At £150, the ViewSonic ViewPad 7e is a low-priced 7-inch Android 2.3 tablet that some might find appealing if only for the flexibility it affords.
Similar to the BlackBerry PlayBook in size, with a passing nod to the upcoming (but still not available in the UK) Amazon Kindle Fire, the ViewPad 7e is not nearly as user-friendly. Some apps, including those from Google, are noticeably not available.
At the same time, by offering only the basic smartphone version of Android without many extra frills, the basic mechanics of a tablet are all here: touchscreen display, Android apps, movie playback and ebooks. The ViewSonic ViewPad 7e is certainly better than the clunky, confusing ViewPad 10Pro.
Available only in white, the ViewSonic ViewPad 7e is comfortable to hold in one hand. At 450g, it's stockier and heavier than the 7-inch Samsung Galaxy Tab, which weighs 384g.
There's a confusing array of buttons below the screen, with four buttons for Home, Menu, Back and Search. The Home button works in an unexpected way: it doesn't take you to a home screen, but prompts you to pick from the "launcher" or the ViewScene 3D mode.
The launcher is the traditional Android home screen where you can place icons and widgets. ViewScene 3D is essentially a widget screen that shows six panels for weather, calendar, or Flickr picts but no app icons.
On the upper right-hand side, there's a small power button (it's way too small to find in the dark) and a volume up and down knob that is easy to mistake as a power button.
On the top, there's a mini USB port, to be used with the provided USB charger and USB cable, which is odd since every other modern tablet and phone uses a micro USB port. You'll also find a micro HDMI port for connecting the device to an HD TV.
Below the screen, you'll find a 3.5mm headphone jack - hard to find, but ideally placed for the dangling cord.
To the left of the device, there's a microSD slot for adding cards up to 32GB each.
The ViewSonic ViewPad 7e uses an ARM A8 1GHz processor, has 512MB of RAM, 4GB of internal storage and supports Wi-Fi (including 802.11n) and Bluetooth 2.1. The front-facing webcam is only 0.3MP and the rear camera is only MP - both far below the specs of most recent tablets.
Because the 7-inch tablet is so small, measuring 192 x 131 x 14.1mm, there isn't much space for the 3300mAh battery, which lasts only five hours. Still, the Samsung Galaxy Tab lasts for seven hours.
The LCD touchscreen has a 500:1 contrast ratio, which looked dim and even hard to see in bright light compared to the much brighter screens used on other tablets. It's not ideal for watching movies.
But did we mention the £150 price tag? That's the one redeeming feature. Unfortunately, when the Kindle Fire arrives in the UK, it will be priced similarly. And, the BlackBerry PlayBook has a similar holiday price point for now. There's also the nagging sense that a 10-inch tablet isn't that much more expensive.
The ViewSonic ViewPad 7e's ARM A8 1GHz processor and 512MB of RAM are adequate for most tasks on the tablet. There's a rash of 1.2GHz or faster tablets on the horizon, but most apps - including Angry Birds, the browser, built-in email app and productivity tools for taking notes and opening documents.
Like every other tablet we've tested, the ViewSonic ViewPad 7e will rotate the screen automatically, and for the most part this feature works smoothly. There isn't the slight hesitation in rotating like there was on the Acer Iconia Tab A100, and you won't feel like you need to immediately set the screen lock option.
The cameras on this tablet are a weak point. We used the 0.3MP front camera with Google Talk and found the video looked washed out and even a bit blurry in low light conditions. In fact, the front camera was worse than the cameras included even on entry-level smartphones.
The rear 3-megapixel camera is also not ideal for snapping photos. The camera looks tiny when you use it with the included camera app, which doesn't offer any extra options beyond what Android tablets usually include. Photos look a bit dim and dull, as though the camera can't capture enough light.
Internal memory storage is a problem. With just 4GB, we ran out quickly after adding just three episodes of the AMC show The Killing. That means you can't cram on an entire season of a TV show, or even add more than one or two HD movies or add the complete archive of an artist such as Radiohead.
One other performance issue tied to the usability of the Android tablet is that when you press the Home button, you see a menu to use the Android home screen or a customer ViewSonic 3D viewer. The viewer merely shows you ViewSonic widgets and not any apps you've placed on the home screens. The viewer also tends to run slowly, so it's usually faster and easier to just stick with the Android home screen.
At the same time, we appreciated that ViewSonic decided to stick with Android only for the ViewPad 7e, as opposed to previous ViewPad models that used Windows and then Android OS in emulation, and the ViewPad 10 that ran Windows 7 and Android simultaneously. It meant most apps on the ViewPad 7e ran fast and smooth, without any pausing or outright crashes.
The ViewSonic ViewPad 7e's 7-inch touchscreen also worked reliably - the screen isn't nearly as bright as the Samsung Galaxy Tab, but at least finger swipes, gestures, and presses all registered accurately.
Wireless internet connections also behaved as expected, without any sudden drops in service. There isn't a version of the ViewPad 7e that works with an existing 3G signal, though, so you need to find a hotspot in public.
The micro HDMI port is handy. Using a third-party micro-to-HDMI cable, you can mirror the ViewPad's display on your HD television to watch movies or even play games on the big screen.
There's no question that ViewSonic has an uphill battle when it comes to tablets. For not that much more, you can find 10-inch tablets that look clearer and brighter. However, right at this moment in time, the ViewPad 7e is not a bad buy if you are in the market for a 7-inch model.
For US buyers, the ViewPad 7e isn't a good buy compared to its rivals, but in the UK it is worth considering for the price.
At £299, the Acer Iconia Tab A100 uses the Android 3.2 operating system meant for tablets, but is similar to the ViewSonic ViewPad 7e in terms of size, handling, processor and capabilities. As we mentioned before, the BlackBerry PlayBook is also an option for a similar discounted price.
More than any other spec, we liked the price on the ViewSonic ViewPad 7e. For just £150 you're getting an Android tablet (albeit one that runs older apps meant for smartphones) with built-in cameras, a slot for adding more memory and both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth wireless connections.
The screen rotated correctly when we turned the tablet to one side. Most gestures and swipes registered correctly, and apps generally ran smoothly without any pausing or stuttering. The processor ran fast enough for most apps, although we could only run Android 2.3 apps, not those made for tablets.
At 7-inches and 450 grams, the ViewSonic ViewPad 7e is small enough to slip into a laptop bag and hardly notice it's there. While the Samsung Galaxy Tab is thinner and lighter, the ViewPad 7e is also less expensive.
The ViewSonic ViewPad 7e lacks decent built-in cameras. The front-facing camera runs in only 0.3 megapixels, and video chats looked dim and blurry. The rear camera, at 3 megapixels, also produced poor photo results.
Unlike the Amazon Kindle Fire, the interface enhancements on the ViewSonic ViewPad 7e aren't that appealing. You can choose between a generic Android home screen where you can place app icons or the ViewSonic viewer, where you can run widgets but not place app icons on home screens.
There isn't a custom interface to enable you to quickly and easily access books, or to switch quickly between recently used apps. The Amazon Kindle Fire does a much better job of improving the Android OS.
We're not about to rate the ViewSonic ViewPad 7e as a must-purchase, especially because we think the similarly priced Amazon Kindle Fire will make its way to the UK eventually.
But, for now, the ViewSonic ViewPad 7e is not a bad purchase compared to the much more expensive 7-inch Samsung Galaxy Tab. You get all the basics of Android without actually running the Android 3.2 operating system.
Just be sure to note that you can't run Android 3 Honeycomb apps, including some of the latest Google apps.