Is it an iPad? Maybe a Xoom? NO, it’s a ViewSonic GTablet!

Over the past year or so, I have had considerable pressure to enter the Tablet market. Some is peer-induced, which I covered in my first iPad post, and some is self-induced, borne of the realization that we need a backup eReader to supplement the Kindle.

As I review my original iPad post and the use cases I proposed, I have the following updates:

Media-rich newspapers: Nothing has changed here. I still don’t make time for a national newspaper, and as far as I know, the local rag (Press-Democrat) hasn’t adopted the format.

Media-rich magazines: As it turns out, at least one of the niche magazines that comes to our house, Clean Run, has made a significant effort to delve into the digital world. They now have a digital edition which is available through any web browser, and their digital publisher has already launched an iPad app (can an Android app be far behind?). Hmm, this is getting more interesting.

Watching videos. This is still my most compelling use case, even with the streaming constraints of the cellular networks and the input constraints of the iPad. I have already ripped my dog-training DVDs so I can watch them on my iPod Nano and Blackberry. It goes without saying that the tablets beat the handhelds in screen size, plus they bring a 10-hour battery life which is unapproachable in the laptop world. Now it’s starting to get really interesting.

Kindle backup. Yep, we need something. I concluded in my Kindle update that the Blackberry Kindle Reader is quite adequate in a pinch but not suited for long reading sessions. And I can’t quite justify a second Kindle when weighed against the added value and features of the tablets.

Fortunately, the tablet market has evolved along with my needs and the iPad is no longer the only option. Google’s Android operating system, which has been so successful in the smartphone market, has been extended to tablets and several manufacturers have already responded. And HP, which bought Palm and rebranded it as webOS, has also announced a new tablet offering (although it may be too little too late). This changes everything in terms of tablet decisions. In some ways it’s easier (I’m not forced to drink the Apple iBorg kool-aid), but the added options also add to the complexity of the decision (Android vs. HP WebOS, WiFi-only vs 3G/4G, AT&T/Verizon/Sprint).

Based on the growth of the Android app market and the openness of the operating system (in contrast to the iBorg), I had already concluded that Android would be my platform of choice. I was well on my way down the path of the Motorola Xoom when I encountered two significant stumbling blocks:

  1. The $800 3G version is only available on Verizon, and the only way to buy it at the discounted price of $600 is to commit to a 2-year plan at a minimum of $20/month. Total cost: $1,280 plus tax and accessories. HUH??? I don’t think so.
  2. The WiFi-only version hasn’t been released yet and is expected to be priced at $600, not exactly a dip-your-toes-into-the-tablet-world price.

During my struggle with all of this data, my good friend Jason just happened to notice the Woot of the day at woot.com, a ViewSonic GTablet (Android-based, wi-fi only) for $280. Those of you with Woot experience know that the good stuff sells out quickly. But it was enough money that I wasn’t ready to push the button without doing a little more research. During the course of the day I was able to determine the following key pieces of information about this particular device:

  1. It is listed on Amazon for about $340 so the Woot price was righteous. It is now available on other sites for $310, but still, $280 was a darned good price.
  2. The hardware specs kick some serious butt
  3. The user interface (UI) provided by ViewSonic sucks (it’s called Tap ‘n Tap – seriously?)
  4. Because of the aforementioned openness of the Android operating system, #3 was easily overcome (OK, you have to be a bit of a geek…)
  5. Everything required to deal with #4 is (a) free, (b) well-documented on youtube and various forums, and (c) well-understood by Jason (who has been hacking his Droid phone for months)

By the time I had concluded that this Woot deal was a financially feasible way for me to experiment with both a tablet and the Android OS, I was sure that the opportunity would have been lost. NOT SO! I clicked “I Want One” and here I am, the proud new owner of an Android Wi-Fi Tablet!

I have now rooted it and replaced the ROM. Or for those of you who don’t speak geek, I have taken over the hardware and replaced the stock Tap ‘n Tap interface and in doing so, effectively voided the warranty – a leap of faith not for the faint of heart. But the result is a kick-ass tablet that I’m thrilled to have in my arsenal.

My videos are awesome, the web browsing experience is fantastic, the Google app store is great and the Amazon app store is even better, and it is much better than my Blackberry for reading Kindle books. Even so, I will reiterate that the Kindle (with its eInk technology) will continue to thrive – LCDs (including this one) are terrible in natural light.

There is a dark side to my decision – this thing came with Angry Birds. I had been SO determined to ignore and avoid it, if only to justify my reverse iPhone snobbery. But there it was … I was only going to try it once …¬† really … CRAP!!!!!!

Hi, my name is Holly and I’m an Angry-Bird-aholic.

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