The HTC Flyer is a very different type of slate computer. It’s no iPad or Eee Pad, but a virtual Filofax designed to be carried at all times: it’s almost a return to the era of the Palm Pilot and the PDA. But on crack. Read on and find out whether it’s worth slapping down for one here in our HTC Flyer review.
Super slate design
Any smartphone fan could probably have guessed what the Flyer looked like long before its unveiling in February: those hallmark handsome curves and smudge free silver are HTC through and through. That’s no bad thing though, and we love the look and feel of the 420g device. Sure, at 13.2mm deep it’s not thin but you can fit it in your pocket, and the prerequisite ports, such as the micro USB slot for charging, and 3.5mm audio are all present and accounted for.
The top edge is a little creaky (it’s removable to get at the SIM card hole and microSD slot) but the bezel will make you forgive all. It’s the first we’ve seen on a tablet to sport capacitive buttons that move as you do, from the bottom to the side as you move to landscape. It’s a lovely little touch which makes using an Android OS designed for mobiles all the more easier on a larger tablet.
As for the screen, it’s a pleasant enough LCD panel, with a 1024×600 resolution. It’s not as juicy as Asus’s IPS display on the Eee Pad Transformer, but colours and viewing angles are respectable, and the capacitive touch response is never in question.
We’ve said this before, but we can’t overstate just how different in dimensions 7-inch tablets are to the likes of the iPad: you could fit two Flyers onto the top of one of Apple’s devices, they’re that much titchier. As such, it’s much more suited as an on the go, rather than on the sofa device: the smaller size makes typing easier, and the 3G connection (in the high end model) helps here too.
Gingerbread going stale ?
The HTC Flyer runs Android 2.3, AKA “Gingerbread”, rather than Android 3.0 “Honeycomb” designed for tablets, which we’ve seen in larger efforts from Motorola, Asus and Acer already. On paper, this should have some drawbacks: Android 2.3 doesn’t natively support such a high resolution, and apps can end up looking rather stretched, failing to take advantage of all the screen space a larger slate offers.
That’s not the case here though: HTC’s removed the stupid dialling phone functionality of the Samsung Galaxy Tab and included its HTC Sense overlay, and it works a treat here. As well as the wizzy scrolling homescreens and Facebook and Twitter integration of every HTC Android phone, you get all the awesome features HTC includes on top of Android, including HTC Locations mapping, its Connected Media streaming DLNA app and a few new ones, including an eReader apps and HTC Watch.
This last one is worthy of note, since it’s a first for Android in the UK (US users are due a Google Movies on demand app shortly): an app to rent movies. At the time of publication, HTC still hadn’t switched on the service but it’s expected to go live any day now, and the trailers available to view give you an idea of what to expect. In short, you can rent and download new release titles to your tablet, just as you can on an iPad with iTunes. We’ve seen it running on the HTC Sensation, and we have to say, it’s a great option to have if you’re facing a long flight – it’s just a pity that there’s no way to shove these to a TV (like an HDMI port, for instance).
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That cross-platform functionality of Sense is a double-edged sword however. While the HTC Flyer runs Android 2.3 rather than Honeycomb (HTC says an update is coming, but we’ll see), the fact remains that it doesn’t do much more than an Android phone. You don’t get the extra Honeycomb apps and seamless notification system, just the same apps, same games, same experience as on a smartphone. Hell, even file format support is the same (Flash video, but not MKV clips, which the slower Galaxy Tab has no problem playing back).
As such, if you have an Android blower already, the HTC Flyer is a much harder sell. If you don’t however, you’re in for a treat with Android: it’s full of apps and wondrous extensions.
Doodle pad delight
As if to make up for the lack of Honeycomb, HTC has included an impressive stylus with the HTC Flyer. A quick primer: modern capacitive touchscreens respond to large areas, rather than precise points, of pressure, which is why they’re easier to use with fingers than those old Windows Mobile handsets with their cruddy ear-bud stylii. Unusually, HTC has included one with the HTC Flyer, and it’s really quite marvellous: tap the screen and you can simply draw on top of what’s being shown, whether it’s a web page or an eBook. These can then be saved to a notes service (with extra text, if you need) that integrates with our favourite cloud scrapbook, Evernote.
We had great fun jotting down memos and drawing sketches, but we can see a much more potent use as a tool for notetaking: you could jot down lecture notes while grabbing links to relevant material online. It’s the first time a device with a stylus has felt like it has a purpose in a good long time.
We’re not going to complain that only HTC’s own bundled apps support saved doodles, since we can’t expect other developers to get onboard instantly, and you can still grab screenshots with your writing on any app you like. If we have one gripe, it’s that there’s nowhere to put the damn stylus, bar a little cloth ring on the outside of the included case. Considering it’s rather expensive (£47.99 on its own), we can see this becoming a real bugbear on such a portable device. Otherwise, HTC’s magic tablet pen is a force for good.
Camera skills and speed performance
The five megapixel camera on the HTC Flyer is, as you might have guessed, really quite bobbins. Which is fine. Tablets aren’t meant to take stellar photos (See our iPad 2 Flickr analysis for proof), so we’ll settle for washy stills for the option of a 1.3MP front cam for web chats. The Flyer runs Android 2.3.3 rather than 2.3.4 so video chat isn’t supported in Google Talk, sadly, but there are other free apps which still make use of it. 720p video samples from the rear camera met with a bit more success however: we’ll have a HD video sample clip up online for you to peruse soon, once YouTube processes the upload.
As for speed itself: the 1.5GHz CPU inside may not be a dual-core chip, but it’s certainly fast enough to handle any Android games and apps on the Market with no stutter. Of course, that you can’t play a lot of HD video clips on it due to lack of codec support covers up its weaknesses: it is however, more than fast enough for everything else. Battery life was also very pleasing: we got a solid day and half of use with 3G, Wi-Fi and Syncing all on.
There’s no question that this is the best 7-inch tablet on the market right now. Comparisons with the iPad and 10-inch slates are inevitable, but are only relevant because both are slightly luxurious product types that people want rather than need. If you need something with power and portability you can get away with wearing in a back pocket and not a backpack, this is it.
That said, it is awfully expensive, and right now, it’s missing the ace extra features and potential of Honeycomb. If a super pocketable tablet is what you’re after, we wouldn’t blame you for opting for the cheaper and freshly Gingerbread-filled Samsung Galaxy Tab instead.