VIZIO’S NEW BUDGET TABLET

Vizio Tablet

Just when the whole world is going iPad nuts, Vizio, the TV set maker, has come out with an Android tablet that’s much cheaper. We bought one at Costco, the warehouse shopping chain, and love it.

The tablet cost $285. That’s compared with $499 for the iPad. The Vizio is almost two inches smaller than an iPad, but that turned out to be one of the things we like: It’s easy to hold. You can lie back on the couch and work the keyboard with your thumbs, ala cell phone style. With the iPad, this is awkward. The Vizio screen is eight inches, measured in the usual industry manner, along the diagonal. That’s two inches larger than Amazon’s Kindle but still small enough to handle for reading e-books.

The tablet uses the Android operating system and has a lot of nice apps already on board. One of those is “Remote Control,” which turns the tablet into a universal TV remote. We were amazed that this worked. The volume button on our overly complex AT&T TV remote control stopped working, despite fresh batteries, but the Vizio tablet adjusted the volume with no problem.

Vizio supports Adobe Flash, something the iPad does not, which is handy when you’re on video sites. (Many sites, like YouTube, have been adjusted to work on the iPad without Flash, but not all.) It also connects to HDMI TVs, through mini cables. That’s nice if you want to play your video games or watch downloaded lectures and performance on a big-screen.

The sound quality is excellent, better than our Acer laptop, and almost as good as the iPad. Battery life is 10 hours in standard usage, which can be increased in offline “Airplane mode,” or by dimming the screen. The iPad also has a 10-hour battery life before recharging, but our experience has been that the iPad is much better on battery life.

Vizio added its own interface on top of Android’s “Gingerbread,” which we really like. We found it faster and easier to navigate than the iPad, in part because every time you add an app, your list stays in alphabetical order, with your favorites on the top half of the screen. You can add a lot of apps, given two gigabytes of storage, but if you need more, just plug in an SD card or memory stick, there are slots for both. You can’t do this with an iPad, which has no such slots.

The Vizio has a great virtual keyboard, as sensitive to the touch as the iPad’s. A big plus for us, being writers, is that unlike the iPad, you don’t have to hit an icon to bring up a second keyboard for popular characters like numbers, symbols and punctuation. Numbers share their space with a punctuation mark or character, just like a normal keyboard. Hold down the key a bit longer than usual to get the punctuation mark or number.

Built-in apps on the tablet include a lot of Google products. There’s “Places,” for reviews of restaurants and other stuff near you, and “Latitude” for keeping track of friends’ movements. The built-in GPS will give you directions. Any photos you’ve uploaded in the past using Google Picasa are immediately available on or offline. We didn’t do anything, and zoom, they were all there.

And now for a couple of negatives: The Vizio tablet has a mediocre front-facing camera for video chatting. The picture quality isn’t nearly as good as the iPad 2. Chatting options aren’t great anyway, since you can’t get Skype. You can’t get Netflix, either.

“Android Market,” their term for their app store, has around 150,000 apps, many of them free.  The iPad has an estimated half a million apps, so if 150,000 aren’t’ enough, you’ll have to go Apple. We found 150,000 more than sufficient. The tablet is user-friendly, and we like friendly. But if we ever need help, tech support is free for the lifetime of the product.

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