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ViewSonic’s bargain offering has some virtues

By Mark Baard
June 20, 2011

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Android Tablets
The trouble with almost any Android device is that it can so easily be knocked, often fairly, as a poor competitor to the iPhone or iPad.

The ViewBook 730 Tablet computer, from ViewSonic Corp., will cost just $250 when it becomes available this month. That’s half what you would pay for a bottom-of-the-line iPad, and in some ways, you get what you pay for.

The 7-inch ViewBook’s plastic case and its fussy power cord jack (the tip of the cord did not seem to want to stay in) do not inspire confidence. And the ViewBook’s strong tie-ins to Amazon.com, via a handful of preinstalled Amazon apps, made me feel coerced into spending my money at the online retailer.

To be fair, ViewSonic is marketing its Android 2.2 tablet to bargain hunters. And the ViewBook does have an impressive list of hardware features.

If you are primarily interested in keeping your Facebook account updated, checking e-mail, and having something to read while idling at Starbucks, the ViewBook will meet your needs.

I found downloading and installing games and apps from the Amazon.com Appstore for Android to be quick and reliable. The quality of game play and video playback were satisfying, thanks to the device’s 1-gigahertz processor and its bright 800-by-480 LED backlit screen.

The ViewBook has 8 gigabytes of memory for storing apps and media files. You can add an additional 32 gigabytes via the tablet’s microSD port.

Typing on-screen on any new device takes some getting used to. But the ViewBook’s touch screen is sensitive and accurate. It comes with a stylus you can use for taking freehand notes, doodling (using the preinstalled Sketcher app, for example), and highlighting passages in e-books, which ViewSonic and Amazon hope you will download via the preinstalled Amazon Kindle eReader app.

The ViewBook supports Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connections and has ports for USB and HDMI (for watching 1080p HD video) connections.

The quality of audio via the ViewBook’s built-in speakers is weak, but it sounds great over headphones.

The ViewBook has a front-facing camera, which should prove handy as more folks get into videoconferencing.

iPhone accessories

A universal remote from your iDevice

The quest for the perfect universal remote continues. The goal: Where there are three or four remotes, there will be one.

So why would someone produce such a device in a form that actually adds to the clutter in your home entertainment center?

For convenience.

Griffin Technology Inc. calls its $80 Beacon unobtrusive. Looking like a front-desk bell, it relays commands from your iOS gadget to other hardware.

Load Dijit’s Universal Remote App into your iPhone, iPod Touch, or iPad, and the Beacon (it uses four AA batteries) connects via Bluetooth to convert your commands into infrared signals beamed at your TV or DVR, for example.

If one of the components in your entertainment system is not in Dijit’s database, you can program the device into the remote app.