Tuesday, August 9, 2011

ViewSonic ViewBook 730 Review

   ViewSonic is no stranger to the tablet field.  It has introduced a 10” dual-core G Tablet which was pulled off the shelves in December due to some manufacturing defects.  The G Tablet became a favorite of the developer community with hacks to improve the buggy software that it used.  ViewSonic also introduced a ViewPad 7 and ViewPad 10 but those tablets have not exactly done well in terms of sales.  Now ViewSonic seems to be targeting the 7” tablet market.  The first being a low cost ViewBook 730 which is now available.  The second being a higher price 7 incher, the ViewPad 7x which would have been the world's first 7” Honeycomb (Android 3.0) tablet but Acer will beat Viewsonic to this claim with its ICIONA Tab A100.  Acer should be launching this in early August.

   The ViewBook 730 can be found for $230 but only has a single core Cortex A8 processor and Android 2.2.  Seems that ViewSonic is launching a low price table to target the price consicious consumer.  Comparing this table to the more powerful, more expensive tablets on the market would not be fair.  I would say this competes more with a hacked Nook Color and the Archos 70.  So is the ViewBook a decent tablet and worth the $230??  Let's find out.

The ViewBook is almost identical in size to the Nook Color.  Actually one could easily mistake it for a Nook Color if it was not for the four buttons on front.  The ViewBook's  dimensions are 8.19” (l) x 5.2” (w) x .56” (h) compared to the Nook which has dimensions of  8.1” x 5.0” x .48”.  The Archos 70 dimensions are 7.9” (l) x 4.5” (w) x .4” (h).  The ViewBook also has almost the same weight as the Nook (15.2oz vs. 15.8oz).  However, the Archos 70 is lighter at 10.9oz due to the mostly plastic body.

     The ViewBook does not feel as solid as the Nook Color.  One can tell it has a plastic body.  Although the Archos 70 also has a plastic body, the ViewBook is poorly constructed.  Along the edges of the tablet, one can hear the plastic body creak.  The screen appears to be made of hard plastic.  The ViewBook has a mini USB  port (adapter is included), headphone jack, micro-SD slot, mini-HDMI port and DC In port.  The external speakers are good although there was distortion at its maximum level.  The speakers are front facing which is our perference.  Although minor, there is a light indicating that the tablet is charging.  It turns off once the charging has been completed.  Overall, the exterior quality is not on the same level of the Nook Color.    

    The ViewBook does include a front facing camera (.3 MP) but no rear facing which was disappointing.  The front camera takes poor pictures but should be fine for video conferencing.
   Since ViewBook has Android 2.2, it has the typical four buttons on the front (Search; Home; Menu; and Back.)  Unfortunately, they are not back-lit.  There is a power button on the top side (when viewing in portrait mode) with a Volume Up & Down buttons on the right side.

     Included accessories USB cable adapter, DC power adapter/charger, stylus, user quick guide and three international power adapters.  Mini-HDMI cable is sold separately although you can get one for cheap.  Just note that there is a difference between a mini-HDMI and a micro-HDMI.

Under the hood, the ViewBook has a ARM-based Cortex A8 processor running at 1GHz which is the same architecture as the Nook and Archos 70.  However, the Nook Color uses has a Texas Instrumnent (TI) processor while the ViewSonic chose ZiiLABS's Cortex A8 processor.  The Nook's TI processor runs at a stock speed of 800MHz although one can overclock it to 1GHz.  The ViewBook has 512MB of RAM which is the same as the Nook and higher than the Archos 70 which uses 256MB.  The ViewBook does have a built-in accelerometer (auto-rotates 360 degrees) which works well.  It does work well with games that require the accelerometer.  

We have mentioned this many times but the screen is the second, if not, the most important hardware of a tablet.  The ViewBook's screen is 7” with a low resolution of 800x480, same as the Archos 70.  However, the Nook Color has a resolution of 1024x600.  The screen is resistive but very responsive.  Actually, the ViewBook has one of the most responsive resistive screens we have ever tested.  ViewSonic includes a stylus to use with the tablet but nowhere on the tablet to hold the stylus.  However, do note that the touchscreen is not multi-touch nor 1+1.  Therefore, there is no pinch-to-zoom capability. When typing on the standard keyboard, it responds well.  The screen is also difficult to see in bright daylight due to the very glossy screen.  In addition, the viewing angles are not great especially if viewing from the top angle (viewing in portrait mode).  Our  opinion is that a big deal is made on the viewing angles.  Most people will not have several people looking at the screen.  The viewing angles are sufficient for two or three to watch a movie or pic with you.  Tablets are meant to be used by a single user at a time. Overall, the screen is average at the most.

