There's no doubt about it, Apple's iPad (which gained first place in our Readers' Choice: Product of the Year Awards 2010 and received an honourable mention in our own selection) singlehandedly brought the tablet into the consumer spotlight. Now every major manufacturer is throwing its own challengers into the arena, most based on Google's Android OS. We were somewhat disappointed with Samsung's hotly-anticipated Galaxy Tab, so can ViewSonic's ViewPad 7 make a better case for itself?
If you've read our extensive hands-on preview of the larger ViewPad 10, you may remember that in some regards, its smaller, cheaper 7in sibling is actually the superior tablet. For one thing, it comes with the latest 2.2 version of Android instead of the outdated – and not (officially) upgradeable – version 1.6 that accompanies Windows 7 on the larger tablet. As ViewSonic has only made minimal alterations to the stock Android OS, it should receive a rapid update when Gingerbread (AKA 2.3) comes out.
It also features a front-facing camera, quad-band GSM (allowing you to use it as a smartphone) 3G connectivity, and access to Android's Marketplace, all features placing it near the top of the tablet game. Combined with its stylish – if rather chunky – looks and fairly solid apparent build quality, initial impressions are certainly positive.
Another immediately obvious advantage over not only its bigger sibling, but also most competitors, is that the ViewPad 7 comes with a very well-thought-out case. This is a classy black affair with a tough, patterned leatherette exterior and soft, suede-like, anti-slip interior. It has three hard clips which securely hold the pad and a broad elastic band that holds its covers closed.
Perhaps the case's best feature is that it acts as a flexible stand. It cleverly folds in on itself to support the tablet either at a fixed angle (with the soft finish on the outside, great for slippery surfaces like glass) or flexibly (with the leatherette finish on the outside). The only disadvantage is that, either way, it's unsuitable for holding the tablet in portrait orientation. Regardless, the case is a genius default addition and a significant value-add, considering a decent equivalent for a rival tablet could easily set you back £30 or more – if it's available at all.
Onto the tablet itself, as mentioned its construction looks very solid at first glance, and for most of it this holds true. Essentially, its front and back are finished in slices of clear glossy plastic over piano black, with a faux-aluminium band running seamlessly around the edge to join them. This is in contrast to having glass panels front and back with a stainless steel band like the iPhone 4, which this device clearly takes its influence from. Despite the inferior materials, though, it feels pretty solid, and that case should keep scratches to a minimum. However, we did notice that we could press the back in ever so slightly where it met the silver strip, as the back 'slice' had come out a little from its frame.