Tech Stuff

The ViewSonic “gtablet”

The boss offered me one of these to take for a test drive yesterday. What could I say? Well, lots, and very little of it good.

First the good — nice form factor, very sleek and clean looking. When turned off, the screen makes a terrific mirror. That’s probably what it does best.

When I first turned it on at lunch, it couldn’t find the network. It worked earlier, but it had corrupted the settings somehow, so I spent the entire time trying to figure out how to get it to see the campus network. On other devices, it shows up as “unknown network” and you can enter in the correct network name and password. The network name had already been put in, it just showed that it was out of range (I was sitting next to a few students for whom the network was totally in-range). Touching on that particular list item gave me two options: delete it, or go back. No way to double-check the settings or modify them.

So that’s the first of the bad — the user interface is, to be blunt, horrible. Starting from the top, there are four hardware buttons on the right-hand side of the face. The top, a magnifying glass, opens the web browser to your default search page.

The next, a house, takes you to the home screen.

The next looks like this:

and does absolutely nothing until you’re in an application that supports it. Why it’s one of the few “global” functions is kind of a mystery.

The last is simply a back button.

The screen is supposed to auto-rotate based on its built-in inertial sensor. And it does, except for on the home screen.

Downloading apps happens not from an app store, but from something called “gstore.” That took way too long to figure out. Then when you download, the location isn’t immediately apparent (more on this later). It’s something you have to access from the alerts icon.

Speaking of which, after reading in the Times about the string quartet that is using flat-panel PCs with PDF files instead of sheet music, I went to and downloaded a PDF of a trumpet part. The “download started” dutifully popped up, and then nothing. There’s no way to get at a download manager, or check the settings for where downloaded files go.

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Only after installed the Acrobat Reader (free, as always) was I able to see the file. Once that was done, I had something I could put up on a music stand, even if it really is too small to use in a concert situation. The screen is quick to re-draw when scrolling down, but inexplicably slow going back up. There’s a down button at the lower right, but for some unknown reason no “up” button.

The web interface itself is nothing but trouble. Pages open scrolled to the bottom. The status indicator is inadequate, and you can’t see the full URL. And it suffers from the same tactile problems that everything else here suffers from: a lack of feedback.

You have two options for touch-screen feedback: a sound, and nothing. Now, even my little Samsung mobile has a little vibrator inside that gives a tiny little buzz to your fingertip when you touch something. For most of the apps on this machine there are three problems:

  1. The thing you’re touching doesn’t light up
  2. The system is slow to respond
  3. The screen doesn’t change at all

So you’re in the so-old-it’s-almost-comical position of tapping repeatedly, not knowing whether you’ve actually done it hard enough or in exactly the right spot. You would think that after decades of UI research and development somebody would have told these guys that a user needs some kind of feedback. But you’d be wrong.

I could turn the sound on, but the idea of laying in bed while F. is trying to sleep having this thing go beep-beep…beep……….beep is absurd.

It looks like there’s about three hours of battery life to it.

All in all, If I got one of these for free I might occasionally find a use for it. But I’d never in a million years pay even $25 for one — it is just too limited, too slow, too clunky, and too much of a downgrade from the laptop I never stop bitching about.

The model I’m playing with is UPC300-2.2. If this is what Android has to challenge the iPhone/iPad interface, they’re going nowhere.

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