The HTC Flyer is an interesting animal because the tablet is trying to bring the sexy back to 7-inch tablets in the Android space even as competitors like Samsung and LG are eying larger screens. In this review, we’ll see if the highly-customized version of Android with the new Sense UI is good enough to make up for the fact that this isn’t the tablet-optimized version of the software. The result may surprise you.
Then you also have to throw in the fact that this can rock a capacitive stylus and the HTC Flyer just leads to tons of questions. We’re here to answer those questions, so read on for the full review.
HTC Flyer (WiFi only)
Available now from Best Buy for about $500, 3G/4G versions coming soon
- 1.5 GHz Snapdragon single-core processor
- 5-megapixel camera, 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera
- 7-inch 1024 X 600 display
- Android 2.3 with Sense UI
- GPS, Bluetooth, WiFi(b/g/n)
- 32 GB internal storage, 1 GB of RAM
- Compatible with Scribe Digital Pen for note taking
- Well-designed, elegant hardware
- Gorgeous Sense UI
- The Snapdragon processor is a powerhouse
- Portable and powerful
- Good, not great, battery life
- Scribe Digital Pen doesn’t add enough value its sky-high price tag
- Still some inconsistencies with the software
- Same price as larger tablet competitors which offer nearly double the real estate
- Doesn’t have the latest Android software/access to tablet-optimized apps
- No built-in mobile data hinders portability
The HTC Flyer is a well-put together piece of technology that just exudes high-quality when you pick it up. The enclosed aluminum backing is awesome, the white segments on the top and bottom add some flair without being too flash and even though it’s bigger than the original Galaxy Tab and thicker than the iPad 2, it fits comfortably in a single hand when held in portrait mode.
The HTC Flyer has a 7-inch display at a 1024 X 600 resolution on its face and this is bright, crisp and quite responsive to the touch. It’s an excellent size if you’re using it as companion to your mobile on the go, as it easily fits into your pocket but the only issue is that you’re definitely giving up a lot of real estate compared to the larger tablets. The 10-inch screens (or so) of the iPad 2, Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 and the Motorola Xoom offer nearly double the screen space diagonally, so the Flyer isn’t as great of a couch companion or in-home media device as some of the competition.
Like most Android tablets, the design encourages you to hold it in the landscape mode as the 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera is along the top of the screen if you hold it in that orientation. The HTC logo rests at the top if you hold it in portrait mode and the other two bezel spots are filled with the home, menu, back and pen (we’ll cover that one later) capacitive buttons. Like the HTC Incredible 2, the soft keys will automatically rotate depending on which way you’re holding it.
Along the right spine (portrait mode) are two small microphone holes and a metallic volume rocker and the left spine is completely clean. On the top right, you’ll find a power/unlock button and a standard headphone jack, while the microUSB charger port is on the bottom. Having the battery there leads to a little hump on the bottom that’s covered in white but I absolutely love not having to carry a proprietary port around like I did with the original Galaxy Tab. My backpack already looks like a freaking Radio Shack, so I appreciate a standard port.
The back cover is brushed aluminum that feels amazing and you have the “HTC” logo smack dab in the middle and a “WITH HTC SENSE” above the white segment at the bottom. You’ll also find the two speakers on the back, as well as the 5-megapixel camera. Inside, you have a 1.5 GHz Snapdragon processor which is full of power, WiFi (b/g/n), Bluetooth, GPS, 1 GB of RAM, 32 GB of internal storage and it weighs less than a pound (14.82 ounces).
Build Quality/ Fit & Finish
If you believe that there is value in a 7-inch tablet, then it’s tough to think how it could be designed better than the HTC Flyer. Sure, it could be a little bit thinner but this thing is a joy to hold with one hand or two, looks incredible and is packed full of power and features. Because it’s a portable tablet, I would have liked to see a flash next to the 5-megapixel camera but I guess that can wait for the next one.
