In 1968, "2001: A Space Odyssey" -- co-written by director Stanley Kubrik and author Arthur C. Clarke -- depicted two astronauts using an electronic slate to stream a video broadcast wirelessly [source: Gullo]. It was a far-fetched idea at the time. After all, people were still using landline telephones. With cords.
Fast-forward 40-some years and the slate-style tablet is a part of many people's personal computing arsenals. With each new entry into the tablet race, the competition increases as manufacturers vie to differentiate their offerings with unique features. Companies like ViewSonic, which has been producing a tablet line since 2001, strive to reinvent the wheel -- or at least to put a spinning rim on it -- each time they launch a new version.
ViewSonic was founded in 1987 as Keypoint Technologies. Based in Walnut, Calif., the company initially manufactured and sold computer peripherals like keyboards. In 1990, ViewSonic's focus shifted to color computer monitors and other mid-priced visual display products [source: ViewSonic]. In 2002, ViewSonic released its first tablet, the ViewSonic Tablet PC VC1100, with a $1,995 price tag [source: ViewSonic, Newman]. At the time, it was believed to be a bargain.
As of August 2011, ViewSonic offered five tablet models: the ViewPad 7, ViewBook 730, ViewPad 10pro, ViewPad 10 and gTablet.
The ViewPad 7 and ViewBook 730 have 7-inch (17.8-centimeter) screens. Priced around $300 and $250, respectively, these tablets undercut direct competitors like the $500 HTC Flyer and Blackberry PlayBook, and offer enticing options in comparison to similarly priced e-readers as of late 2011 [source: Orqula].
ViewSonic's larger tablets -- the ViewPad 10pro, ViewPad 10 and gTablet -- all sport 10.1-inch (25.7-centimeter) screens. The gTablet is designed primarily for light consumer use -- Web browsing, checking e-mail and playing games like Angry Birds -- and was priced at about $225 as of late 2011. ViewSonic released the ViewPad 10pro in August 2011, priced from $599 to $699 depending on the options you choose. Unlike the ViewPad 10, which has features for gaming and basic office use (and runs at least $100 cheaper as of late 2011), the ViewPad 10pro is designed for business professionals who need to access and use office software on the go.
So how do the ViewSonic tablets stack up to the competition when it comes to what's under the hood? For some, the tablets' internal workings are a mixed bag. Find out why on the next page.
ViewSonic Tablet Specs
The ViewBook 730 has a 1GHz processor, which is average for tablets, but only 512MB of RAM, 8GB of internal memory (although the device does have a micro SD card slot through which users can expand the memory by up to 32GB) and a single front-facing camera for videoconferencing. Furthermore, some critics panned the 730's low-resolution screen (800 x 480 compared to most tablets' 1024 x 768) [Orqula]. However, the 730 does come with a stylus, which can be used to add notes or pictures to existing apps, e-books or documents. ViewSonic calls this technology RiteTouch -- it also works with a finger instead of the stylus [source: ViewSonic]. Like all of ViewSonic's tablets, the 730 has WiFi and Bluetooth capabilities.
The ViewPad 7, which came out in 2010, offers less in terms of power (with a 600MHz processor) and memory (only 512MB, though it also has an up-to-32GB micro SD card slot), but it does have front-facing (0.3-megapixel) and back-facing (3-megapixel) cameras [source: ViewSonic]. And in September 2011, The ViewPad 7 will be reincarnated: The company has slated an international release of the ViewPad 7x, which will have amped internal workings [source: Gupta].
The ViewPad 10pro's main feature is its dual operating systems: Android 2.3 (Gingerbread) and Windows 7 (the buyer's choice of either Home Premium or Professional). To handle that, it has 1.5GHz processor and 2GB of RAM, along with an open slot to add a memory card to the optional 16GB or 32GB of internal memory [source: Cooper]. It has a single, front-facing 1.3-megapixel camera, as does the ViewPad 10 [source: ViewSonic]. The ViewPad 10 also has similar stats when it comes to memory, storage space and processing speed, but lags when it comes to its dual OS: It uses Android 2.2 (Froyo) -- a mobile OS that was initially designed for smartphones, not tablets -- with Windows 7 Home or Professional [source: ViewSonic]. (See the next page for more about how these dual operating systems work.)
Last but not least, the gTablet has 512MB of RAM and 16GB of memory, plus one of those handy micro SD card slots for memory upgrades [source: Murph]. It boasts a 1GHz dual-core processor, which can handle multiple apps and future OS upgrades. The gTablet and the ViewPad 10pro both have an HDMI port -- which means that you can hook them to a high-definition television and view your tablet's content on a big screen with excellent clarity [source: ViewSonic].
A ViewSonic tablet's battery should last about eight to 10 hours. We'll delve further into the VeiwSonic tablets' accessories and features on the next page.
ViewSonic Tablet Features and Accessories
ViewSonic tablets have access to the well-stocked Android Market and Amazon App Store. What operating systems will consumers be purchasing those apps for, you ask?
ViewSonic's gTablet, ViewBook 730 and ViewPad 7 all run on Google's Android 2.2 (Froyo) operating system. Proponents like Froyo because it offers faster downloads, app functions and Web browsing than 2.1 (Eclair). In addition, Froyo supports Adobe Flash. (Apple users frustrated with the iPad's inability to access some interactive Web content know why this is a big deal.) Critics contend that even though Froyo offers several improvements over Eclair, it's still clunky to navigate and not fully integrated with useful apps. They say an upgrade to Android 3.2 (Honeycomb), which is optimized for tablets' memory-sucking screens and for multi-app use, might be a better OS choice -- which may be part of why the upcoming ViewPad 7x will run on Honeycomb [source: Buchanan, Orquia].
The ViewPad 10 and ViewPad 10pro's dual operating systems marry fun and function; Android is known for its gaming and social networking capabilities, while having Windows and other Microsoft software on a tablet could allow users to take their work places where even the slimmest laptop feels clunky. However, Windows 7 was designed to work with keyboards, not touchscreens, and some reviewers have said that Windows 7 is inferior to its competitors when it comes to virus protection because it requires the addition of antivirus software -- and when such a program is running in the background, it slows the performance and saps the battery life of a tablet [source: Chen].
The ViewSonic tablets feature various built-in sensors like accelerometers (devices that sense and measure movement and vibrations) and G-sensors, which change the screen from landscape to portrait as the tablet's orientation changes. These add an interactive layer to motion-sensitive games. When playing "Need for Speed: Shift," for example, the tablet can be turned like a steering wheel to control a car. If Kubrick and Clarke imagined that, too, they kept it to themselves.
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