ViewSonic G-Tablet 10" Android 2.2 Tablet PC Review
gTablet on Amazon
My first (sort of) negative review
This has got to be a first. My first ever review with mixed results for the product. The Viewsonic G Tablet has some problems. But then it has some major coolness too.
Right off the bat, let me say- The Viewsonic is awesome, but it's not for everybody. For the whole story, just keep reading. If you want to cut to the tech specs, skip to the bottom.
From the Gemstar, to the Kindle
Monique had a birthday recently. I wanted to do something different. My first thought was an ebook reader. We both had the old eBookwise e-readers (converted Gemstars), and loved them. Maybe a little clunky, but they were fast, backlit for easy night reading, and had touch-sensitive screens.
Then I got the Kindle as a gift from my son and his wife. I've enjoyed it immensely, especially the extra memory, longer battery life, and higher screen resolution. But Monique was still waiting to be impressed. She wanted all the modern cool features of the Kindle, but insisted on touch-screen, and really wanted it to be backlit.
How about the Nook?
With this in mind, for her birthday I started researching the newest crop of ebook readers. Amazon had not yet released a touch-screen Kindle, even though they own a company with the technology, so they were out of the race. (Note: Amazon finally announced a major Kindle upgrade… guess I'll be writing about that next!) After looking at the front runners, I was leaning toward the Nook touch-screen. Not perfect by Monique's standards because it lacks backlighting, but very well-received in the reviews I could find. Still, not quite on-target.
Tablets- Read ebooks and much more
I knew she was still interested in an ebook device, because she still uses her old eBookwise reader.
Monique's sister has a tablet, and I noticed Monique was curious about it. Neither of us knew much about tablets at the time, but it was easy to see parallels. Tablets can read ebooks. They have touch screens. They're even backlit! Plus they can do a whole smorgasbord of other things. Heck, there's an app for near about anything. The more I learned, the better it sounded.
It was fun learning about tablets, researching, studying their features. I love gadgets. But it didn't take long to realize these tech-toys can get expensive. For better or worse, I set my spending limit at $300. This is where Amazon is very useful. All the search filters made it easy to wade through the available choices.
Viewsonic feature list
The Most Powerful Tablet for the Price: Viewsonic G-Tablet
Boiled down through all the options, the best tablet for my spending limit was the Viewsonic G Tablet. I'll admit, there were red flags. The hardware is powerful. The size, 10 inches, was important. Monique likes her portables larger, and the teeny tiny ones just wouldn't do. The problem was the operating system. Many complaints about the OI, and specifically the TapnTap user interface. Another big complaint was lack of access to the Android Marketplace. Viewsonic has their own marketplace, but it's not really comparable to the Android Marketplace.
Not the mature operating system I'd hoped for
The hardware and the price were a powerful lure, but the final decision was based on time. Time, as in time for the OS to mature. There's been several upgrades to the operating system and the user interface since it first came out. I made a leap of faith that the OS and UI would be greatly improved by now. Unfortunately, I didn't look well enough before leaping. Usually I can read between the lines better than that, but I missed it on this one.
Amazing hardware... buggy software
When it arrived, it looked awesome. But trying to use it? That was a whole 'nother story. Sometimes it played Youtube videos, and then a few hours later, the same video would refuse to play. The interface wasn't horrible, but it wasn't great. The biggest problem was the lack of app access. Viewsonic's provided app resource is still supremely limited. Sometimes, with a little creativity we could download and install an app from other sources, but more often than not, we couldn't make it work.
I may be dense, but I get there eventually
What it came to was pure frustration. Monique knew I was excited to give her such a cool gift. But the more she used it, the more she hated it. She was caught in the middle between not hurting my feelings, and not liking the G Tablet. My biggest clue was when she started crying. I may be kind of dense, but that's a signal I can figure out. Not a good sign.
What would YOU do?
While she'd been struggling with the Gtab, I went online to see if there were any solutions. There are... but they involve doing things that not everybody would be comfortable with. There are several unofficial operating systems more Android-friendly. More reliable, intuitive, and user-friendly.
