ViewSonic VSD220 Smart Display – overview

As much as we love our smartphones and tablets and are happy to race headlong into the post-PC era, there's one part of the traditional desktop that is going to hang around for a while yet – big, comfortable displays to work on. Try as we might, we can't quite imagine a world where all screens are 10.1in or less. At least not without reaching for a stronger pair of glasses.

Which is why ViewSonic might just be on to something with this, the VSD220 Smart Display. It's a 22in screen that hides a simple ARM processor and Android operating system behind its glass, thus doing away with all the expensive gubbins that make up a proper all-in-one computer in favour of being a cheap big-screen gateway to the cloud. It’s not just an interesting take on the iMac-type computer, it’s a glimpse into what the future of computing may really be like.

The question is, are we ready for it yet?

ViewSonic VSD220 Smart Display – design and build

The VSD220 Smart Screen is no all-new iMac with improbably thin innards and cutting edge all-glass design, but in the realm of low cost 22inch monitors it does stand out as one of the better built. It's an affable aesthetic that's suitably inoffensive, comprising a standard dark plastic gloss finish, handy rear VESA mount and collections of USB and SD ports around its sides. The A-frame stand isn't height adjustable, but it is pleasantly thin and unobtrusive when not in use. Given that ViewSonic sees this as something that might sit in the hallway, kitchen or kid’s bedroom, that’s likely to be quite a lot of the time.

The only part of the design we didn’t like, in fact, was the rear cable-tidy panel which seems like a good idea but is a bit cumbersome to use.

ViewSonic VSD220 Smart Display – screen quality

The 1920x1080 full HD screen doesn’t have the eye-popping colours of the latest IPS panels, but it’s absolutely bearable for the price. Viewing angles are good and the refresh rate is fine for watching movies you’ve downloaded via Google Play. Video purists will scoff at the traces of contrast shift, but this isn’t meant to be a tool for accurate photo editing. The important thing is that it’s responsive to touch and bright enough to shine through sticky fingerprints – especially if it does end up in a kitchen.

ViewSonic VSD220 Smart Display – performance

For the most part, the VSD220 ticks over well and is snappy enough switching between web browsing, video streaming, gaming and apps like mail and so on. The choice of a 1GHz dual core processor is odd, though, and it does feel ever so slightly underpowered considering the high resolution it has to drive. Android’s penchant for occasional lag is made that little bit more noticeable, and given that battery life isn’t an issue with the mains powered screen we’d have liked to have seen ViewSonic go all in with a highly clocked Tegra 3 or similar quad core - it’s not like it would have added much to the price.

ViewSonic VSD220 Smart Display – storage

The most controversial design choice, however, is going to be the measly 8GB hard drive. While ViewSonic’s point that the VSD220 is intended as a gateway to the cloud is a fair one, it doesn’t take many issues of The Economist app or a huge Spotify song cache to fill such a tiny drive, and the option to keep HD videos locally rather than rely on streaming would have been good to have, too. There is the option to add a USB drive or SD card, but storage housekeeping is a tedious task at the best of times, without having to do it using cut down tablet OS file browsers.

ViewSonic VSD220 Smart Display – price

Nearly all the VSD220’s imperfections can be forgiven, however, when you look at the price. It’s an unashamedly budget product with a charm that reminds us of early netbooks. Who cares that it’s not anodised, chamfered or any other trendy design verbed when it’s an almost disposable price? ViewSonic reckons it’ll attract businesses who want to use it as a cheap, single-purpose kiosk – hopefully that means economies of scale which will make it even cheaper in the future.

ViewSonic VSD220 Smart Display – verdict

After spending some time with it, it's hard not to like the VSD220 Smart Display immensely. We can really see that ViewSonic is on to something here, and it helps to think of it not so much as a cheap second PC, as the future of TVs outside the lounge. Why buy a small dumb screen, when you can have a smart one? It just doesn't make sense. And while it may not be beautiful, it's certainly useful enough to want in your home – albeit a little sluggish on the job.

The real problem that it faces, however, is that ViewSonic is leading the way in an area that we expect others to follow very soon – and not just with Android, either. Smart Android-powered TVs are already commonplace if a little pricey at the moment, and we have a sneaking suspicion that devices like the VSD220 may well be popular at CES this year. It’s not hard to envision them thinner and better designed, or even powered by Windows RT with a built-in Kinect for example.

Which leaves us thinking that ViewSonic's VS220 is a great idea well executed, but it's not quite essential enough to leap in and grab at the first opportunity. You'll almost certainly be wiser to hang on and see what's next.

Stuff says... 

ViewSonic VSD220 Smart Display review

ViewSonic's VSD220 Smart Display is a great first stab at a smart display let down only by occasional laggy performance and the fact that better is likely on the horizon