ViewSonic’s MovieBook Lacks the Right Touch

 ViewSonic’s VPD400 HD MovieBook is a competent, capable portable media player. It’s an attractive device that plays back good-looking video and supports plenty of file formats. But it lacks some features — like a touch screen — that could make it stand out in today’s already crowded market of portable audio and video players. And that market is likely to get a lot more crowded tomorrow, should Apple launch its long-rumored tablet device, as is widely expected.

To be fair, the ViewSonic MovieBook is not designed to compete with a full-scale tablet; it’s more of a rival for Apple’s iPod Touch. Like the iPod Touch, the MovieBook plays back audio, video, and image files stored on its 8GB of internal memory. Apple’s device packs in more internal memory — it’s available in 8GB, 32GB, and 64GB versions — but the MovieBook does features a microSD card slot for adding more storage.

Like the iPod Touch, the MovieBook features a minimalist design: from the front, all you see is the 4.3-inch screen, which is significantly larger than the iPod’s 3.5-inch screen. What the MovieBook offers in size and resolution (its screen displays HD content up to 720p), it lacks in touch, though. To use the device, you’re forced to rely on its sub-par controls, which sit on the edges of the player.

The MovieBook also lacks any sort of wireless connectivity for accessing content; the only way to get content on the player itself is to transfer it using the included USB cord or to put it on a microSD card. Once the content is on the device, ViewSonic’s menu system makes it easy to find. It’s organized with folders for music, photos, videos, e-books, and voice recordings (which you can create on the player); those folders each have sub-folders for the different storage locations, such as local disk and external disk.

While the menu system is nicely laid out, the same can’t be said of the MovieBook’s controls. To move through menus and play back content, you’re forced to rely on a series of small buttons on the top of the player. They’re easy enough to find by feel, but their functionality isn’t always intuitive, so I found that I often had to tilt the player down to see which button I needed to press. A touchscreen with on-screen icons would be much easier to use.

While the lack of a touch screen is almost forgivable, the inability to fast forward and rewind video content is not. I accidentally re-started one of the videos I wanted to watch, and could find no way to fast forward to the point where I’d left off. (The device gives you that option when you resume playing a file, but I accidentally chose the option to start the file over from the beginning, and then had to sit through 20 minutes of content I’d already watched.)

Content looks great on the MovieBook’s 4.3-inch screen, though. The device supports a wide range of video file formats, including AVI, RM/RMVB, MP4, MOV, PMP, MPG, DAT, H.264, and H.263. All of the files I transferred to the device started playing instantly, with no lag time at all, and the picture was crisp and clear. The included speaker provided decent, if not overwhelmingly loud, audio, and ViewSonic includes earphones, too.

Also included are the necessary cables (audio out and composite A/V) for connecting the MovieBook to your TV. Doing so is easy, and content looked decent when viewed on a bigger screen. A remote control is included, too, which can be handy when using the MovieBook as a set-top box.

ViewSonic’s MovieBook sells for about $120, which seems like a bargain compared to the $199 price tag that Apple’s 8GB iPod Touch sports. But while its bigger screen is nice, the MovieBook lacks the intuitive controls that make Apple’s device and its ecosystem so appealing.