But phrases like "Flashing your ROM", "Brick your tablet", and "Void your warranty" were thrown around with lots of warnings and disclaimers. Enough to scare off the faint of heart, but not me. Love is the greatest motivator, so I squared my shoulders and studied up.
I'm pretty good with a computer, but had never dealt with a tablet before. After a LOT of reading, upgrading to an unofficial OI seemed like something I could do. There were really only 3 choices:
1 - Leave it like it is, and get used to it.
2 - Send it back.
3 - Attempt to modify it, which would void the warranty and maybe kill the tablet.
Cyanogen (mod) 7.3
At option 3, I found the G Tablet slapped into my hands so fast all I could see was a blur. I was happy about that... it meant she liked the idea of the tablet, just not the way this one worked.
Next came hours of work. Of the available operating systems, I chose Cyanogenmod 7.3. All the other OS's had unique features, and all of them were better than the original OS. The decision was almost totally random, but the deciding factor was finding a Wiki with a good guide, plus up-to-date downloads and options. There was also another excellent guide on the XDA forums. I wound up using both guides and blending some of the steps.
Sometimes, technology just isn't logical
Between the two guides, I figured I had a pretty good chance of not "bricking" my tablet.
I was nearly wrong. Followed instructions correctly as far as I could tell, but at one point it refused to boot back up. Thought I'd destroyed it. Then, by the power of Google, I found a webpage with instructions on how to "Un-brick" it. No guarantees, but a good chance of fixing the tablet. Lucky me... it worked.
This fix was supposed to restore the Viewsonic back to stock. Then I'd have to start over from scratch. Instead, when the Gtab booted (finally!) back up, it was innocently blinking at me... from the point I would have been right before it locked up!
Easy if you know what you're doing...
Go figure. It worked, and I picked up where I left off. From that point, installation was straightforward. There were a few other things to do, like install an app to run Flash. Then add the Android Market. All these things came with pretty easy links and instructions. Then the built-in audio equalizer kept freezing, requiring a forced close, and turning off the audio output. Once again, Google to the rescue.
By the way, if the audio freeze happens to you, the quick fix is to plug and unplug a headphone jack into the tablet. This will turn the audio volume back on. I tried to delete the app, but it declined to be deleted. Found a backup app (Titanium Backup) that was able to delete it.
After that... mission accomplished. It only took most of my Saturday. (If you know what you're doing, they say it should take about 30 minutes... )
The Good News:
Now the good news. With Cyanogenmod 7.3 installed, the G-Tablet runs like a dream. Monique has been playing with it (and having fun!) extensively. She's found apps for things I never imagined. It plays videos. Goes to websites. Does Android Marketplace. Games, ebooks, and more. I truly enjoy seeing her have so much fun on it.
Marvin the GTab
Monique has a name for her GTab. She calls it Marvin, (as in "The Martian) because when it arrived it was totally alien to her. Now they play well together, but she still calls it Marvin.
The other day, she offered to let me play with it, any time she's not using it. I told her my main interest would be reading ebooks on it... she said "I didn't mean you could HOG it!"
I loved hearing that. If she likes it so much I only get 'limited access', that means it was a successful gift!
How to Flash your Viewsonic
Below are some of the most useful links and apps mentioned above:
(the 2 links above are both guides to install a new OS. I used both by the time I was done)
(This link is if you "brick" your tablet. Don't laugh… it saved me after I messed up)
These links are a starting point. Using them, you can install (flash) a new operating system, gain access to the Android Marketplace, and begin to customize your Gtablet. There's plenty more you can do to tweak things, but that's a matter of personal taste. In our case, I set up the system according to these guides, and Monique personalized with the apps of her choice.
Multiple sensors built in
I'm intrigued by the built-in sensors. Not only movement sensors, but an ambient light sensor that adjusts display brightness based on the light around you. It's a power-saving feature, but also has the potential to be easier on your eyes depending on how much light you need. After being used to my Kindle, I really like the touch-screen features, too. Multi-touch, like pinch to zoom, 2-finger rotation, and scrolling provide convenient navigation.
