Viewsonic G-Tablet Impressions

Dislcaimer: This is important. All impressions I have on the G-Tablet are impressions of the tablet AFTER flashing a custom ROM onto it (in my case, Cyanogenmod 7). Consider this a warning to everyone who is familiar with the stock Tap n’ Crap…I’m sorry…Tap N’ Tap OS that ships with the G-Tablet. If you’re using the stock ROM, you are missing out. The G-Tablet is a very good piece of hardware for a fantastic price and trust me when I say that you are NOT getting the most out of your tablet if you are still on the stock ROM. Take some time, research your options (the development community for this tablet is pretty big) and install a better ROM. Trust me. You’ll thank me later.

Now that the cursory information is out of the way, the Viewsonic G-Tablet is probably the best value in the tablet market and the most underrated tablet out there. Sure, it has its problems, namely the low-ish resolution (1024 x 600 versus 1280 x 800 on the current crop of Honeycomb tablets) no official support for Honeycomb and the terrible vertical viewing angles and believe me, they really are terrible, but in my experience, the pros vastly outweigh the cons.

Once you get over the fact that you have to be looking at the screen head on the entire time you’re using it in order to keep it from washing out, which isn’t too much of an adjustment, you’ll be fine and aside from the limited viewing angles, the screen is sharp and responsive so the less than desirable viewing angles were not a deal breaker for me. Admittedly, I’ve never really been a fan of the 16:10 aspect ratio for tablets because that’s better suited to a fixed screen such as a television of computer monitor than something you’re holding in your hands. Using this thing in landscape mode is pretty much the only way to go most of the time but there are some instances in which portrait works a tad bit better, like when I read comics or browse certain web pages.

As soon as I got the thing, I played around with the stock OS and quickly determined that it’s as big a sack of garbage as everyone had made it out to be. This operating system, dubbed by Viewsonic as “Tap N Tap”, is slow, clunky and laggy even with the most basic tasks. Now, prior to recent updates, you were forced into using the Tap N’ Tap UI for all your computing needs but thankfully, Viewsonic updated the G-Tablet to allow users to switch back and forth between the stock OS and a standard Android 2.2 launcher that most folks familiar with the platform will be used to by now. You’d think that this would alleviate most of the problems the G-Tablet has in its stock configuration but that is not the case here. The stock OS is still running in the background, even when using the standard launcher and ends up weighing the tablet down.

Put simply, Tap N’ Tap makes poor use of the blazing fast Tegra 2 hardware running under the hood and crippled the performance of an otherwise speedy tablet. This is akin to slapping a governor on a Ferrari. You know it has the capability to go so much faster but you’re stuck doing 100 MPH with the gas pedal floored.

Once the tablet is rooted and a custom ROM is installed, however, those problems go away.

Once the bloated and poorly optimized stock ROM is replaced, this thing really opens up.  The most immediate benefit is the upgrade to the latest version of Android 2.3.4 (Gingerbread) versus the stock 2.2 (Froyo) build which features its own host of improvements that I won’t go into here. Of course, different ROMs are based on different versions of Android and there are some built around the Froyo build which is worth noting if you’re searching around for the best custom ROM to load onto your tablet. As said earlier, I went with Cyanogenmod 7 but there are numerous other choices worth considering.

The user experience is…well, Android as it is on Gingerbread smartphones. My G-Tablet has been very snappy and responsive throughout my time using it and has performed as expected. Certain reviewers have said that Android isn’t “made for humans”, and that only the biggest of dorks and tech nerds will be able to get the most out of it. Well, in some ways, this is true. To be able to capitalize this tablet’s potential; you’re going to have to get your hands dirty. This is inherent to the way Android functions at the fundamental level and the same can be said of every other Android device on the planet.

If you’re not a power user, don’t let this discourage you because Android is still a very usable operating system and the G-Tablet is a very usable tablet. If you’re curious, no, this is not as easy to use as Apple’s iPhone or iPad and it’s not meant to be. I’m going to go off on a bit of a tangent here and discuss key differences between the iOS and Android experiences. iOS centers around ease of use and just working. It’s made to be easy for just about anyone to pick up and use without any prior knowledge of how it’s supposed to work. iOS “protects” users from this sort of thing and all of the problems that could arise as a result of some ill-advised tweaks. Put simply, iDevices “just work”.

Android on the other hand doesn’t work as smoothly or as easily as iOS. Android works differently. It is a highly customizable operating system that allows users to access the very lowest levels of the operating system and tweak things to their satisfaction. The UI is also a step ahead of iOS, allowing for customizable widgets and the like to be placed just about anywhere on the multiple home screens. This is something I’ve wanted from iOS but has never been delivered and I’m glad Android gives me the options to fully customize the UI as I see fit.

iOS is a closed ecosystem whereas Android is not. There’s no clear “this is better” distinction that can be applied across the board for all kinds of users and which one you end up preferring all comes down to personal preference.

