Much to my utter surprise, I have to eat some crow this year and admit that tablets (and yet most notably the Apple iPad) took off in a way that I never really expected. Of course, it is well known by anybody that reads this or anything I write, that the chances of owning an Apple product is less than zero, so I have been anxiously awaiting a worthy competitor built on either Windows (or some variation of it), or Android.
Despite much fanfare almost a lifetime ago (Consumer Electronics Show in January of 2010), virtually nothing has a appeared in the way of a Windows tablet. There have been a number of Android tablet that have come out, most of which have been complete and utter junk and not even worth mentioning, and only recently did some that were even worth looking at began to appear.
The first one that I finally decided to break down and drop some money on was the Viewsonic G Tablet. At around $400, the specs on the G Tablet looked almost too good to be true. A Nvidia Tegra 2 (Dual Core) processor, a 10.1″ multi-touch capacitive display (quick shortcut and hint… if it has a resistive display, no matter how good the price, in my opinion, it simply isn’t worth looking at as viable option). 1080p playback enabled, wi-fi, 16GB of internal storage and microSD slot to expand that storage further.
I knew there would be some limitations going in that I was willing to overlook as an early adopter, but would be sticking points for mainstream consumers like the fact that Google really doesn’t not consider Android a “Tablet Ready” OS their specs make it impossible for any tablet that does not have 3G built in to get the Google apps or official Android Market. If you are not comfortable side-loading or getting apps from other locations you might as well stop here. Sure Viewsonic does now include a store (which in a bizarre twist had to be added in one of the G Tablet’s updates, since it did not include a link to this store in the initially shipping version of the tablet). But for those of you still willing to forge ahead, the problems do not stop there.
For a monitor company, I am baffled at the fact that Viewsonic would release a tablet with viewing angles as poor as what comes in the G Tablet. You must view this thing head on or the picture immediately becomes useless. Yes it is true you are generally looking at the tablet when using it, but angles are necessary for typing and resting the unit comfortably while using, and those angles immediately cause degradation of viewing experience.
For some reason only knows to the people involved with the cash dealings, partnerships and greased palms can actually tell you why, but the G Tablet ships with a skinned interface called Tap-n-Tap. Now I understand the general premise that this was supposed to be a consumer friendly UI that took better advantage of the bigger screen real estate on this tablet, but it is simply terrible. It is slow, causes stuttering and basically turns this powerful tablet into a glorified (and overpriced) digital picture frame.
Despite the tablet touting in initially advertising and on the box support for Adobe Flash, the shipping unit did not come with Flash installed, and most mention of it (except for one icon left behind) has been eradicated (that had a post stating that Flash would be available December 19th, but I guess that isn’t happening now).
The G Tablet has a front facing camera (that is actually a good thing), but for some odd reason doesn’t have a back camera and even more importantly, doesn’t ship with any software that actually makes use of the front camera. This is a very disconcerting omission, and so far, I have yet to find an app that uses the camera well.
OK, so by this point, you are probably wondering, why the heck anybody in their right mind would buy the G Tablet. I have to admit, that there is a very finite audience for this tablet, and there is as I see it, only two specific use cases where I could honestly say that this is a good tablet for you to consider. The first being you only intent to use the tablet as a glorified Picture Frame/Weather Station device. Sort of like a large flat screen Chumby. With its Android underpinnings and larger screen, if you did want a “station” like that, then the G Tablet may fit that use case.
The second is if you are the type of person that isn’t adverse to “jailbreaking” or “Rooting” you device. Some Developers over at XDA have done a nice job of creating a ROM that functions well, provides access to the Android Market, Google Apps and Flash. If you are comfortable flashing your device (or know somebody you can trust to do it for you), adding custom ROMS and generally spending some time tweaking your device, then the G Tablet is perfectly servicable and will give you a head start and/or glimpse of what is most likely in store for Android tablets. If you don’t mind rolling up your sleeves and digging in like this, the experience can be rewarding and give you bragging rights to a device that stands out now.
If however words like “ROMS”, “Rooting” or “Jailbreaking” mean nothing to you (or cause you to break out in a cold sweat), then this is most likely NOT the device for you. You may wish to consider the 7″ Samsung Tab (review forthcoming) or waiting to see what is announced at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in January.
It is possible that the Tap-n-Tap interface will be fixed and that this device will become more useful in the future, but if you are going to wait for that to happen, I’d say unless you want to get a head start (i.e. a programmer or designer looking to do something before all the good devices are released) and are willing to hack it, keep the $400 in your pocket until something better comes along or until this tablet is given an update that allows it to live up to its potential.