Entertainment on the Cheap
It must be hard to make any traction in the portable player market. With the iPod and even the Zune in existence, it's easy to forget something like the ViewSonic VPD400.
The VPD400 also goes by MovieBook, which is a much cooler name -- and better matches its functionality. Of course, it's not a top-of-the-line unit. The design screams for touchability, although no touchscreen is present. It's also big enough to view Hulu, do email, and even find your to the nearest 7-11 via Google Maps, but doesn't offer any web browsing functionality. So what does it have that its more technologically advanced competitors don't? Well, for one thing, a bargain basement list price of $129.99 (we found it for even less at Amazon).
Packed in Plastic
If you're looking for a lot of bells and whistles from the VPD400's design, you could be disappointed. It's really all about the screen, which dominates much of the unit's 4.4 x 3-inch real estate (the screen itself measures 4.3 inches diagonally). The unit's plastic shell comes in black, white or pink. Holding the unit, it seems a bit cheap, not surprising, given its pricetag. As long as you don't plan on drop kicking it anytime soon, you should be fine. Also, that plastic construction makes the VPD400 surprisingly light, given its size.
If you're into taking all of your audio and video on the go, the VPD400 could be your best buddy. The beautiful thing about this unit is that it plays well with almost every kind of format (see below for a complete list).
We were pretty successful with everything we threw onto the unit. Some sadness, though; the VPD400 won't be compatible with anything you've copied or purchased in iTunes. We were able to load it up with plenty of movie trailers from the site. However, our purchased music and even the free Lost episode we downloaded would not transfer over.
When playing audio, headphones are a must. We can't imagine listening to the teeny speaker for 12 minutes, let alone 12 hours -- which is what the manufacturer promises in battery life. It may be OK for sharing something on the fly, but just doesn't have the juice to make it an enjoyable experience. With headphones, however, we found the sound to be very good. Depending on your headphones (we favored our noise-canceling Bose unit), you should be pleased. The only thing missing from the musical experience is album art, which would have been a nice touch, considering the big, beautiful screen.
For video, the actual unit displays a respectable 800 x 480 resolution for up to six hours. The content, however, will only look as good as your original copy. We were kind of surprised that some home video looked really bad, even when it was tiny. The trailers from iTunes, however, looked sharp as a tack. Colors were bright and spot-on.
If your eyes are starting to dilate from the small screen, the VPD400 comes with component and AV cables, both of which you'll need to output HD video to your HDTV.
One annoying thing: Don't just expect to hook the cables and watch the magic. You will need to set up external viewing in the Settings menu -- every time you want to watch something on the big screen. Need a nap? You'll need to reset the settings. Stop for a snack? You'll need to reset the settings. It's really annoying.
Even more annoying is the remote control. Unless you plan to stand fairly close to the VPD400, the remote won't help much. Apparently, it's not made for long distances. It's also slow, which makes the navigation even more difficult than if you just stand there and press the buttons.
For all of that effort, you will get the saving grace of a nice picture. Like with video playback on the tiny screen, the video will only look as good as its original. Also, bigger is not always better. We loaded a bunch of non-HD movie trailers and HD (720p) movie trailers to the unit. On the big screen, there was an obvious difference. The HD looked awesome, with good detail and without distortion. The unit was less kind to the non-HD, however. It took on the look of a Polaroid picture blown up to poster size with visible pixels and muted colors.
Best of the Rest
The VPD400 does its best to be your everything portable, adding in eBook features as well as a voice recorder. We're not expecting this thing to give the Kindle a run for anyone's money, but it was a nice added feature, displaying text as well as its standard LCD screen could.
We played around with the voice recorder for a while and were pleasantly surprised at the results. Sounds were always bold and clear, without much background noise, which of course would vary. If you're in a bar, you probably aren't going to be able to isolate a karaoke performance. However, we had fans, a fireplace and cars passing outside, which didn't come up in any of our test recordings.
If ViewSonic is expecting the VPD400 to be all things to all people, they are going to disappoint a few of those patrons. A lack of good navigation and online features/upgrades makes it hard for this device to keep up with the iPods, Zunes and even the Kindles out there. Still, the one thing we can't hate about this device is the cost, which makes it a nice starter unit for the kids, particularly for those long road trips -- or an extra player for you if you need something with a bigger screen and a smaller price tag.
Where to Buy:
Manufacturer's Contact Information:
381 Brea Canyon Road
Walnut, CA 91789
On the Web: www.ViewSonic.com