Readers of Blendblog.net probably caught my previous review of the Archos 101 Internet Tablet that I posted after receiving one for Christmas. Upon returning home to St. Croix I was surprised to find the Viewsonic GTablet in the “K-Mart Appliance Store” that we have here on island. The Viewsonic GTablet is another Android Froyo 2.2 based 10.1” tablet that was released around the same time that the Archos 101 came out. Unlike the Archos 101, the GTablet was readily available in major retail stores like Staples and Sears upon release. Unfortunately, Viewsonic decided to have a developer create a custom UI called “TapNTap” for the device that was so atrocious, Staples recalled the tablets. Sears stood by the tablet and on 12/24/2011 Viewsonic did release a patch that fixed many of the worst problems that made the tablet unusable.
The thing that was a shame about Viewsonic releasing the tablet with such atrocious software is that, on paper, the hardware they chose was excellent. The GTablet is based on the Nvidia Tegra 2 chipset which is a dual core design, and about as fast as one can currently get in the world of ARM processors. They also chose to put 512MB of RAM in the device (as opposed to 256MB on the Archos 101) along with 16GB of storage. On paper it would be hard to beat this tablet, but the software was so crippling the user experience was horrible. Fortunately, a community sprung up at XDA-Developers to bring a more stock-like and higher performing Android experience to the device. This community has been mostly successful, creating multiple updated ROM’s and Kernel’s which made the GTablet hardware perform like it should.
Since we needed an Android device at work for our ongoing mobile development efforts I chose to plunk down the $399 retail price (which is good in the U.S. Virgin Islands, we usually have to pay more than retail) and see what this baby could do. I immediately followed the instructions on XDA-Developers on how to root the device and get a custom ROM on it. I played with the TNT Lite and Vegan ROM’s and was pretty impressed with the hardware. I ended up going down a very long road in testing, in the end I settled on Vegan 5.1.1 as my ROM of choice for a good user experience. There are a lot of strong points to this device, but also a lot of shortcomings. The question in my mind was, how did this device compare to the Archos 101 I received for Christmas? This review will detail my experiences with the Viewsonic, comparing and contrasting them with my experiences with the Archos 101.
Unboxing and Physical Dimensions:
Immediately I was surprised at the weight and size of the Viewsonic GTablet when compared to the Archos 101. It felt much more solid, but the downside to this is it also weighed significantly more. The Viewsonic GTablet’s dimensions in landscape mode are 10.5” Wide, 6.8” Height, .54” deep, and weighs in at 1.55 pounds. The Archos is 10.63” Wide, 5.9” Height, and .47” Deep, weighing in at an impressively light 1.05 pounds. This is a full half pound less than the GTablet (a third less). The narrower bezel and overall width of the Archos makes it also easier to hold. I can easily get one hand around the back when in portrait mode and hold it like I would phone whereas the GTablet somewhat teeters in my hand as it’s slightly too wide to get a firm grip on. The box that it shipped in was a rather unattractive looking white box, and inside is a USB cable, some basic instructions, a screen cloth, a 12v 2A power supply and the unit with 2 screen protectors attached. It comes with the same accessories as the Archos. While the sturdiness of the GTablet is superior to the Archos, the lightness of the Archos is truly impressive. In my opinion this category goes to the Archos 101, but this might be highly subjective. Winner: Archos 101
The biggest shortcoming of the Archos 101 was the screen. The viewing angles are very poor for a tablet device where the device is in your hand and will be moving. Unfortunately the GTablet screen quality is just as poor. The viewing angles are identically bad here as they are on the Archos 101. The screen on the Viewsonic is rotated 180 degrees from the Archos which actually can make things worse if you hold the tablet the way you might think to in landscape mode, with the camera on “top.” Archos’ decision to mount the screen in the opposite direction was a good one, but in the Android world with auto screen rotation this isn’t a huge differentiating factor. The Viewsonic screen does have a more solid “glass like” feel to it than the lighter and less sturdy Archos which is a positive. But overall, both screens are very weak. Winner: None, both screens are pretty bad
Notice the poor viewing angles...the Archos has the same problem as the GTablet pictured here.
