Hands-on: ViewPad 10 dual Android-Windows tablet

ViewSonic's new tablet offers users two operating systems. But is it worth the extra cost?

While tablets such as Apple's iPad and Motorola's Android-based Xoom are continuing to attract popular attention, there are many workplaces that are still based around Microsoft Windows. Unfortunately, Windows 7 isn't really optimized for use in tablets, and it looks like the next version won't be out for another year. So what can people who want to use Windows on a tablet do?

ViewPad 10
ViewSonic ViewPad 10

ViewSonic is hoping to offer businesses a steppingstone with its ViewPad 10 dual-OS tablet. Equipped with both Windows 7 and Android 1.6, it gives companies the flexibility to continue using their existing Windows corporate programs while offering access to Android apps.

A good-looking tablet

Weighing 1.9 lbs. and measuring 0.6 x 10.8 x 6.7 in., the ViewPad is an inch longer and 4 oz. heavier than the Motorola Xoom. Its 9 oz. AC adapter is positively gargantuan compared to the iPad 2's tiny power cube.

I like the ViewPad's demure black-and-dull-silver case and its three-button layout. One of the buttons is the power on/off. The second button has a Home icon but actually takes you back one screen at a time in Android mode and works as the Alt-Tab key combination (which shuffles through open windows) in Windows mode. The third, which has an icon that resembles Android's "Go Back" symbol, actually works as a Menu button in Android and turns the Wi-Fi on/off in Windows.

The 10-in. display with 1024 x 600 resolution is bright with rich colors; like most tablets, it automatically reorients itself when rotated, although slowly in Windows. It responds to subtle finger movements and interprets two-finger gestures, like spreading your thumb and forefinger to zoom in.

Above the screen is a forward-facing 1.3-megapixel camera that delivers smooth video. In Android you need to adjust the volume in the Settings page, but in Windows you adjust the volume using the normal volume icon in the taskbar.

The ViewPad comes equipped with a 1.6GHz Intel Atom N455 single-core processor and 2GB of RAM (as a comparison, the Motorola Xoom comes with a 1GHz Nvidia Tegra 2 dual-core processor and 1GB of RAM). The $680 model I looked at includes Windows 7 Professional and 32GB of flash storage for programs and data; a 16GB version with Windows 7 Home Premium costs $50 less.

On the left side of the ViewPad is a reasonable assortment of ports: a microSD card slot and a pair of USB ports. The ViewPad lacks the Xoom's HDMI connector, but there's a microUSB port for connecting to a monitor; unfortunately, the adapter cable was not yet available at the time this was written.

Connectivity is supplied by 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth; I tried it with an Adesso Bluetooth keyboard and Jawbone ERA headset. ViewSonic does not offer a 3G or 4G network data connection option, which both the iPad and Xoom do.

Two operating systems in one

The ViewPad 10 can be booted up in Windows 7 or Android 1.6. (ViewSonic has promised an Android 2.2 upgrade but hasn't specified when.) Unfortunately, moving between Android and Windows is not an immediate transition, and the interface for choosing the OS is clunky. After you reboot the ViewPad (which takes about a minute), you wait until the two operating systems are listed in small type at the top of the screen. You then use the Home button to move to the Windows selection and hit the Menu key to select it. If you don't do anything in 7 seconds, the system will default to Android.

Once it's going, the ViewPad 10 is fine for most business uses in each environment. For Windows use, it comes with Microsoft's basic programs, like Paint and Media Player. However, you'll have to purchase and install your own copy of Microsoft Office; the tablet doesn't even offer a trial version. Just to make sure that I could install common Windows applications, I added Microsoft's downloadable PowerPoint viewer and OpenOffice, which worked fine.

As an Android tablet, though, the ViewPad 10 is a definite step backward -- it's pitifully behind the Xoom and other tablets based on Android 3.0 "Honeycomb," and even older devices that run Android 2.1 or 2.2. Because it's using the ancient Version 1.6, it can't even play YouTube videos. The ViewPad doesn't have access to the Android Market but does include 26 apps, such as the standard Android email app, the iReader and Aldiko e-reader apps, a PDF viewer and DataViz's Documents To Go for reading and working with Word and Excel files.

It all adds up to a tablet that can handle standard business tasks but is a mediocre system. The ViewPad scored an uninspiring 241.3 on PassMark's PerformanceTest 7.0 benchmark suite of Windows-based tests, putting it solidly in the netbook camp as far as performance is concerned.

The system's 3,200-milliamp battery was able to play videos from a microSD card for 4 hours 7 minutes in Windows mode and for 3 hours 57 minutes in Android. As the tablet works, the left side heats up, but it never exceeds 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

Bottom line

At $680, the ViewPad 10 is $80 more than an iPad 2 or Xoom with 32GB of storage and Wi-Fi-only connectivity -- or a 3G Xoom with a two-year contract. It provides an opportunity for firms to protect their investments in Windows software while exploring Android -- but most consumers will probably want to look elsewhere.

Brian Nadel is a frequent contributor to Computerworld and the former editor in chief of Mobile Computing & Communications magazine.

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