Some great features, but ultimately overpriced and without Honeycomb
HTC has taken a different approach to its first tablet. Like the Blackberry Playbook, the screen is seven inches, this instantly makes it a far more portable option and at just 122 mm wide, it can easily fit into a pocket. This form factor also enables you to hold it comfortably using one hand.
Construction follows the same unibody design as HTC’s handset range, but this time with white accents. The SIM card slot fits into the top, although we found the white cover tricky to remove and the bottom cover was a little wobbly. Located on the top is a power button and 3.5mm jack, with volume controls on the side. HTC uses a proprietary port in the base for charging and unlike Honeycomb tablets it charges over USB.
Instead of solid buttons, touch sensitive Home, Back and Menu buttons are at the bottom, rotating when you turn the tablet vertically, although you can’t use it from every orientation.
HTC Flyer: Android
But this isn’t vanilla Android. Instead it runs HTC Sense 2.1 (not 3.0 like the dual-core Sensation sadly), which has been especially optimised for tablets. So although it looks like a big smartphone, it doesn’t feel like a smartphone to use - unlike the first Samsung Galaxy Tab.
There’s a slick 3D carousel of homescreens for you to flick through, while widgets such as FriendStream, Contacts and Mail have been designed to fit a large screen, with most changes evident when you flip the Flyer to landscape orientation.
In Mail you can view a dual-panel email view, with a list of messages on the left and contents of the email on the right. However the bewildering array of buttons, means it isn’t as intuitive as the Honeycomb Mail app, where the controls change intelligently.
Contacts too has a dual-pane view in landscape format, displaying additional contact details including Twitter and Facebook accounts on the right. You still get HTC’s social networking widget Friendstream displaying Twitter and Facebook feed on the left, with comments on the right.
It’s certainly easy to use, you scroll down to view Notifications and Quick Settings and at the bottom, running across the bottom of the screen are App, Notes, Reader, Watch and Personalise options. Launch four apps from the lock screen simply by dragging them into the circle.
The HTC Flyer sorely misses some key elements of Android 3.0 Honeycomb, such as the excellent You Tube app with its 3D wall and the ability to drag and drop apps and shortcuts onto the screens.
HTC Flyer: Performance
HTC has included a single, rather than dual-core processor, but we never found the device slow at loading web pages. In fact in general use it's smooth and quick to use. On-board Flash support is welcome too.
Without a dual-core chip you won’t be able to access the range of games available for tablets like the Motorola Xoom. HTC’s solution is to include cloud-based gaming service OnLive. It hasn’t launched yet, but when it does you’ll be able to play games including Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood and Lego Harry Potter.
HTC Flyer: Screen
The Flyer shares the same screen resolution as the Blackberry Playbook, and playing back a selection of HD clips, motion was smooth and colours natural, although we noticed blacks and whites aren’t as pure as the iPad 2. Seven inches is a good size to watch movies comfortably though. Off-angle viewing is OK and visibility isn’t too bad in bright sunlight.
HTC Flyer: HTC Scribe
One of the main distinctions of the Flyer is its compatibility with a pen. Enter Pen mode at any point by tapping the green icon. You can either scribe notes or take a screen shot.
The pen is compatible with certain apps, including Notes, which has been optimised especially for it. As well as scribing notes, you can also record an audio track simultaneously, when you’ve finished tap on the note and it automatically goes to the correct part of the audio track. We tried it out by taking notes while watching The Apprentice and it works very well, although the tapping of the pen is audible.
Surprisingly writing using the pen is harder than we thought , we found it quite slow to use, despite choosing from multiple pen types of differing thickness, however other people who tried the pen on the Flyer found it very easy to use, so it's very much personal preference. Be warned, it's very accurate, so poor handwriting can't hide.
The pen doesn’t work as a stylus, so on occasion our natural instinct was to use it to tap the screen to access menu commands, when in fact you need to use your finger. Two buttons on the pen let you erase and highlight text, although the latter only works in compatible programs, such as Reader, Polaris Office and PDF Viewer.
Sign up to an Evernote account and you can save notes in the cloud and access via a laptop, computer or mp3 player.
As we mentioned, in some apps you tap the screen to take a screenshot, which you can either email or upload to social networking websites, adding an annotation if you want. Being able to email web pages with comments is useful, just make sure you don't end up taking screenshots accidentally.
HTC Flyer: Camera
HTC’s equipped the Flyer with a 5-megapixel primary camera, which is poor. Tapping the screen to autofocus is a nice touch, although detail is very soft, with little definition, especially at wide angle. Things improve with close up shots though, which are much sharper.
There’s a good selection of tweakable features, including: ISO, White Balance and Exposure Compensation, along with HTC filters: Distortion, Vignette and Vintage.
The rear camera captures 720p movies at 30fps, but while the action is smooth, it’s very soft, drop it to VGA and quality improves dramatically. We’ve been disappointed with HD movie quality of a few HTC products and this is no exception.
HTC Flyer: HTC Watch
HTC Watch is a new video download service that lets you download movies and TV programs. Choice is limited at the moment and there aren't many brand new titles, but you’ll expect to pay £9.99 to buy a movie and £2.49 for a rental. It’s a real shame there’s no HDMI out or DLNA for playing back movies on a flatscreen, a features we’ve come to expect from a tablet, much like you can with the Apple iPad and Airplay.
HTC Flyer: Battery
With WiFi on and screen brightness to Automatic, we managed to get five hours use, four hours or so of movie playback and an hour or so of general use, including browsing. With a lot of downloads, this will probably reduce.
HTC Flyer: Verdict
There are some things we love about the Flyer: the high-quality build, the size, performance and HTC Sense is slick and efficient. Sure Sense lacks features of Honeycomb, but it’s arguably simpler to navigate. The Flyer is not a multimedia powerhouse, but if you’re main use of the tablet is browsing, playing back video and making notes, the 1.5Ghz processor will be more than adequate. Couple this with the portability of the seven-inch screen and for many people the Flyer will be the perfect tablet.
What makes the Flyer unique is its pen, which with practice certainly adds a new dimension to tablet use. However the tablet isn't cheap - it's a whopping £599 for the 32GB 3G version of the tablet. Maybe it’s only £20 more than the similarly-specified iPad 2, but Apple’s tablet has an entry point of £399, the only alternative to version of the Flyer costs £479 for the 16GB WiFi. This is £100 more then the Asus Eee Pad Transformer, which has a bigger, better screen, faster processor and runs Honeycomb.
HTC Flyer price: £599 3G, 32GB, £479 WiFi only 16GB,
HTC Flyer launch date: Out now, link HTC
HTC Flyer Specs
- OS: Android 2.3 with HTC Sense
- Processor:1.5Ghz processor
- Storage: 32Gb, microSD
- Screen: 7-inches 1024x600 pixels
- Connectivity: WiFi N, 3.5mm, Bluetooth 3.0, HSDPA
- Camera: 5-megapixel/ 1.3-megapixel