General UI Performance:
As expected due to the hardware specs the General UI performance of the GTablet is fantastic. Scrolling/zooming is smooth and consistent, as smooth as an Ipad for certain. With the extra 256mb of RAM memory management is not an issue the way it was on the Archos 101. I find that on the Archos 101 when you have loaded up too much stuff the Tablet becomes sluggish until you kill some applications. This has never been necessary on the GTablet. Things load up quickly, games play great, and the general UI performance is fantastic. The Archos is not bad but it is noticeably slower than the GTablet. While it’s hard to capture this in words I posted a comprehensive companion video that shows the two devices in action side by side. Winner: GTablet
In my prior review of the Archos 101 I said that the Fiddle Factor was moderate to high. The Gtablet takes this to a whole other level. Not only do you have to fiddle with the Market, you have to root the whole device and load custom ROM’s and kernel’s to get it to run correctly. Fortunately this is all very easy to do. Unfortunately, after doing all of this I discovered that I had a serious issue. Whenever my GTablet was in the sleep position for more than a minute it wouldn’t wake up. I spent countless hours working on XDA-Developers with others who had this problem and saw it mysteriously disappear trying to figure out a way to alleviate the issue. After a few weeks I even ended up in IRC with pershoot who is one of the XDA-Devs who builds the kernel’s for the custom ROM trying to figure out a way to log what was going on. In the end I was advised to return the unit to the K-Mart store. When I did they were not surprised, they seemed like they got a lot of them back, most probably because people don’t know about the custom firmware that is available and couldn’t deal with the problems in the stock firmware. But mine had an actual hardware issue, and I was surprised when she immediately stuck a $279.99 price tag on the unit as a clearance unit. Although she did put it in the back, I am going to guess that these end up going to the “Sear’s Outlet” stores. I have never “fiddled” with a device more to make it workable, but I knew that going in. The amount of hacking I’ve had to do to make this device workable still surprised me, and in general there are still glitches and gotchas in this device, more so than the Archos. Winner: Archos 101
Wifi Performance (Updated):
In the original post I said that Wifi performance was a major differentiator between the two tablets. Well a month after writing the review the GTablet stopped working on Wifi entirely. Fortunately I was able to exchange it for a new one and the replacement does fair better altough still not as good as the Archos 101. My Archos can still be taken father from the access point with a higher quality signal but the GTablet is no longer what I would call deficient. I have a Motorola Xoom at my disposal now (stay tuned for a full comparison review!) and it is on par with the Archos, the Gtablet is still behind both of them. Here are captures from the Wifi Analyzer application from both units in taken in my house making it clear how superior the Archos is for Wifi. Winner: Archos 101
|Archos 101 Wifi Analysis
||Viewsonic GTablet Wifi Analysis
The Gtablet with its superior hardware specs clearly wins on this one. While none of the games I play are too terribly intensive, the GTablet is noticeably more responsive with Angry Birds, Paper Toss, and my son’s favorite “Talking Tom Cat” than the Archos device. The video above shows this nicely. You can play games on the Archos, but I feel that future games that are more advanced will play much better on the GTablet. Winner: GTablet
I use the Kindle Application to read books which runs good on both. The GTablet loads the Kindle application quicker and the page turns are slightly smoother, but the added weight and size make it an inferior device for E-book reading. The Archos is a very nice form factor for reading books, it’s light enough to comfortably hold with a screen large enough to read without eye strain (if only the screen was a bit better). Kindle use is demonstrated in the video above. Winner: Archos 101
One would probably expect that the GTablet would excel at video playback due to its higher hardware specs but this is surprisingly not the case. This shows how video codecs are as important as hardware. Archos, with its root as a portable video player maker, has ensured that the 101 would playback a wide array of video smoothly in resolutions up to 720p. With the $15 plug-in to playback AC3/MPEG2 based content the Archos played back all my files with little hassle. The Gtablet would not consistently playback several of my media files, especially those encoded with AC3 or in 720p. I tried Vital Player, Rock Player and several others and none of them were as good as the stock Archos player that was designed to work with the Archos hardware on the 101. There are 2 other intagibles that make the Archos 101 a superior video playback device: First, it has an mini-HDMI output port directly on the unit as opposed to the GTablet’s dock connector. Second, it has a “kickstand” device that holds it up-right when watching a movie. This is a very practical consideration for someone who primarily wants to use the device for video playback. Winner: Archos 101
