Aside from its somewhat underpowered processor, the ViewPad 7’s only other significant compromise is its screen. We’re not surprised that it uses a TN panel, as most other alternatives also offer this, and indeed the iPad is still the only easily available tablet to sport a superior panel technology. Even so, despite good horizontal viewing angles (with the tablet in landscape mode), vertical ones are very poor indeed, and considerably inferior to those of the Galaxy Tab.
However, a more significant disadvantage is the screen’s low 800 x 400 resolution. This is less than you get on some high-end smartphones such as the Motorola Milestone XT720 (854 x 480) or iPhone 4 (960 x 640), and markedly inferior to the Tab, which crams 1,024 x 600 pixels into the same screen area.
Consequently, images and text are visibly grainy, tiny fonts can be difficult to read, and video never looks as sharp as we would like. Don’t get us wrong, it’s certainly usable and half the time you might not even notice, but other tablets (including ViewSonic’s own ViewPad 10) give a better experience in this regard.
It’s quite a pity too, as sonically this 7in tablet is surprisingly decent. Its stereo speakers produce clear and reasonably sharp sound at higher volume levels than you would expect, though to get any bass you’ll still need to resort to a pair of headphones.
Getting to the interface, ViewSonic hasn’t significantly altered Android 2.2’s stock effort (arguably a good thing) but has added the useful Documents to Go app. However, one immediate annoyance is that, unlike Samsung’s tablet, the ViewPad doesn’t support a portrait mode when viewing the homescreen, navigating menus, or using the dialer. A statically-oriented home screen is acceptable on a phone, but it simply doesn’t work here, especially as portrait is the only comfortable way to hold the tablet one-handed. In landscape mode, the buttons along the right side can also be accidentally pressed with your palm.
Speaking of usability, despite sporting a relatively hard surface the capacitive touchscreen is, as we often find with plastic displays, not quite as responsive as those on other devices we’ve used. You have to be a little bit firmer with swipes than usual, and during typing there’s the odd occasion where a light press doesn’t register.
Haptic feedback doesn’t feel as ‘solid’ as we’re used to either, with one staff member describing it as “tinny”. The slightly sluggish response of the device also means it trails your typing by some considerable distance, even if you’re not a particularly fast typer. All told, we’re not surprised that ViewSonic has it turned off by default for the keyboard.
In landscape mode, the virtual keyboard is very usable, with the 7in screen size ensuring keys are almost as large as on the real, physical peripheral. However, you will need long thumbs for two-handed typing and it’s quite tiring to hold after a while. In the more comfortable portrait mode things are more manageable, but the slightly unresponsive feel of the screen and the response lag means you can’t really get up a head of steam.
Call quality on the ViewPad 7 is very good, with excellent clarity from both the speakers and the microphone, though ideally you do need to orient the latter towards you. Speakerphone is the only option, but we can’t imagine many people holding this tablet against the side of their head like a mobile phone. The bundled ViewSonic in-ear stereo headset is actually surprisingly decent, including a built-in microphone and two sets of extra tips. Or you can just use a Bluetooth headset like the Jawbone Icon.