There's a learning curve with some apps
The Gtab multitasks quite nicely. One of the apps Monique installed reads the bible, and prayers, out loud. You leave that screen, and surf the web, check your emails, read a book... and the app keeps reading. We couldn't immediately figure out exactly how to turn it off. At one point, she accidentally had the app running twice at the same time, reading the same passage, but not quite synced. It had a very disturbing harmonic, kind of like Galadriel's speech to Frodo in Lord of the Rings. At least that confirmed the ability to multi-task!
New OS, multi-media, battery life... a good tablet
Now that we've upgraded to the new operating system, these features work much better. Especially the multi-media elements. Video, Audio, graphics... all work fine with Cyanogenmod 7.3. It's a much nicer machine without the original clunky OS.
Battery life is rated at 8-10 hours. From what I've seen, I think 6 hours is a good real-world estimate. Of course, it varies entirely according to what you're doing, and how much power you're using. Screen brightness, wireless internet access, actively playing video, reading an ebook... it all has a bearing, so it's hard to give a fair time frame. But for Monique, it looks like her normal use gives about 6 hours. She plugs hers back in every night, so it's always good to go in the morning.
Wi-fi works fine from all over the house and a bit beyond. We've had several wireless laptops, some with better reception, some with worse. This unit seems to be slightly better than average for range of reception.
Viewsonic G-Tablet technical specs
The GTablet features straight out of the box include:
(This data was taken from the Viewsonic Website and is current at the time of writing)
Processor/Memory: 1 GHz NVidia Tegra 2 Dual-Core ARM Cortex-A9 CPU
Storage: 16GB internal, expandable with a 16GB SD Card to a total of 32GB.
Operating System: Google Android 2.2 (Froyo)
(Remember, that's "Straight out of the box". I changed mine to Cyanogenmod 7.3)
Screen: 10.1" TFT-LCD with LED driver System
Resolution: 1024 x 600 pixels
OpenGL ES 2.0
32-bit LP-DDR2 memory
S1080p H.264/H.263/ VC-1/MPEG-2/4/WMV9/DiVX 4/5 Video Decode
1080p H.264/MPeg-4 Video Encode
Audio formats supported: AAC, AMR, WMA, MP3
Camera: 1.3 Megapixel
Battery/Power: 3650mAh Li-ion polymer battery, 12V Power adapter
Voltage 7.4V, operating temp 32F to 113F, store between -4F to 113F
Included in box:
Quick Start Guide.
Quick note about the guides... these are minimal. I got much better information by Google searching for reviews, guides, and forums.
Unit is 10.5" x 6.8" x 0.54"
Weight 1.55 lbs.
Black (This seems to be the only available color)
Wifi: 802.11 b/g/n
Bluetooth: Bluetooth 2.1 +EDR
Internal dual 1-watt stereo speakers
Connections: USB 2.0 (Slave), Mini USB 2.0 (Host), 3.5mm stereo headphone, Micro SD, Dock for optional HDMI/Headphone/USB, and DC power input port.
A hacker's dream, but...
I've had time now to read a lot more detailed reviews about the Gtablet. Yes, it's a powerful machine. Yes, it's a 10-inch model.
But if you want a useable tablet right out of the box, look somewhere else.
To get the full-featured benefit of all it's capabilities, you really have to be a tinkerer. On the plus side, there's plenty of ways to improve. Starting with your choice of several unofficial operating systems, you have nearly unlimited ways to customize and personalize. If you love to play 'under the hood', this is absolutely the unit to get.
I'm most impressed that all these 'mods' are available… for free! That's quite impressive, and very generous of the software developers involved.
So, good tablet, excellent hardware, but if you want to open the box and immediately have a finished, useful, product… just keep on walking. The G-Tablet is a hacker's dream, but for the average user, it's just a nightmare.