Ever since Apple debuted the first iPad early last year the masses have been clamoring for an HTC touchscreen tablet device. We've watched as Samsung and Motorola have outed countless Galaxy Tabs and Xooms. HTC meanwhile was content to sit on the sidelines pumping out EVO after Thunderbolt after Inspire. Until now that is.
With the HTC Flyer, we finally have the tablet we've been craving for. But is it worth the $500 you'll need to spend to make it your own? And does HTC Sense really make up for the lack of Honeycomb on this device? Sounds like it's time for the HTCPedia review, so read on to get the low down.
If the only tablet you've ever touched as an iPad you'll immediately be struck by how small the Flyer is. On paper there might not be that big of a difference between a seven inch screen and a 9.7 inch screen, but in practice the iPad dwarfs the Flyer. It's like comparing a phone book to a little pocket notebook.
This might make the Flyer sound worthless, but actually it's quite the opposite: we found ourselves loving the Flyer's smaller size. It was pocketable (provided you have a big back pocket), and we ended up taking it places we wouldn't normally take a tablet with us: like to lunch next door.
Put it this way: because of its size sometimes pulling out the iPad can be a chore. Pulling out the Flyer is almost always a pleasure.
The Flyer is a very attractive and well-built device. The unibody backing just feels amazing to hold in one hand and the colors make it look like a premium device. It's also rife with small design details: from the green light next to the front-facing camera that lights up when it turns on, to the power button with a charging light built into it, to the stereo speakers in the back. The phone's bezel even includes menu bottoms (home, menu and back, no search) in both portrait and landscape orientations. HTC's attention to detail with the Flyer really shows off.
The spec sheet of the Flyer reads like a dream phone: 1.5GHz processor, 1GB of RAM, 16GB flash storage, 7-inch 1024x600 WSVGA display, 5 megapixel rear camera and 1.3 megapixel front-facing camera. For those that don't find 16 gigs of space to be enough, you can pop of the top of the tablet (the white plastic that covers the camera lens) and install a microSD card.
We weren't enamored with the Flyer's screen. Sure colors look great and text is sharp, but we found it was missing that certain pop that the Droid Incredible and HTC Thunderbolt have. That said, we didn't mind staring at it for hours, and the screen's responsiveness was mostly good.
If there's an Achilles heel the Flyer, it's the fact that it runs Android 2.3.3 Gingerbread. So instead of getting tablet optimized apps, you get smartphone apps that feel stretched out. Sometimes it works: games like Contract Killer and Angry Birds were a joy to play, but in apps like New York Times or CNN it can be really ugly to look at.
That said the device comes loaded with HTC Sense 2.1 for tablet, and HTC does its best to make sure Sense is tablet friendly. All of the Sense apps: notes, calendar, people, watch, news, stocks, etc, scale up wonderfully. Now you don't get the fake leather book look that Apple and Samsung built into their apps, but that's fine because HTC's apps work and work well. This is especially true of the web browser, which has been rebuilt with real tabbed browsing and supports flash like a dream. It even redirects to desktop websites, which is something the Xoom still doesn't do.
That said, the Flyer can get a little sluggish at times. The new unlock screen, which pretty, is a prime example of this. You'll drag your finger up and the unlock circle will take a second to follow along. Maybe this is by design, but it make the Flyer feel bogged down, and it shouldn't: this tablet has a 1.5 GHz chip in it. It should fly.
When the HTC Flyer was announced HTC talked the tablet's relationship with the HTC Scribe digital pen. This little stylus was supposed to let you use the tablet in new ways. Well in practice that's not really the case. Most apps don't recognize the digital pen, so you can only really doodle and draw in the notes app. With every other app using the pen will take a screen shot that you can draw on and save to notes or email. It's handy in a few situations, but we found ourselves getting bored after a while.
The notes app is a different story: you can draw and write to your heart's content and everything will be backed up to Evernote. Even better, you can record audio while you write notes. In theory this makes the Flyer is great tool for students, who can draw notes and record audio of lectures on their Flyer and then review the notes and audio from their desktops without having to think about syncing anything.
You'll notice a little green button on the Flyer next to the menu buttons. That's the pen options button. Pressing it with your thumbs won't do anything, but tapping it with the digital pen lets you adjust the type of brush or pen stroke, change colors and so on. The pen itself has two physical buttons: one is an erase button, which lets you erase stuff you've drawn (duh) and one is a highlight button, which lets you select lines of text.
Overall we found the digital pen experience to be interesting by underwhelming. We would've loved to see HTC go in depth with converting handwriting to type or using the pen to write in url fields. Basically we had hoped to see something closer to the Microsoft Courier concept.
That said, the digital pen is also way overpriced. We get that there's great tech behind it but $80 is much too much for something you won't use very often. This thing needed to be cheaper, much cheaper. Thankfully, the HTCPedia Shop is selling it for 70 bucks.
The Flyer is a WiFi device, so it doesn't run down the battery by syncing when you're not near a wireless network. With this in mind, we found the battery life on the Flyer to be pretty good. We got around seven hours of run time on a single charge, but since this is a tablet and not a smartphone, the seven hours was spread out over two days of moderate usage. It wasn't epic, but it was absolutely solid.
The Flyer's cameras are dreadful. The rear camera produces fuzzy, cloudy shots, and the front camera's photos are pixelated with visible lines running through them. We get that it's a tablet, but we almost wondered why HTC would bother putting camera in at all. That said, even though the rear camera's pictures were fuzzy they do let a lot of light in, which is useful in dark areas or at night.
Getting all of the hype out of the way: the HTC Flyer is a good Android tablet. It has a great web browser, runs games very well, and is pocketable and portable. We loved carrying it around with us. That said we don't know how gingerbread really hurts, and a lack of Honeycomb really hurts the device as you really miss tablet-optimized apps. This changes if Android 3.2 really is getting ported to the Flyer, the software on the Flyer feels a tad rushed, and the digital pen is not worth the money you'll be asked to cough up. Still, these are all software problems, and things that can be fixed very quickly.
So should you buy the HTC Flyer? That depends on what you are looking for. If you want an iPad but can't get it, the Flyer will let you down. If you want an HTC tablet or a way to browse the web, read ebooks and game on a bigger screen, the HTC Flyer is a very good, almost great bet.
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