A Tale Of Two Tablets

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Tim Higgins

BlackBerry Playbook and Viewsonic GTablet

Although you wouldn’t know it by reading SCB, I’ve been buying and returning tablets to get a feel for what’s out there. We’re not yet on manufacturers’ radar for review product, so our coverage isn’t going to be as timely as that of the more established sites. But we’ll get there.

In the meantime, I’m going to share my brief encounters with two tablets: The much-maligned BlackBerry Playbook; and Viewsonic’s retiring gTablet.

Viewsonic gTablet

I picked up the gTablet from Office Depot after reading this CrunchGear piece. Yes, it was pretty hefty, but the build quality seemed good enough for the in-home use that it was going to get. Maybe if I were going to lug it around a lot in a backpack, I might feel differently.

Viewsonic gTablet

I didn’t follow the article’s advice to load up other ROMs and left the factory ROM in place. I actually liked the Viewsonic skin over Android 2.2 and found myself gravitating back to it for the big, readable weather and news headlines displays. Switching over to access all of the Android apps was just a click away if I wanted them.

I forget whether I had to update the ROM or whether it came preloaded, but Flash website videos worked just fine. I think the browser also supported video on the NYTimes website, which is the test I’ve been using for HTML5 video support.

Since Viewsonic wasn’t going for title of thinnest tablet in town, the speaker ports were side-mounted, which kept them from being muffled when the gTab was lying flat on a table. But in that prone position, the gTab’s fatal flaw was evident: its bad, crummy, terrible, how-could-they-release-something-this-bad viewing angle.

The only way that I could get a decent view was to prop the gTab perpendicular to my eye. As soon as I tilted it backward (or forward), the image changed to a virtually unreadable inversey mess. Try as I might, I could not convince myself to live with this "feature", so back it went.

But if you’re not as fussy about this as I, it is a pretty nice Android 2.2 tablet with Flash support for around $300 (and falling as the shelves are cleared of stock).

BlackBerry PlayBook

I don’t mean to pile on our friendly neighbors to the North, but I don’t think the PlayBook has legs. There is only going to be room for iOS and Android in the brave, new, cloud-connected tablet world, and maybe one more. And, sadly, I don’t think BlackBerry’s QNX based OS is going to make the cut. (I don’t think HP’s WebOS will either, but that’s another story.)

BlackBerry PlayBook

So when I walked out of Staples with my 16 GB PlayBook in hand, I knew it wasn’t a question of if it was going to be making a return trip, but when.

There are fans of the 7 inch tablet format, but I’m not one of them. I’ve been playing a lot with a Cyanogenmoded Nook Color and find that I prefer the larger screen of my first-gen iPad for my morning website and news reading.

But, size aside, the PlayBook did live up to its reviews of beautiful screen (with nicely wide viewing angles) and good sound. And it did playback Flash and HTML web video surprisingly well. The swipe-to-do-everything interface took a bit of getting used too, but it was no problem to use once I figured it out.

I also knew that the PlayBook would be going back because it doesn’t have a native email app. I never use my server’s webmail interface and frankly don’t want to, since I’ve become accustomed to IMAPing mail over breakfast on one of the multiple tablets I’m trying out, then POPing it when I sit down at my main machine for my workday. Contact and calendar apps I can do without, but not mail, unfortunately.

I don’t need a lot of apps, but most people are addicted to the games they’ve come to enjoy from the Apple and Android stores and markets. And until BlackBerry gets its Android emulation running (and gets native email), it’s going to have a very limited audience, especially at the $500 price point.

By the way, I haven’t been charged a restock fee yet at Staples, Office Depot, BestBuy or Amazon. So I highly recommend you try as many tablets as you can before settling down. I know I am!

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