Thursday, February 24, 2011

Viewsonic's Gtablet

I broke down and bought a tablet - the Viewsonic gtablet. There are several reasons for getting this device. High on the list is that I do not want to become part of the Apple revenue stream. This tablet is cheaper and much more open. It costs less than half of the new Xoom (without being subsidized by a data plan). It is comparable with the smaller Galaxy Tablet although that needs a two year data plan, also.

One important point - there is no data plan for this tablet because it does not support 3G or 4G. Your only wireless communication is over WiFi or Bluetooth. That is fine with me. If I really need to connect with something I can enable the WiFi hotspot in my phone and use that.

The next important point - the Out of the Box experience is awful. Viewsonic put an interface called Tap V Tap on top of Android. It is terrible. Even worse, I knew that there was an update that would improve things but it kept failing. In fact, everything failed. I couldn't set the clock or my city.

This turned out to be easy to fix. I rebooted and it settled down. A little while later it received the Over The Air update and applied it. Once it had been rebooted again it looked the same except for a shortcut to the "classic desktop". This looks like an Android tablet should. The other thing is still there and is now called the "Dashboard". I don't see much use for it.

There are improvements for Tap N Tap out there that are not hard for a someone technologically proficient to install. I just haven't gotten around to it. According to the reviews of it, it runs much faster with the custom ROMs. For now I am basing my review on the base version.

The final point that you should know is that Google does not allow 10" tablets into the Android Market. Viewsonic has a page of favorite software and a link to an alternative to the Android Market. Not everything is there but you can still find all of the main apps. The only thing I could not find is the media player Zimly which I use on my Droid Incredible. They also have a link to the beta release of Flash.

Everything I have installed seems to work fine. Winamp had no problem wirelessly syncing music and videos from my PC. The Kindle App downloaded the books I have on my phone. The browser is fine. I tried a few flash sites and everything worked (except Hulu and there is a work-around for that). The email app is better than the one on my phone. GMail is supported through the browser. The tablet also includes built-in support for Picasa.

I mainly wanted this as an eReader. There are multiple eReader apps available. They look really good on the tablet, especially in portrait mode.

The screen is 16:9 instead of 4:3 so it is better for watching movies. I've checked a couple of movies that I (legally) ripped from DVD and they played fine.

It is very open. You can attach it to your PC and it looks like an external drive. It also has a slot for an SD card and a full-sized USB port that will accept a thumb drive. Rooting it is simple and Viewsonic even includes links to the custom ROMS. In many ways this is the anti-iPad.

The screen has limited viewing angles which makes typing difficult, even with the extra-large keyboard.

I'm not convinced about the tablet metaphor for web-browsing. It is at least as easy to have my notebook on my lap as the tablet and I get to use a real keyboard that way. Also, some web sites have mouse-over events that don't work with a touchpad.

It works well as an eReader. It is heavy enough that you need to rest the bottom edge on something. Because of this a 7" tablet or a dedicated reader might be a better choice. On the other hand, dedicated readers lock you into a specific bookseller which is why I decided on a tablet.

Overall, I am quite happy with it.

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