This one has to go to the GTablet. With the huge developer community at XDA-Developers and the superior hardware, there is a much better chance that the GTablet gets a working version of Android 3.0 Honeycomb that is on par with the upcoming Motorola Xoom and other pricy devices. The Archos, with it’s limited memory and older generation processor will likely not run 3.0 very well, although only time will tell. Winner: GTablet
Power Management/Battery Life:
With the GTablet being more of a cutting edge device it’s power management is not nearly as refined as the Archos. In actual use the Gtablet seems to use less of its battery than the Archos, however when in sleep mode the GTablet still drains its battery at a rate of about 3%/hour. The Archos 101 with the same app/sync schedule is sipping power at a much slower rate, less than 1%/hourin sleep mode. Where the GTablet needs to be plugged in when you aren’t using it, you can leave the Archos unplugged when using it lightly for several days and still have juice. This is a very big plus on the Archos side for those who don't want to constantly have to remember to charge their device. I have spoken to some GTablet developers about and they were in agreement that the state of power management for Tegra platforms was still in a beta stage so it may end up better. But for now the Archos wins here. Winner: Archos 101
Web Browsing and Flash Support:
Both devices work well for browsing the web. The Flash support on the Archos should get better when their specific Flash plug-in becomes available. But for now it’s pretty horrible, you have to either use the one from the Marketplace that performs poorly or use one for another phone device that doesn’t perform much better. Conversely, the ROM’s on the GTablet come with Flash support already installed, but in my testing at WashingtonPost.com the page failed to load. Other sites that used flash did perform better on the GTablet though, but Flash is still a bit rough in general on Android. Winner: Either (at least we have some sort of flash unlike an Ipad!)
Both devices handle email the same way and do a fine job as email clients. I use POP 3 and have had no problems keeping up with email with both devices. Winner: Either
The Archos retails for $349.99 and the GTablet for $399.99. But you can generally find the GTablet on sale for $379.99 and can get units from the Sears Outlet from returns for $279.99. Now, I’m a little leery of the clearance/Sears Outlet approach though as I had to return my first GTablet due to a problem where the device would not wake up once it was put in sleep mode. When I returned the unit the clerk immediately marked my defective unit as a $279.99 clearance item and put it in the back. I sensed that this was going to be sold as an outlet item which is a bit shady considering this unit had an actual hardware issue. So buyer beware. Winner: Neither
So which one should you get? Here’s my guide of which one I’d buy based on your use profile:
1) I want the device primarily for development purposes: GTablet
2) I plan to use the device heavily as an E-Reader: Archos 101
3) I plan to play a lot of games, especially 3D games: GTablet
4) I plan to use the device mostly as a video player: Archos 101
5) I want a tablet to hack on that will have a long shelf life: GTablet
6) I just want something that will let me surf the net/check email/run some basic apps: Ipad (just kidding), Archos 101
I am going to keep my Archos 101 as my personal device and bring the GTablet to my office as a development device. The lighter weight, superior sleep time, and superior Wifi radio outweigh the higher end hardware and performance on the GTablet for my personal use. For development use the GTablet is an excellent device, wifi distance isn’t nearly as important, the heft of the device is probably a pro as it is more rugged, and the higher performance increases the likelihood that we will be able to test against future Android platforms as they are released.
If you are thinking about buying one of these devices and enjoyed my review please think about using these links to Amazon to do so:
Also, I just got a new Motorola Xoom in my hands to test with and plan to do a comparison of the GTablet and Archos with it in the near future! If you want to be notified when new articles are posted please Follow us: