ViewSonic gTablet Review, Begging To Be Rooted

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The gTablet Experience

For reference, the gTablet is slightly wider than an iPad, not quite as tall and just a hair thicker at .54 inches, versus the iPad .5" thick frame.  It also weighs just .05lbs more than the iPad.  In reality, it's about the same size as an iPad only it comes in that 16:9 aspect ratio we all were expecting in Apple's design but didn't turn out that way.  The gTablet's build quality in general is about as good as the iPad but it's not adorned with a brushed aluminum backing.  ViewSonic opted instead for a high quality dense black plastic casing all around.

One of the greatest advantages that an Android tablet has over Apple's tablet is the openness of the design.  No matter how Mr. Job's likes to portray his devices as being open, you simply can't get around the fact that there is currently very little user access to the iPad, unless you want to go through that synch cable and iTunes.  The gTablet, on the other hand, has not only an SD Flash card slot but also a mini USB and a full sized USB port.  Getting files onto and off the gTablet is as simple as plugging in a USB cable, USB memory stick or SD card. ViewSonic also included a docking port on the device, and an optional docking station with HDMI output is available as well.  In short, connectivity is abundant with the gTablet.

The capacitive touch screen on the gTablet is relatively responsive and, as with most tablets and larger smartphone devices on the market today, it will change orientation depending on how your hold it.  Seen here is the gTablet with a stock Android 2.2 (FroYo) homescreen.  The gTablet's Android-based navigation buttons on the top right edge of the slate are also capacitive touch enabled.  There are buttons for search, home, menu and back navigation functions.

gTablet vs iPad - The right aspect but viewing angle; what viewing angle?

The screen itself on the gTablet has a native resolution of 1024X600, which is a modest number of pixels for a display of this size and aspect, though we'd always take a higher resolution.  Some 10-inch netbooks support 1366X768 resolution, for example, in a 10.1-inch LCD.  The gTablet also has nice contrast and brightness, with one rather significant caveat; you have to view it fairly straight-on because the viewing angles of the device are pretty bad.  Seen here next to the iPad (arguably tough competition since Apple's slate is significantly more expensive but hey, we're comparing 10-inch slates here), the gTablet loses almost all its brightness at about 45º or so.  Also, a rather odd issue we discovered is that the screen actually has a significantly better viewing angle if you flip it upside-down (navigation buttons on the left).  As we researched this, we discovered on a few forum threads that users were claiming their gTablet was built with the screen installed incorrectly, upside-down.  We contacted ViewSonic about this and they responded that the issue hasn't been reported here in the ViewSonic US QA department but that the factory would look at it.  Regardless, we observed this anomaly and also asked a few folks around the office to take a look for themselves.  Everyone agreed, hold this thing flipped over 180 degrees and you can see it much better, plain and simple.  It remains to be seen if this is a confirmed manufacturing defect and if ViewSonic is going to formally address it.

Tap 'n Tap's split keyboard is actually quite nice but the UI itself really gets in the way sometimes...

Then there's Tap 'n Tap.  To be perfectly honest upfront, we're generally critical of UI overlays of this sort.  After all, these are thin an light, ultra-low power devices we're talking about here, so running two user interface stacks is just going to consume additional resources.  Dell has done a pretty good job with their Stage UI for their Streak tablet, all-in-one desktops and netbooks but it's a tall order to design something that has a light resource footprint and actually enables a better user experience.  Unfortunately, Tap 'n Tap does not deliver here.

The primary home screen that you see above looks a bit out dated and bland, but that's not the real issue -- what really takes the wind out of our sails is how much it slows the system down.  ViewSonic has been very diligent about releasing over-the-air updates that have improved the Tap n' Tap experience but still, the software just feels bloated and clunky.  About the only thing we liked with the UI, was its split keyboard, which does do a nice job with a key layout that delivers a solid typing interface for capacitive touch screens. 

Tap n' Tap is sort of a necessary evil however, with the gTablet, at least currently.  Since Google isn't allowing the Android Market on platforms larger than 7-inches, at least this UI gives you some free utilities to work with, like email, contacts, weather, etc.  This is all expected to change upon the release of Google's Honeycomb OS (Android 3.0) and then it's up to ViewSonic to deliver a Honeycomb ROM update.  In the mean time, and in order to get our benchmark apps installed on gTablet, we ended up rooting the device and installing a custom ROM from XDA-Developers forum.  We followed this guide and installed TNT Lite

With a little elbow grease, this ROM allows you to keep the Tap 'n Tap keyboard as well as the settings control panel, but strips back the image to more of a stock FroYo installation with the ability to enable the Android Marketplace.  With TNT Lite, the gTablet is definitely more responsive and with Android Market at your fingertips, you pretty much have what you need in terms of utilities and apps.  Again, this is not an "out-of-the-box" user experience however, so don't expect this level of functionality out of the gTablet, unless you're prepared to gets your hands dirty and work with a custom ROM like this.

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