ViewSonic VSD220 Android Smart Display review

Pros

  • Solidly made
  • Works well as an external monitor
  • Supports external USB devices

Cons

  • Android not optimised for a large screen
  • Very reflective screen
  • Some vital slots are awkward to access

ViewSonic is not a newcomer to Android, but it’s not a top-end player either. The company has just a toehold in the tablet market, but that hasn’t stopped it going for broke with the new VSD220, a 22in-screened Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich device.

The VSD220 looks like an ordinary monitor except that it has more unconventional kick-out stand built into its rear so that you can prop it up on a desk and position it to an angle that suits you. If you’d rather wall mount it then you can remove the stand and access its VESA mount. My initial concerns that the stand might struggle to keep the VSD220’s 4.8kg weight steady were soon set aside – the mount is well made and the device felt quite stable on my desk.

There’s the usual array of ports and connectors that you would expect from an Android tablet, with a couple of extra tweaks. So, standard fare are a micro-USB port and a microSD card reader. The former sits on the left edge of the chassis where it’s easily accessible, while the latter is under a plastic cover on the back. There’s also a micro HDMI connector under that plastic cover so you can use the VSD220 as a standard monitor. There’s a 1.3-megapixel webcam on the screen bezel too.

ViewSonic has added a couple of extra I/O options in the shape of Ethernet and a pair of full-sized USB 2.0 connectors. The Ethernet port is again under that plastic cover, and complements the built in Wi-Fi. (there’s Bluetooth too, of course).

The two USB 2.0 connectors both sit on the bottom right edge of the VSD220 and enable you to attach a range of external devices. I tried a keyboard, mouse and USB stick and the VSD220 recognised them all quickly and with no problems.

This is all good, but that covered area of slots and connectors on the back is awkward to get to. As well as housing the micro-USB, Ethernet and micro HDMI ports it’s also where the main power connector goes (there’s no internal battery). To get to it you have to tilt the whole device towards you, and ideally lay it down flat on a desktop. That requires quite a bit of space, and makes hot swapping microSD cards painful. This is most likely to be an issue when working with photos from your camera. There’s 8GB of onboard storage, but just 5.4GB of that was available out-of-the-box, so you might need to invest in some memory expansion.

Optical touch technology replaces capacitive touch response, but it still supports two finger gestures such as pinch-to-zoom, and I found it responsive and unproblematic. Android 4.0 comes with its usual array of apps and it looks the same as it does on a tablet or phone except that ViewSonic has added an OSD controller for the display at the bottom left of the home screen.

Web browsing isn’t entirely satisfactory. A lot of sites want to force you onto their mobile optimised versions because you’re using Android and that’s completely inappropriate for this large, widescreen display. Switching to ‘classic’ mode inevitably requires a screen tap you wouldn’t have to make on a PC or Mac.

In a PC or Mac browser you can reduce text size to make the most of the available viewing area, but in the Android browser you’re stuck with rather large text that simply stretches to fill the available pixels – all 1,920 x 1,080 of them.

This is OK for reading when you’re some distance away from the screen, but you can’t see a great deal of text at any one time and you have the problem of scrolling when you can’t reach the screen. A mouse will do this, but you’ll need to attach it.

The Android music player pushes its playing info into the top left corner of the screen, while the progress bar runs all along the bottom. About 80 per cent of the screen is black space. ViewSonic adds its own music player, which tries to use the available space better but fills half the screen with heavily pixelated album art.

This pixelation problem pops up in YouTube too, and is most noticeable when streaming videos full screen. Sit back from the screen and things are passable, but if you have the VSD220 on the desk you can find yourself counting pixels. On the plus side, the speaker throws out passable quality sound for a monitor via a bar beneath the screen, and a 3.5mm headphone jack on the left edge produces fairly good quality output too.

Because you are working with Android, one app dominates the screen all the time. There’s no resizing to view two or more apps at once. The screen also has a reflective finish, delivering a distracting mirror image of your surroundings.

There is a problem with fingerprint smears too. They are inevitable on any touch-based device of course, but I can live with them on a tablet much more easily than I could on the VSD220. I found myself hating looking at the smeared screen when the VSD220 was switched off, and resorted to cleaning it after every use. I’m not sure that’s practical in the long term.

In general I found using the touchscreen something of a pain. It’s not that I had to stretch to hit any icons or to use apps. Just that waving my arm around in front of the screen felt alien. I might get used to that, of course.

The VSD220 is sturdy enough to survive onscreen keyboard prods without moving about or toppling over, but there’s absolutely no way I could do extended typing on a keyboard of this size. It was too large to use comfortably, sat at too odd an angle for extended use, and I could only see a few lines of typed text. On a small tablet screen this visibility issue is acceptable, but it feels wrong on a large monitor where I’m used to seeing a lot more of a document that’s being worked on. Needless to say, this review was typed using an external keyboard.

Verdict

The idea of having Android on the desk in a big screen has a certain level of geek appeal that drew me to it. But after a period of concerted use it turned out to be a less than wowing experience. The main drawback is that Android simply stretches into all those pixels rather than being optimised for them.

On the other hand, the VSD220 works well as an external monitor – if you don’t mind its reflectivity. If you say it’ll be an external monitor most of the time and an Android device some of the time, you might be able to justify the spend.

Manufacturer and model

Viewsonic VSD220 Android Smart Display

Network

n/a

Processor

TI OMAP 4428 Dual-Core Cortex-A9 1GHz

Memory

8GB (5.4GB free)

Memory expansion

microSD, USB

Display

22in (21.5in viewable), 1,920 x 1,080 pixels

Main camera

1.3-megapixel

Front camera

n/a

Wi-Fi

Yes

GPS

No

FM radio

No

Battery

n/a

Size

512.8 x 353 x 21.9 mm

Weight

480g

OS

Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich