As a holdover until Microsoft ships the tablet-friendly Windows 8, I like the idea of a Windows 7 tablet that also runs Android. Sure, Windows 7 doesn’t play nicely with touch screens, but it’s a great operating system for getting work done, and when you’re finished, you can switch to Android for leisure.
That’s what ViewSonic tries to accomplish with its ViewPad 10pro tablet. The 10-inch slab runs Windows 7, and also includes an Android emulator on the desktop, letting you run proper tablet apps without restarting the machine. (A previous ViewSonic tablet, the ViewPad 10, dual-booted Windows and Android, requiring a restart to switch between them.)
It’s a neat idea in theory. But in practice, the ViewSonic 10pro only proves that some ideas are better left unrealized.
The version I tried, provided by ViewSonic for review, lists at $699 and includes a 1.5 GHz Intel Atom processor, 2 GB of RAM, a 32 GB solid state drive and Windows 7 Professional.
The Windows side of this tablet met my low expectations. Using the touch screen, Windows 7 doesn’t offer anything that could be better accomplished with a mouse and keyboard. There are no tablet-optimized apps, except for an optional user interface from Thinix that basically offers big button links to non-tablet apps and websites.
The software keyboard is sufficient, but a pre-loaded version of Swype—a keyboard that predicts words as you drag your fingers across the letters—doesn’t seem as accurate as the popular Android version. In general, Windows 7 responds to the touch with lag and choppiness that would make iPad and Android tablet users cringe.
Again, I expected all of this, figuring I would mostly rely on a USB mouse and keyboard to get work done on the Windows side. Using those input devices, the ViewPad 10pro becomes more like a netbook, handy for word processing and e-mail, but slow at gaming. At least I was able to watch the free version of Hulu without any problems.
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The big disappointment is with the ViewPad 10pro’s Android emulator, provided by BlueStacks and presented as an app on the Windows desktop. The BlueStacks Android app consists of a blank home screen and a handful of pre-loaded programs in the app tray. All of them had serious lag issues, and Documents to Go gave me an error message every time I tried to create a spreadsheet.
The Android Market isn’t available through BlueStacks. Instead, the emulator links to a sketchy website called freewarelovers.com, whose pages are surrounded with advertisements disguised as fake “Download” buttons. The app selection was good enough—I grabbed Pulse reader and a demo of Robo Defense—but neither of them performed admirably. Pulse was unbearably laggy, and Robo Defense was too unresponsive to play with any level of skill. (I was warned beforehand with a dialog box: “Performance may be slow for some games,” it said. “This will be resolved with the next version which will be available soon.” I’m not feeling confident about that.)
Android emulation might work on really powerful machines, but I just don’t think the ViewPad 10pro’s Atom processor is up for the task. When I tried to exit an app, the Android navigation buttons on the side of the screen often failed to respond. On-screen navigation buttons are available for backup, so I guess ViewSonic knows its hardware doesn’t work right. Compared to a dedicated Android tablet, the ViewPad 10pro is a disaster.
This tablet isn’t wonderfully designed, either. It’s thick and heavy, and has a noisy fan. The bezel isn’t proportioned evenly on all sides, and the tablet’s microSD slot has a flap that, despite my best efforts, would always dislodge and dangle.
On the bright side, the ViewPad 10pro gets a solid eight hours of battery life, and can rest for days without using much power. Strangely, when you wake the machine, it tells you to press Control-Alt-Delete to login, but no such buttons exist. Instead, you’ve got to hold the “hold” button on the side of the device for about five seconds. My sympathies to anyone who has to figure that out.
If ViewSonic’s ViewPad 10pro provided a competent Android experience, the lackluster touch screen Windows experience could be forgiven. But because the ViewPad 10pro excels at neither, I can’t think of any good reasons to recommend this device, especially as the promising Windows 8 gets closer to launch. The best I can muster is a kudos to ViewSonic for trying.
(PHOTOS: The First Windows 8 Tablet)