When we reviewed the Hannspree Hannspad, we noted that the usefulness of its Tap UI overlay was crippled by a combination of a poor touchscreen and occasionally sluggish operation.
The two seemed to very much be linked, so we were hoping that a better touchscreen and tweaked OS could result in a more compelling experience.
We sort of got what we asked for, but not in the way we wanted.
The touchscreen is an order of magnitude better here than the Hannspad's, that much is clear. In fact, it's just about on a par with all the tablet big boys. Typing was nearly impossible on Hannspree's offering, but is perfectly fine on the ViewPad (though the keyboard layout takes a bit of getting used to).
So what about those tweaks to the interface? As we said on the previous page, 99 per cent of the OS is stock Android 2.2, leaving the bar at the top and the App Center as the last remnants of what we liked so much about the Hannspad's interface.
Again, though, that's not an entirely bad thing. More flexible widgets, more Home screens and the notifications bar are all welcome. The browser in particular is stunningly fast.
Flash video was very strong, just as it was on the Hannspad. While we saw it struggle on many single-core 1GHz phones when first introduced, Flash video has been fine on the LG Optimus 2x, Hannspree Hannspad and now the ViewPad 10s. It's pretty safe to say that dual-core power was necessary to get it working smoothly.
However, the problem remains that there's a lack of touch-friendly controls for Flash players, so it can be fiddly to get things playing perfectly on-screen.
There are plenty of bad points from the changes to the UI, though. The music player doesn't have the clever windows that spread across the screen, while the default Gallery app gets rid of the menu UI bar, so you'll have to resort to the hidden physical back button. A clear, unified OS vision this ain't.
When the Tap UI overlay completely hid Android on the Hannspad, we could forgive the lack of Google apps, since it didn't feel like an Android device. But here it does, so we're lumbered without the real Android Market, no Google Maps and a Calendar that only accepts Exchange accounts. It doesn't present itself well.
Strangest of all is the on/off key. It seems like it should be a lock key, but it's actually designed to be a Home key, as we mentioned. If you want to lock the screen, you need to hold the key for two seconds, bring up the menu and choose 'Suspend'. But don't hold it for four seconds! That turns the thing straight off. We don't know about you, but we reckon just a simple lock key would have been in order here.
However, the UI inconsistencies are only a minor part of the story. They're annoying, but they're not the biggest OS problem. It pauses. A lot. When it's going, it's fast enough, but it frequently just doesn't do anything for a while.
What's particularly annoying about this is that it queues up commands during that time. If you tap the Back icon at the top-right of the screen, it may not do anything for a few seconds. There's no visual feedback on those added menu buttons, so you'll inevitably assume you missed it the first time, and tap again. And again. And then they'll all catch up, firing you back several screens.
The first time this happens, it's a bit annoying. Eventually, it becomes infuriating. The Home screens do the same thing, with you swiping several times before anything happens, at which point you skip several screens to the right or left.
The music player is perhaps most obviously a phone interface holdover – the sheer volume of wasted space is just ridiculous. It's functional enough, though, and the built-in speakers belt out music better than they do voice.
There's one major problem the ViewPad 10s has that so many cheap tablets do. The viewing angles on the screen simply aren't good enough. It's better than the appalling display on the Hannspree Hannspad, but not by a huge marging, and remains an area that can really spoil the tablet experience.
It negates the point of tablet's as a place-anywhere, social computer. Want to show a group of people something? You'll all be crowding for that sweet spot.
Video playback was excellent, just as it was on the Hannspad. 1080p video played back smoothly, in supported formats, and it looks great when viewed straight on – just not from anywhere else.
The HDMI mirroring also works well. It has little effect on performance, and our range of standard definition, 720p and 1080p videos all worked fine. There was a problem where they refused to play once, but a restart solved it.
The speakers are easily drowned out or muffled when your lap, but are OK most of the time.
Battery life generally isn't that great. In one 24-hour period of typical, quite light use, the battery fell to less than 50 per cent. Like the Hannspad, it simply uses too much battery in standby mode.
It's also a bit finicky when charging. It refused to do at all on one wall plug, and once we got it working, it wouldn't believe it was no longer charging.
The built-in camera isn't bad, with even soft orange lamp light in the evening producing a good enough image for video calling on the included Fring app.
The USB port is a funny old thing. Plugging a USB stick into enabled us to browse the files using the pre-loaded iFileManager app, which is superb. It played videos over the connection fine, though it threw a hissy fit at music in formats it's fine with when they're on the microSD card.
However, it steadfastly refused to connect to our PC. Which makes getting your media onto the device something of a massive pain. Frankly, if we had to choose between being able to connect the tablet to our PC or USB storage to the tablet, we'd choose the former.