As our video demonstrates, the ViewBook works well with all multimedia (pictures, music & videos) types.  We tested these 3 types using the included apps.  As noted before, there are other better apps to use but our focus is only on the apps included.  For the pictures, the quality of the images was good but not as sharp as they would be with a higher resolution screen.  The colors were not as bright or lively as the original file.  Music files played without any problems.  For videos, we tested using MP4 format with 1250 & 1500 bit videos plus two 720p HD test files (in MOV, AVI & MP4 format).  Both non-HD files played very well with no stuttering.  The ViewBook had no trouble processing any of our test videos including the HD videos unlike the Nook Color which could not play the HD videos (AVI, MP4 & MOV format).   However when conducting our battery test, we did experience our test video freezing up on two separate occasion.  We had to shut down the tablet and restart the video.  The multimedia experience was overall very good and better than the Nook Color.

Applications (Apps)
The ViewBook does not include any Google apps (Android Market, Gmail, Maps, Navigation, etc.) nor YouTube or a FaceBook app.  ViewSonic does include some apps: Adobe Reader; Amazon Suite (Apps, Kindle & MP3); Adible (audio book reader); Diary; Explorer (all tablets should include a file manager); IMDb; Mediafly on Air (plays & organizes podcast, audio, video & radio streams); RSS Reader; Sketcher (drawing app); Task Manager (we do not recommend these); and Tune In Radio (online radio) to name a few.  The ViewBook does include handwriting recognition feature.  It actually works well.  Recognizes the majority of the words in script even if slightly misspelled.  However, it did have trouble recognizing uncommon words both in print and in script.

   Our Windows 7 computer had no problem recognizing the ViewBook.  However when connecting to the computer via USB, you need to go to the ViewBook's notification bar and click to turn on the USB storage.  Otherwise, your computer will not recognize the tablet and you will not be able to transfer media files.
We benchmarked the ViewBook against our baseline (Archos 70) and the Nook Color. Below are the benchmarking scores of the ViewBook:

   Because we changed our benchmarking apps, we cannot truly compare the ViewBook 730 with the Archos 70.  As noted, only two tests are available for comparison.  Even comparing the ViewBook with the Nook Color, that is not a fair comparison because the ViewBook's processor is running at 1GHz vs the Nook's speed of 800MHz.  It is no surprise that the Nook Color wins most of the benchmarks that focuses on the GPU since it has a better GPU than the ViewBook.  In the benchmarks that focuses on the CPU, the ViewBook wins some while the Nook wins others.  As mentioned previously, the Nook Color has a TI processor while ViewSonic chose ZiiLAB to supply the processor.  Although both use the same ARM Cortex A8 architecture, the TI processor does better than the ZiiLAB processor in some benchmark tests.

   Note we are introducing a new benchmarking test called Vellamo which was developed by Qualcomm.  This app tests the following items: rendering, javascript, networking, and user experience.  An aggregate score is then provided. The higher the score, the better.

   We did test reading a PDF file using Repligo (we use the same PDF reader app in all Android tablets for consistency).  Using our test PDF file (37 pages with multiple pictures, images and fonts), it took approximately 4.7 secs to fully load the first page of the document which is on par with the Archos 70 but slightly slower than the Nook Color (4 secs).  As a side note, the Motorola Xoom rendered the page in about 3.4 seconds using its dual-core procesors.

   (Different benchmarking apps may test different aspects of the CPU and GPU which would account for variance.  One cannot look simply at one set of benchmark scores.  One should view all in an aggregate.)

Battery Life
Our standardize testing consist of two battery tests:  1) played a movie that repeated until the unit shut off (with Wi-Fi turned on); and 2) played a movie that repeated until the unit shut off (with Wi-Fi turned off).  Both tests had the brightness at 50%.  The battery averaged 7:16 hours with WiFi off and almost 5:00 with WiFi on.  This is very unusual as normally there is not a big difference between having the WiFi on and off.  The battery life is above average (with WiFi off) but not as good as the Cruz Tablet which approached over 9 hours.

Overall, the ViewBook performed OK and is meant to compete in the low-end tablet market with a price of $230.  The ViewBook has some good features: 1) great screen compared to other resistive screens; 2) front facing camera; 3) mini-HDMI port; 4) Bluetooth; 5) played video formats including HD without any problems; and 6) handwriting recognition works fine. However, there are some negatives: 1) poor body construction; 2) poor screen (resolution & not capacitive); 3) slightly weaker processor; 4) no 1+1 nor multi-touch screen; and 5) significant difference in battery life between having the WiFi on and having it off.  Unless you need a front facing camera and a HDMI port, we would rather buy a Nook Color and install CM7 (see our review of the Nook Color running Phiremod 6.3).  If ViewBook 730's price was under $200, we would be more incline to recommend it if you are looking for a low-end tablet.

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  1. Please keep in mind should you think about buying this ViewSonic item that there are several long reviews of ViewSonic's lack of support for the G Tablet going on now. The G Tab received almost nothing in support from ViewSonic and hundreds of G Tab buyers are complaining loudly.

  2. Its possible install cyanogenmod in this table?, 'cause i want to buy it in bestbuy

  3. I do not believe CM7 is available for this device. Unfortunately, it does not have a strong following for the CM team to spend time on this device.

    If you are daring, go to this link: http://goo.gl/HnA0Y

    Some people have rooted the device and install Google apps.