There's a term that's hard not to think of when assessing the ViewPad 10e. We're determined not to use it, but it starts with "iPad" and ends with "killer". ViewSonic's latest Android tablet is very different from Apple's iPad in some key respects - it's half the price for one - but with a 9.7in 4:3 ratio screen and a design within a gnat's whisker of the tablet king, it intends to clear up by marketing to tablet fanciers not willing to fork out £400. However, it's fundamentally mis-sold to this crowd.
Reading from the spec list, the ViewSonic ViewPad 10e makes a decent first impression. It has a glass-fronted capacitive touchscreen, a 1GHz single-core processor and, most important of all, an IPS screen. This in-plane-switching tech improves on standard LCD screens and is what makes top tablet displays so great, and it rarely features in sub-£200 devices.
This initial positive response continues when you get your hands on the device. The glass front layer feels great on your fingers and roughly 80 per cent of the back is made up of a slab of lightly textured metal. As iPad-mimicking devices go, it seems a solid effort, and at 607g and 9.1mm thickness (again, perilously close to the iPad 2's stats) it feels similar in-hand too.
Look a little closer and, predictably, the differences start to appear. An inch-long strip of the back, running along the right side, is plastic and all the 10e's edges are plastic too. Using plastic instead of metal for areas with connectors in them is a tactic common to almost all tablet makers, but it's not the use of the material itself that bothers us.
The seam between the back and the edges isn't smooth, with a sharp lip acting as a bordering wall, and there's a creaky area on the plastic rear strip. If this creaky section was up top we could largely forget it's there. However, it's right where your left hand rests when held in portrait orientation. Like a chair that squeaks every time you sit on it, this gets pretty annoying. Otherwise build quality is fine for a budget tablet, but we wonder whether a simpler, seamless plastic design would've been better overall. The soft touch BlackBerry PlayBook and Kindle Fire designs are better, for example.
On-body connectivity is good, with all sockets are kept up on the top edge. There's the power switch, microSD card reader, miniHDMI socket, headphone jack, microUSB socket and power plug. You can't charge the 5,400mAh battery over microUSB, and there's some design awkwardness to the microSD slot. It looks as though it opens-up to a full-size SD slot, but it doesn't. Like several other elements of the ViewPad 10e's body, it's janky, as US folk would say.
ViewSonic's attempt to produce an iPad 2 doppelganger on the cheap is ultimately a failure, but a minor one that comes with the flexibility benefits common to Android tablets. There is a blatant copycat element at work here that's unbecoming, though. Or perhaps we've just spent way too long with budget tablets between our fingers and have become a bit tired of their inadequacies.