
In Android mode there are clickable shortcuts at the top of the screen for Back, Menu and Home functions, and for returning to Windows. When you're in Windows, the Android touch buttons on the right side of the bezel take on the following functions: the Search button launches Internet Explorer; the Back and Home buttons are unchanged; and the Menu button opens an app called the Control Centre, from where you can adjust system settings.
Android 2.2 is actually a virtual version, provided by BlueStacks. The most noticeable issue is that you don't have access to the full Android Market — just to a subset of apps that have been preselected and tested as compatible. The full Android Market is currently only available in the US.
Here we hit a snag. ViewSonic had informed us that some elements of our ViewPad 10pro review sample were not fully functioning; in fact, neither the 3G nor Wi-Fi connections were working. This prevented us from exploring what apps were available via BlueStack. However, any system that only offers a subset of the full Android Market is a real problem, as in many ways it's the apps that make Android popular.
Performance & battery life
The ViewPad 10pro's Windows Experience Index (WEI) was a lowly 2.0 (out of 7.9). Interestingly both the WEI and the individual component scores are exactly the same as those for the Oak Trail-based Fujitsu Stylistic Q550: Processor (calculations per second) 2.0, Graphics (desktop performance for Windows Aero) 2.9, Gaming Graphics (3D business and gaming graphics performance) 3.0, RAM (Memory operations per second) 4.1; and Primary hard disk (Disk data transfer rate) 5.9.
As with the Stylistic Q550, the ViewPad 10pro felt slow in general use — although, as noted above, ViewSonic did alert us to some system issues and final retail units may run a little more smoothly.
Intel's low-power Atom Z670 processor has a maximum TDP (Thermal Design Power) of just 3W, and VewSonic claims that the ViewPad 10pro will deliver up to eight hours of life from a single charge of its 2-cell 5,000mAh battery.
We chose the balanced power scheme and played movies continually from a USB stick for 3 hours 47 minutes before the battery was fully depleted. That's disappointing, as it's about an hour less than we got from the Fujutsu Stylistic Q550 on its Eco Setting power setting.
The idea of a dual-OS Windows 7/Android tablet is alluring, and the way that the ViewPad 10pro runs Android from within Windows is impressive.
Still, there are some serious issues. We found the highly reflective screen difficult to see in bright lighting, battery life is relatively poor, and the Android apps available are only a subset of the full Android Market catalogue.