It’s hard to review ViewSonic’s new Smart Display VSD220 without thinking back to another of the company’s unusual products that we reviewed almost a decade ago: the Air Panel V110.
The Air Panel used Microsoft’s “Smart Display” technology to essentially let you remotely control your PC over Wi-Fi for browsing and MP3 streaming. Not to rehash ancient history, but Smart Display was just another charred carcass on the long road to a successful consumer tablet computer.
Besides functioning as a desktop-size Android device, the VSD220 can serve as a stand-alone touchscreen monitor for a full-fledged PC.
ViewSonic’s new Smart Display VSD220, though, is actually nothing like its predecessor and, in fact, shows how much the world has turned. While the Air Panel tried to leverage desktop power, the new Smart Display VSD220 reverses the tide by leveraging tablet technology in a desktop.
The Smart Display VSD220 is essentially a 22-inch, 1920x1080 touch-enabled monitor with Android 4.0.4 in it. That’s right, there’s no need to hook it up to a PC—you just run Android directly on the monitor. Think of it as an Android-in-one.
The unit features a dual-core, 1GHz TI OMAP 4428 Cortex CPU with a PowerVR SGX 540 GPU. The screen is an LED side-lit panel with optical touch sensors. Unlike the capacitive-touch overlay that your tablet or phone uses, optical is actually affordable in a large screen. A capacitive-touch panel alone at 22-inches would cost about $900.
The unit sports two standard USB ports on the right, a Micro USB port on the left, Ethernet, audio out, Micro HDMI in, and a microSD slot. Android has had USB HID support for some time and adding a USB mouse and keyboard to the VSD220 let us navigate the interface and type mostly without issue. Some of the apps we ran, such as Minecraft, ran only with touch.
In performance, the unit was incredibly underwhelming. We couldn’t find the data sheet for the OMAP 4428, but we’d guess that it’s two notches below the OMAP 4430 used in the Kindle Fire. As much as the original Fire was a breakthrough tablet, performance on it sucked. In scrolling and panning, you can tell the OMAP4430 and PowerVR SGX GPU are underwater here. The situation is not helped by the OMAP’s support for only dual-channel low-power DDR2. Just as with a notebook or desktop PC, the more memory bandwidth you can get, the more performance you’ll see in your applications.
Although it’s not a direct comparison, we decided to see how the Smart Display VSD220 compared to Google’s Nexus 7 tablet in a few benchmarks. The result was ugly for the ViewSonic.
We know that performance isn’t the top check-off item on thin-client OSes, but we’d like smooth scrolling at least. ViewSonic engineers surmised that the slow performance could be from the optical digitizer, which doesn’t have the resolution of capacitive touch—but the unit felt slow using the mouse to move around, as well.
By now, we’re sure you’re asking the pesky “why even build such a device?” question. At this point, we don’t know. We understand that some computer phobes may find such a low-maintenance device appealing, but for all others, we’d suggest a pass. The unit does have one redeeming quality: Hook an HDMI and USB cable to your PC, and you can run it as a touch-enabled panel for Windows 8.
But for us to even consider this device, we’d want a faster CPU and GPU along with an optimized OS such as Jelly Bean. Then we’ll talk.