Over the past couple of weeks, I spent countless hours debating whether I should wait around a few months and see what tablets come out or get one now. In the latter case, which tablet was right for me?
Let me start out with what I wanted out of a tablet. First and foremost, I needed a device that let me check my email and read the news. Every morning, I wake up, grab my Sprint EVO 4G, and check my email using Gmail and my work email using Exchange. I then drift to the USA Today App to read the day’s news. I wanted something bigger than my EVO, yet just as flawless and fast.
Other features I wanted were:
- Kindle-like experience for reading
- music playback
- Bluetooth Connectivity for my Bluetooth headset so I can listen to music
- playing games
- watching videos
Things that were not of concern to me included:
- major carrier integration
- a rear facing camera
My first intention was to be a sheep and follow the herd by picking up an iPad. A lot of things about it were very appealing, from the smoothness of the interface to added benefits, like Netflix. I spent some time at an Apple store fooling around with it and was about to walk out with one, but the price tag of $499 for the cheapest model really threw me off. I decided to look further and see if I could get what I needed for less.
At this point, I read Josh’s piece on customizing the Viewsonic G Tablet and was very impressed. It was followed up by Aaron's article that talked about its great performance and processing power. I was really on the fence, being that it was only $100 less than the iPad, but then, after hearing about the $349.99 Sears sale, I could no longer pass this tablet up and picked it up that same night.
This post goes over my voyage with my Viewsonic G Tablet from a simple piece of plastic to a great device.
Taking it out of the box, I felt the device was a little on the heavy side, but it felt sturdy and well-constructed. I agree with Josh that the packaging felt cheap. I tried to use the software included, but within 15 minutes, I decided to pass. My task was to get rid of the horrid stock ROM. Here are the steps I went through.
How To Root the Viewsonic G Tablet
Download Z4 Root here and then simply:
- Connect your tab to your computer via USB and make sure USB debugging is ON
- Turn on USB mass storage when your tablet prompts you
- Move the Z4 Root APK over to your tablet and safely remove before disconnecting
- Open your favorite file manager, such as ES File Explorer, go to the root of your SD card, find Z4 Root, and install it
- After it installs, click open, run the app, sit back for a minute, and enjoy root access!
What To Do Next?
I then proceeded to install ClockworkMod recovery v08, as recommended by everyone at XDA-Developers. To do this, you will need an external microSD card to store the update.
- Download ClockworkMod v08 here (requires an xda account) or from our mirror
- Unzip the downloaded file and put it in the root of your microSD card
- Turn off your device
- Press the power button and the Volume+ button at the same time and release them when the Viewsonic splash screen pops up. You should see “Detected a recovery key pressed” pop up in the upper left corner of the screen
- Watch it install. Your tablet will reboot when the installation is complete
If you want to get into ClockworkMod, you need to shut down your device, then press the Power and Volume+ buttons simultaneously (the same way you did to install CWMod). To navigate in CWMod, Vol+ and Vol- are used to scroll up and down, the home button selects an option, and the back button backs up.
Choose Your Favorite ROM and Install
My options, as of this late December 2010 week, were:
I gave CyanogenMod a try first, but I didn’t like the feel or the flow of the mod. I then gave TnT a try and immediately fell in love. To install it, you:
- Download TnT Lite 3.1 and 3.1.2 here (feel free to check with XDA for the latest version)
- Download ROM Manager. Although this is not a required step and you can just boot into the new ROM, I HIGHLY recommend using it. It will allow you to do a backup with ease and test out different ROMs whenever you feel like it
- Copy ROM Manager, TnT Lite 3.1, and the TnT Lite 3.1.2 supplement to the root of your SD card
- Install ROM Manager. You will have to flash ClockworkMod, which essentially does nothing, as it is already loaded. If you tried to load CWMod using ROM Manager, it will fail. As of this article, the only way to load CWMod is in the directions described above
- Load TnT Lite from the ROM Manager
- Wait for TnT to load. This should bring you to 3.1
- Reboot into recovery and run the update contained in 3.1.2
Wait, what is up with the Market?
Well, by default, the G Tablet does not come with the Android Market, which should be no surprise to most tablet owners, as that is slated for the Honeycomb release. TnT Lite automatically loads the new Market for you in the ROM. The only issue is that it needs a small push to detect most of the apps. Here is what has to be done:
- Download Titanium Backup (our mirror) and copy it to your device's SD card. Find the APK using ES File Explorer and run the installation
- Go into Settings – Applications – Manage Applications - and Force Stop both the Market and Google Services Framework apps
- Open up Titanium Backup, go to Backup/Restore and look for Google Services Framework, select it, then select “Wipe Data”
- Go back to your home screen and open up the Market. You should get an error. If not, redo steps 2 and 3 until you do
- Reboot your device. After it starts back up let it sit for a minute or two to let things in the operating system normalize. Open the Market. Reboot your device
- Open the Market again and enjoy
Now this gives you access to most of the Market. The process to give you access to the whole Market is a little bit more complicated and can be found here, but I was fine with 99% of the Market working.
Overall, the Market worked well, but as you see from these screenshots, there are a few glitches:
OK, I got it set up, what's next?
I will focus on the apps that I wanted to use and have tested out, and you will see my results.
Email & News
I use the stock Gmail application to retrieve my emails, and it works very well. All of the feature updates I saw on my EVO were applied here as well. Here is a snapshot of what Gmail looks like on the G Tablet:
For news, I love USA Today. It is not my primary news source, but for a quick review on what is going on, it works very well. Here is a snapshot of how the app looks on the tablet:
For music playback, I typically use Pandora and Sirius/XM Android Radio. Pandora worked very well, but Sirius/XM got stuck on the “Checking for Updates” screen. Winamp also performed well.
Here are some screenshots of Sirius/Pandora/Winamp:
For games, my priorities were Angry Birds and Free Solitaire. Both worked flawlessly. Here are some screenshots:
I also gave Alchemy a run, which is perfect in tablet form. However, Robo Defense and Air Traffic Control just weren’t made for tablets.
For video viewing, I knew from the start I could not get Netflix, so my next goal was to get Hulu and Fancast to run. That was a big task in itself. Basically, within the code of Flash, it references “AND” for Android, rather than “WIN” for Windows. However, this simple fix will give you Hulu access on the tablet:
- Download the Flash APK (our mirror) and copy it to your device's SD card. Find the APK using ES File Explorer and run the installation
- Using Root Explorer, copy your libflashplayer.so file from your device to your computer. The file is found in /data/data/com.adobe.flashplayer/lib
Use a hex editor to locate the “AND” entry to change it to “WIN” for Windows. I used Freeware Hex Editor XVI32. Beforehand, the picture should look like this:
Afterwards, the picture looks like this:
- Copy libflashplayer.so to your device
- Use Root Explorer to replace the original libflashplayer.so with the edited file and make sure the permissions for libflashplayer.so are rwxr-xr-x
- Use either Dolphin or Skyfire as your browser and configure for “Desktop” setup in the settings view
- In the Advanced Settings set Plugins to "Always On" (Default is "on demand")
If you still have issues, try following this post.
I tested Hulu, Fancast, TheDailyShow.com, and CBS, and was able to view each with little or no problems:
Out of the box, I do not recommend the Viewsonic G. If the manufacturer thinks it can compete with an iPad for $150 less, it is way off. But when you root the device and load a custom ROM, it becomes an amazing product. I would consider this a poor man’s tablet. Because Sears was able to run the cost of $349.99, I would recommend buying it for no more than that, as the deals will appear again. I tried to see if J&R Music will match the $349.99 (they sell for $439 with free shipping) price tag, but they said they could not go that low. My guess is that Sears is getting a better price on this tablet compared to other retailers and can therefore offer a better discount on it when it needs to.
The most recent updates from Viewsonic have helped a bunch in making this a workable tablet. Those updates were included in TnT Lite's 3.1 release. According to the Viewsonic website, Flash is scheduled for release sometime in January. I truly believe that Viewsonic intends to make the Viewsonic G tablet a success, and it's showing. Even the VP of Marketing, Adam Hanin, got involved with chatting it up on the XDA forums. In fact, he even added both XDA and Android Police to Viewsonic's GTablet Favorite Apps and Resources.
With more updates, this tablet may turn into a hot seller, but until then, I reserve it for techies and geeks at heart willing to fool around with rooting and custom ROMs.
Special thanks goes to SCSIOne889 for compiling a great guide that helped me write this article and, of course, Roebeet for developing the TnT Lite ROM for us.