Hands-On: Viewsonic ViewPad 4
The smallest of Viewsonic's new Android tablets is actually a smartphone. We got hands-on time with the Viewsonic ViewPad 4 at CES.
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The Viewsonic ViewPad was probably the most non-descript smartphone I got hands on at CES 2011 in Las Vegas. The phone is a near perfectly rectangular slab. All of the edges and corners are sharp, right angles. There are few differences between the materials, and no real visual flourish to set this phone apart. In fact, it looks more like an engineer's reference prototype than any product touched by a designer.
Taking a tour of the phone, I may actually be overselling it. The power button / screen lock is tiny, almost impossible to press, even when you're deliberately trying. The volume rocker is similarly small and tough to manage. The phone feels sharp and not very comfortable in the hand.
The mix of chrome and brushed metal, with obvious seems in between, makes the phone feel impersonal. Usually I prefer metal to plastic, but I'd take piano gloss over this industrial look any day. Viewsonic reps were excited that we were handling one of the first working ViewPad 4 units they had on hand, but the 'new' model I tried had noticeable scuffs and scratches on it already. If it can't look good through a weekend trade show, it won't look good after a month's regular use.
The specification sheet also reads like a check list of average. 4-inch display running at WVGA resolution? Check. 5-megapixel camera? Check. Front facing camera? Check. 1 GHz processor? Check. Sure, these are some respectable specs, but they are almost identical to the respectable specs found on every other major hardware release this month, with nothing to set the device apart.
The interface was snappy, but Viewsonic has done little to improve the overall stock Android look and feel. Maybe that's a good thing. The dialpad and the onscreen QWERTY keyboard have been updated a bit, but they weren't exactly improved, just different looking. The phone will be upgradeable to Gingerbreak, Android 2.3, in the future, and Viewsonic says it will offer an update over-the-air.
The company is still talking to potential carrier partners, so no specific availability or pricing was announced. Viewsonic says the device will be ready in the first half of the year, but whether it will be sold unlocked or with a GSM carrier remains to be seen. The initial specs suggest 3G support for AT&T's radio bands, though obviously that could change.
CES is the world's consumer tech show. Every year we head out to Vegas to check out everything in person.
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