Hands On: Vizio Tablet (Part 1: Initial Impressions)

Over the last few weeks, I’ve noticed that Costco is selling an 8″ Android tablet from Vizio (Model VTAB1008) for the very attractive price of $234.99. Unfortunately, their merchandising is somewhat lacking as this is a Wi-Fi only tablet, and there’s no Wi-Fi to speak of at Costco (and, as it turns out, the demo mode on them won’t allow Wi-Fi anyway!). I remembered today that Costco has a very generous 90-day return policy, which should give me ample opportunity to put one of these units through its paces, and picked one up.

The specs:

  • 802.11n Wifi
  • Bluetooth
  • GPS
  • HDMI Out
  • MicroSD slot
  • 4GB onboard storage (about 2.4 GB is available to the user)
  • 1 GHz Processor
  • Front facing camera (VGA)
  • Universal Remote App
  • 1024×768 screen
  • Lifetime tech support

What’s inside:

  • The tablet
  • Wall charger and cable (standard USB-microUSB)
  • Screen cloth
  • Quick Start Manual (full manual preloaded on the device)

Hardware:

  • Power button on the top, in the middle, flanked with a pair of speakers
  • Volume buttons on the right side
  • MicroUSB and HDMI on the bottom, in the middle, with the SD slot to the left and another speaker to the right – this is so that your audio still sounds right in landscape orientation.
  • There’s a back on it that looks like the battery may be user-accessible.

Initial impressions:

  • This thing seems a little dense for its size, but it’s not bad. The unit weighs in at 20.6 ounces (584 grams). The screen is reasonably bright.
  • When you fire up the tablet (and it came with a more than reasonable 80% battery charge), you go through a simple 5-step setup process that instructs you on general UI usage, connecting to Wi-Fi, and linking up to your Google account. Almost immediately after the setup, the device informed me of an available firmware update that added Netflix and some Android updates.¬†Unfortunately, the device comes with Gingerbread¬†and not Honeycomb.
  • There are 3 soft buttons on the bottom of the screen, the “return” button, a vizio logo, and the “menu” button. The Vizio logo is meant to be the home button, but that’s not particularly obvious (I purposely skipped the UI intro to see how intuitive things would be to someone who uses an Android phone and who has used an iPad)

Preloaded Apps:

  • The usual set of Googly stuff
  • A universal remote control app
  • Barnes & Noble’s Nook app
  • Adobe Flash Player 11
  • Netflix (with the OTA update)
  • Widget Board
The Android market comes up with a UI that looks suspiciously like Microsoft Windows Phone. I installed my usual set of apps, and they work quite nicely.

Weird quirks:

There’s a set of buttons across the bottom on the UI labeled “Browser”, “Market”, “Email”, “Gallery”, and “Music”. Oddly enough, even if you’ve set up your google account, the “Email” button runs you through another setup, asking if the account is IMAP, POP3, or Exchange. Has nothing to do with the gMail app.
Connecting to USB presents you with a file structure that isn’t really clearly documented. Tried copying a video over, but had to use a file browser app to actually locate it.

Really cool stuff:

I dropped an XVID-encoded AVI file onto the storage, and once I was able to locate it (see above), It played. No fuss, no muss, no conversions. This is a pretty standard format for the sorts of video you’d find on the internet (so I’ve heard), so this is really convenient if you have lots of content in that format.

The on-screen keyboard is nice to use, especially coming from a phone-sized android keyboard.

Kindle on this screen is NICE. This could make a pretty good alternative to the Fire.

The size on this unit is about perfect… A little bigger than the 7-inch “mini tablets”, but not as obnoxiously big as a 10″ tablet like a Xoom or iPad.

Screen at full brightness is actually too bright to use indoors.

The soft buttons are also present on the side of the unit. The correct set lights up based on orientation

Audio is excellent.

In combination with CoPilot Live, this could make a kick-butt car GPS.

Meh stuff:

The camera sucks. This is unsurprising. It’ll work fine for video chat, which is its primary purpose.

UI Animations are a little sluggish. They can be turned off, though.

Viewing angles from top and right (portrait) / top and left (landscape) leave something to be desired.

tl;dr version

Decent tablet for the money, probably usable by your grandmother. Onboard storage is adequate for someone not using it as a media device. Expandable storage solves that problem. Good support for multiple media formats. Makes a good e-reader.