Review: HTC Flyer Tablet


8 Jun 2011

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When HTC announced it was working on an Android tablet many moons ago, it got many people excited, much like a child who hears the ice-cream van’s music on a hot summer’s day.

I, too, was taken in by the prospect of HTC jumping on the tablet bandwagon. While the likes of Motorola and HP have gone for direct competition to the iPad 10-inch model, HTC and Samsung (at least for now) have hung back a little and gone for smaller tablet devices with both the Flyer and Galaxy Tablet (v1) measuring in at 7 inches. Will the Flyer stand out in the tablet market? Let’s have a look and see.

Look and feel

At first glance, it is obvious the Flyer is a little “chunkier” than other tablets currently available and weighs in at a hefty 14.82 ounces, so it is not the lightest tablet available. However, I think it does add to the ruggedness of the device. The design is still sleek enough to hide its obvious size. The back 5MP camera sits well in place like the most recent HTC smartphone models and the encasing is smooth and has a nice finish to it, with good grip for easy use.

The front boasts a 7-inch, 1,024 x 600 pixels display with HTC’s famed Sense UI. The graphics are impressive for the most part but they are a little let down by the device’s limitations (more later). The display switches nicely between vertical and horizontal views and the buttons are prominent on both the bottom and the side for ease of use when switching between display methods. Overall, there is a smooth feel to this tablet. It may not have the aesthetic beauty of the iPad 2 (being almost twice as thick) but it does have charm and sophistication in abundance.

Tech Specs

Android 2.3 Gingerbread OS

7 inch, 1024 x 600 pixels display

1.5 GHz processor

1 GB RAM

16-32GB internal storage (plus MicroSD expansion)

Bluetooth 3.0 and 802.11n Wi-Fi

5MP back camera, 1.3MP front camera

Operating system, processor and memory

I feel like HTC is playing with fire a bit with the Flyer. In an odd move, this tablet is released with a slightly tweaked version of Android Gingerbread (2.3), which is a smartphone-dedicated OS. I can understand the reasoning in not going with the resource-heavy Honeycomb OS or building a custom tablet one, but running a smartphone OS leads to some complications. We’ve all seen the image of the magnifying glass over an iPhone to instantly convert it to an iPad. At the time it was fun to laugh at Apple’s expense; but HTC has fallen into the same trap with the Flyer, it would appear. The OS used on the Flyer mimics a smartphone so much it is essentially like using an oversized HD2 or Sensation model.

Using a smartphone OS on a tablet many seem like a bad idea but taking a step back and looking at it from another angle, it may turn out to be a good thing. The tablet packs a decent 1.5GHz single core processor and 1GB of RAM, so running the resource-friendly Gingerbread means that everything zooms along fast. The tablet also features Bluetooth 3.0 and 802.11n Wi-Fi so connectivity is one of the fastest around. The one downside is some apps and features that work well on a smaller screen look a small bit stretched on the larger 7-inch screen.

Apps

The back catalogue of Android apps is a major selling point for the Flyer. The OS means the device is open to all previous versions of the apps built for smartphones. As pointed out above, some look a little bit stretched but for the most part it is not very noticeable. The benefit is there is no wait for custom tablet apps to be built.

The built-in apps work as well as they do on most HTC phones. The PDF Viewer is a nice touch, allowing instant viewing of downloaded pdfs and the usual suspects of Press Reader, Weather and Locations make an appearance. Friend Stream is also available for those who live for social media integration; it is a handy little tool for synchronising all your Facebook and Twitter updates.

Pen input

I would love to say the HTC Flyer “comes with” an interactive stylus pen but it turns out this may be sold separately. Anyway, the pen is one of the major selling points of the Flyer. Unlike other devices that have a stylus, the stylus for the Flyer is not used for navigation at all. In fact, is it impossible to use it to select anything other than the Evernote and Scribble functions.

The Evernote integration is functionally sound, allowing the user to write notes on the tablet screen and save to an Evernote account. It is also good for just doodling the afternoon away (see article image, best 15 minutes I ever spent!) The pen even has an erase button built in. Scribble allows the user to snapshot any screen on the tablet and “scribble” on it. Good for highlighting important text in books, pdfs, etc. The pen is a little let down by not having a natural slot or holding place in the tablet, and with some figures of $80 (no euro price yet) being thrown around for the pen itself, I’d be miffed at losing it so easily.

Photo and video

The camera is a bit of a let down on the Flyer if we are being totally honest. While the functionality works well and the ability to share and edit photos is good, the quality of the images is a bit lacking. At 5MP, the back camera is OK in terms of spec but I was expecting a little more from it. The front camera is a nice feature, at only 1.3MP I wasn’t expecting much but it is good for use with “Snapbooth” (yes, essentially like Apple’s Photobooth, photo examples below). The only problem I have with this app is that you can’t use the back camera for it; I know Snapbooth would suggest that anyway but it would have been a nice feature.

snapbooth examples

Photo: Mario poses for a few Snapbooth photos

The video is the biggest let down, unfortunately. While the specs boast 720p video recording, the quality is far from that standard with images further than 50 feet away appearing a bit distorted. The sound quality when recording is a little off, as well, which is a shame, considering the sound quality from the speakers on the Flyer is actually pretty decent.

HTC Watch

Thankfully, the launch of the Flyer in Europe has coincided with the launch of HTC Watch (the poor tech heads in the US had the device before the service). In a Ronseal kind of manner, HTC Watch will allow users to purchase or rent movies and download them to their devices (both Flyer and the HTC Sensation are already compatible with Watch service). So far, it looks as though there are just movies and not series available, but the catalogue of movies seems pretty vast (they even have Beavis and Butthead Do America.) Movies cost around the €12 mark and from the trailers I have watched on the device, the quality on the Flyer is amazing.

Summary

Despite the problems caused with running a smartphone OS on a tablet, there are a number of advantages in doing so. The catalogue of apps will keep any Android enthusiast sweet and for those looking to make a start in the tablet market, the Flyer is a great device to purchase. Easy to use, fast, quality display and the battery lasts quite awhile. The ability to watch Flash videos online and the pdf view are obvious advantages over the iPad, but the weight and camera quality are a bit of a letdown. Overall, though, the HTC Flyer is a great device and would be a perfect tablet for anyone looking for an alternative to the iPad. No confirmation of a Honeycomb update has been announced yet but it could be the final piece that will boost the Android tablet cause.

Adam Renardson

Comments: @Siliconrepublic, @ARenardson