Good news! We get to talk about what a tablet looks like without constantly comparing it to the iPad. The ViewSonic ViewPad 10s is a modern tablet that doesn't look like Apple's creation.
Well, it's still got the black bezel, we admit, but the overall shape brought to mind the Samsung Galaxy Tab instead when we first picked it up.
The first thing you'll notice is that the bezel appears extremely thick. Certainly, it's pretty hefty in its own right, but what really makes you notice the size is the lack of any buttons or branding on the front.
With no visual distractions, the pure blackness of it really stands out. The only blemish is the small front-mounted camera hole.
The back of the device is glossy black plastic, to match the front visually. It feels nice and premium in the hand, but is a bit slippery. Cunningly, to mitigate this, there's a small, nearly imperceptible ridge on one side.
If you're looking at the ViewPad in landscape, with the camera at the top, this is on the left side, making it slightly easier to hold and then operate with your right hand. It's a small addition, but the details count when it comes to something that spends all of its time in-hand.
The actual build quality isn't quite as tidy as the materials used. The back bends in without much pressure applied, but it feels like a light drop wouldn't do it too much harm. There's a little panel on one edge of the tablet's rear that looks and feels as though it should open up to a port, but actually doesn't open at all. It's just there.
Speaking of ports, we're blessed with several of them on the ViewPad 10s. On one of the short edges (on the right if you hold it with the ridge in your left hand) sits the 3.5mm headphone jack, the charging port and a really fiddly cover. Under the really fiddly cover is a microSD card slot, a full-size USB port and a full-size HDMI port.
That's right – no expensive new cable connectors needed to get your ViewPad hooked up to your TV, just any old HDMI cable. Viewsonic spoils us.
Also on this side is a volume control, while just around the corner on the device's top edge is a multi-purpose on/off/Home key and physical rotation lock switch (always a nice touch) and a physical Back button (which we'll explain the need for later).
The last physical feature worth mentioning is the proprietary dock connector on the bottom. Well, we say worth mentioning… nothing in the box uses it, so unless the accessories industry really takes off for Viewsonic, we're not sure it'll ever get any use.
Each of the edges of the devices are quite pointy where the plastic rim meets the screen, but you don't tend to notice this when holding the tablet normally, only when picking it up.
The US-version of the 10s, the Viewsonic G Tablet, runs an interesting Android overlay called Tap UI. We saw Tap UI in action on a finished product first on the Hannspree Hannspad, and we were impressed with the way the software hid just enough of Android 2.2 to really make the most of a tablet's screen space.
The ViewPad 10s doesn't do that. This final version has scaled back on it drastically, with Tap UI's bar at the top - featuring software buttons for Home, Menu and Back - but none of the other Tap UI features.
These three options are missing from the front of the device, but Back and Home are catered for with the buttons around the edge of the ViewPad.
Why? Well, the custom UI is scaled back so far that it's back to stock Android apps, some of which go fullscreen without the bar at the top sticking around (they're designed to be used on phones with real buttons, after all). To get out of these apps, you'll obviously need to hit one of the physical buttons.
The menu bar with the Home, Back and Menu buttons in is a solution similar to Android 3.0, but beat it to market. Generally, it works fine, though it can have some performance pauses (as detailed on the next page), and the notifications bar functionality can get in the way of presses.
The slightly useless notifications on offer in the full Tap UI are replaced by the normal Android pull-down bar, which is a distinct improvement, even if you do trigger it accidentally every so often.
Whereas the full Tap UI had a specially designed screen for widgets (which wasn't very good) things are rather more free here. Five fairly normal Android Home screens are available, with various widgets on offer, and more can be downloaded.
Just to be clear, you don't download those new widgets from the Android Market. This isn't a Google-certified device, so no Gmail, no Google Calendar and no Market.
There is an app store, though. The App Center is a fair stab at recreating the eclectic Android Market without Google's support, but just can't match it for scale. It also can't match it in some other, more important areas, such as official Twitter or Facebook apps. Actually, any Facebook app at all. Oh dear.
Viewsonic has foreseen this disadvantage, and actually provides a page on its website with links to APK files for Twitter, Facebook and Angry Birds, among others. It's a nice idea, but who (other than reviewers doing research) is going hunting in the 'Resources' section of the Viewsonic website? Either preload them properly or make it more obvious, Viewsonic.
That said, it didn't do us a lot of good anyway – Angry Birds and Twitter both failed to install correctly, and so promptly deleted themselves. Facebook survived, though.
Another good thing that's come from not using Tap UI is that the normal Android browser is in use, with all the blistering speed that entails. A custom version of Adobe Flash 2.1 is installed, much to the Motorola Xoom's chagrin, no doubt.
As far as media goes, the ViewPad 10s supports up to 1080p playback of H.264, H.263, DivX and Xvid for video, while music formats including AAC, MP3 and Vorbis are catered for.