Back to the G-Tablet, rooting the device and then flashing a custom ROM may sound like a daunting task, especially given Android’s usability quirks but as long as you do the requisite research and follow the instructions, you shouldn’t have much to worry about. Setting up my Tablet, I actually ended up soft-bricking it by attempting to install a custom ROM designed for the stock 1.1 bootloader on the newer 1.2 version.

Naturally, I freaked out. I thought I’d broken my brand new tablet and wasn’t sure how I was going to fix it, if I could at all. Thankfully, there are plenty of guides to help novice users such as myself recover from such a situation and I was able to fix the problem and get my tablet back up and running with a custom ROM within an hour or so and my G-Tablet has been running smoothly ever since. There have been some bumps in the road with some applications not working correctly and I’ve seen my share of force closes (crashes) when trying to get certain apps to run on the tablet but nothing I haven’t been able to work around and to be fair, I’ve had problems with apps crashing on my iPod Touch as well (it just works…just not all the time). I even managed to get Netflix working, an app that is notoriously picky about which devices you’re allowed to run it on.

I really like widgets

Using my tablet for checking e-mail away from my computer, browsing the web (with full flash support to boot!) reading e-books and comics, playing the occasional game, watching videos, all of it has been highly enjoyable on my G-Tablet and its performance has been absolutely stellar. Speaking of performance, I’ve benchmarked my G-Tablet Several times this thing averages between 2500 and 2700 on quadrant with the core overclocked to 1.2 GHz and hit an amazing score of 3303 with the core clocked at 1.5 GHz in my tests. Of course, benchmarks don’t always translate into real world performance but I can’t imagine the G-Tablet’s Honeycomb sporting rivals being much sprightlier (if at all) in day to day usage. Not to mention the great battery life the G-Tablet boasts (around 8 hours in most tests).

There are some kinks to be worked out in time with certain apps being incompatible with the tablet (many apps aren’t designed to run on the Tegra 2 platform) and currently, OpenGL support has been hit or miss with the G-Tablet in just about every custom ROM I’ve read up on but the development community has really taken a liking to Viewsonic’s tablet so I don’t expect support to dry up any time soon. Hit up the folks at SlateDroid and XDA Developers to see just how active the development communities are.

On that note, it’s also worth mentioning that despite Google’s refusal to release the Honeycomb source code, developers are still hard at work porting Android 3.0 and 3.1 to the G-Tablet and you can take the various builds out for a test drive. I’ve tried a couple of Honeycomb ROMs myself and went back to Cyanogenmod 7 each time. The G-Tablet Honeycomb ports aren’t ready for prime time just yet, at least not to me. What the developers have done is great and the Honeycomb interface is a much better fit for my tablet than Gingerbread but there are a few too many stability issues for me to use it as my daily driver, so to speak. When Google finally releases Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich), that should change.

Honeycomb running on my G-Tablet

And now we get to one of the most important points. How much does this thing cost? Last year when the G-Tablet was released, it carried a $499 price tag and considering the problems with the stock ROM, and the lack of Honeycomb support and terrible viewing angles, it’s not surprising that this tablet wasn’t well received. But, likely because of that negative press, the price of the G-Tablet has dropped significantly and now, it can be easily found at various online retailers for less than $300. I purchased mine for $270 and I am very pleased with it. For the price, you’re getting hardware that goes toe to toe with its biggest rivals for little more than half the price.

If you’re the type of person that doesn’t like to play around with settings and tweak things to make a device truly your own, this tablet is not for you. I, for one, like having a full size USB port for plugging a thumb drive up to. I like having a standard mini-USB port to plug into my computer versus the iPod’s proprietary dock. I like having the option to expand the storage of my tablet with removable Micro-SD cards (I picked up a 16GB card for a little over $23, effectively doubling my storage capacity) and most importantly, I like having all of these features in a tablet that costs far less than its primary competitors. No, it doesn’t hit all of the bases perfectly but what it does, it does exceedingly well for the price.

For those of you who haven’t been scared off by the prospect of flashing a custom ROM onto the tablet and are looking for an inexpensive entry point to the world of Android, Viewsonic’s G-Tablet is probably the best value out there. Sure, the G-Tablet is rough around the edges in some areas but if you stick with it, you should be very pleased with this tablet and if you aren’t…feel free to give up and buy an iPad.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that…

About Justin McBride

My name is Justin McBride and I’m a guy who enjoys writing, playing games and writing about playing games. Sound lame enough yet? Well, I have other interests as well such as hanging out with friends, watching TV, going to the movies from time to time, surfing the internet, listen to good music, drive at speeds I shouldn’t be driving at and so on. The problem is, that’s all stuff everyone likes to do, so why write about it? Oh wait, seems I just did. Oops.

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