Image(s) reprinted with permission from ViewSonic Corporation.
The ViewPad 7e is an Android-based 7" color tablet that is more flexible than many e-Readers but not as fancy as Apple's product. It’s sub-$200 price is easy to swallow, however, and helps to make the 7e a decent entry in the budget tablet market.
The ViewPad 7e runs on Android 2.3 Gingerbread. That isn't the most up-to-date version of Google's OS so it doesn't have some of the sexier features of its successor, Honeycomb. As far as visuals go, though, ViewSonic has partly made up for that with the 7e’s optional ViewScene 3D interface.
This interface (below) essentially maps home screen features such as apps, weather forecasting graphics, photos and other visual elements onto a multidimensional cube that you rotate by swiping your finger across the screen. It makes for a more aesthetically appealing launch screen than you get on some more costly tablets, including the unimaginatively designed home screen on the iPad.
If you don’t like the 3D interface, you can opt for a more conventional grid layout of icons with a small block at the bottom that includes the Settings app. As with the ViewScene interface, this looks slightly fuzzy on the ViewPad 7e's screen compared with the graphics on higher-end tablets.
The screen feels thicker than on some higher-priced tablets, too, and I found it to be frustratingly unresponsive at times. This was especially the case if I swiped directly upwards to get to icons that were off the bottom of the screen. A diagonal swipe worked better and the tablet became easier to use once I learned this trick.
Overall the chunky feel of the ViewPad 7e is actually a reassuring feature. Whereas many budget electronics seem like they'll fall apart if you sneeze on them, the 7e feels well built. It might not look fancy but it's solid.
Being a budget tablet, the ViewPad 7e has only an 800 x 600 pixel screen. Consequently I noticed some artifacts when playing back a 720p movie. Even so, the tablet's 1 GHz processor handled reading the file off a networked Pogoplug drive or a micro SD card without difficulty. I also had no complaints about the hi-def picture it produced on an HDTV when plugged in via the mini-HDMI socket. Even the sound from an MP3 file was relatively good, given that most tables aren’t up to rocking the house.
A tablet is, of course, only as good as its apps and Android offers plenty of those, even for its older iterations. Unfortunately, being based in Canada I wasn't able to access the Amazon App store through the included app. However, I was able to download from other suppliers already set up on the 7e as well as from sites on the Internet. Installation was generally easy and quick.
One app I did have a problem with was Netflix, which is essential in my cable-free household. I could get it on the tablet but it wouldn’t run. This might be an issue with the app rather than the tablet because I found other people on the Internet who had the same problem. Even so, one downside I see with Android tablets in general is that consumers can be confused by the different versions of the OS that are around and could be frustrated by apps that are incompatible with older variants.
As well as being able to deliver entertainment (yes, Angry Birds and Flash will run on it), the ViewPad 7e has elements designed for the less demanding business professional or writer. The 7" screen doesn't give you as much screen real estate as a 10" would but the 7e is equipped with RiteTouch technology that supposedly allows for handwriting with a stylus (I didn't test it). It also has a Swype on-screen keyboard that is supposed to make typing easier. I found Swype’s constant habit of replacing my words with 'corrected' spellings annoying, though, and soon switched it off.
The 7e also has obligatory Wi-Fi and Bluetooth capabilities. The former allows you to hook into free Internet when traveling, while the latter lets you pair it up with peripherals such as external speakers and keyboards (although I couldn’t get it to work with the Verbatim keyboard that I tried).
Apple might be commandeering the higher end of the tablet market with its arguably overpriced iPads but Android has claimed the budget market and the ViewPad 7e is a competitive contender. It has most of the features and limitations you should expect for its price point and still offers some advantages over its swanky Apple cousins (expandable memory via the Micro SD slot, for example, albeit only up to 32GB). It has some issues but with several websites offering it at around $170 at the time of writing, the ViewPad 7e will give you most of what you bargained for.