As a device unto itself, the HTC Flyer is great but you have to look at what the competition is doing. The BlackBerry PlayBook is probably the closest competition with its 7-inch display and I’d go with HTC’s design choice just because I prefer the aluminum casing.
Of course, the real issue with a 7-inch tablet is how easy is it to carry around and I’ve found the Flyer can rest in a suit jacket, a large coat of the back of your jeans. If you don’t wear skinny jeans, it can fit into your front pockets but it will definitely look like you have a tablet in there. So, if you’re going to have to put it in a bag anyways, would you be better off with a larger tablet? I’ll cover that in the conclusion so let’s not skip ahead.
The HTC Flyer doesn’t have the Honeycomb version of the software and that may cause some of you to dismiss it because this version was specifically built for tablet computing. HTC is no slouch in the software department and the version of HTC Sense on this tablet augments Android 2.3 very well and it almost makes you not miss Honeycomb.
The HTC Flyer with Sense blows Honeycomb out of the water is terms of visual pizazz. Whether it’s the 3D carousel effects of swiping between the home screens, the absolutely gorgeous weather widgets and effects or the little animations throughout the operating system, the HTC Flyer is the most visually-pleasing tablet I’ve seen yet. It’s not quite as drop-dead simple to use as the Apple iPad 2 and it doesn’t have the neat swiping gestures that the BlackBerry PlayBook has but it is quite a site to behold.
That visual flair isn’t just eye candy though, as HTC has also used Sense to make better use of the screen space. For example, when you bring down the pull-down notification curtain, you’ll have your most recent apps available, notifications and quick settings. This orientation smartly changes depending on if you’re holding the device in landscape or portrait mode.
When you hit the unlock button, you’ll come to the lock screen with customizable icons and a ring at the bottom. You can pull up the ring to unlock the device but you can also drag an icon into it to have the tablet unlock directly into that app. These features are things you can expect from the next version of Sense on devices like the Sensation 4G and the EVO 3D.
It’s not all quite roses though, as there are still some maddening inconsistencies in the UI. For example, the HTC Flyer comes with an app called Snapbooth which is HTC’s counter to Apple’s Photo Booth and this is a cool way to take some silly photos. Once you’ve taken a pic, hitting the Menu button will bring up a set of options but tapping the screen on your photo will bring up even more options. Things like this can be found throughout the Flyer’s software but it’s not quite a deal breaker. I’ve also found the contacts and calendar apps to be quite a mess, although I never use those ones anyways (I stick with the Gmail app and the Business Calendar app).
Some of you early adopters may not be able to get over the fact that this doesn’t have Android 3.0 Honeycomb, the version of the software that’s optimized for a tablet computing experience. HTC promises to update the software once it has Sense ready to rock and roll with Honeycomb but I don’t think that will happen for a long, long time. I actually prefer the aesthetics of Sense over Honeycomb at this point but you are sacrificing having apps that are optimized for tablets. Sure, many phone apps scale well and the number of Honeycomb-optimized apps are laughably low compared to the iPad but some of you may hate being left out.
While it’s generally a smooth experience on the software side, those dreaded “This application has stopped working” force close menus have popped up periodically without rhyme or reason. This only happened a few times (and don’t let the marketing hype fool you, the iPad 2 crashes too) but it’s quite annoying when it does.
The HTC Flyer also comes with a ton of preloaded software including a Notes app that can be integrated with Evernote, a reader app that’s powered by Kobo, the HTC Watch app that stems from its investment in Saffron Digital (more on that later), the Amazon MP3 app (easily updatable to include the Cloud Player), custom HTC widgets for social networking, media sharing (Hub), and the weather, as wel as standard stuff like a PDF viewer, Calendar, Dock Mode and more.
The virtual keyboard on this thing rocks, as it has good auto-correcting features, leans my tendencies and it easy to bang out messages with. Maybe I’m still just hurting from the awful stock keyboard on the LG Revolution but I really appreciate what the HTC Flyer is doing.
Digital Scribe Pen
Oh, the Digital Scribe Pen. HTC is pitching this as a way to augment your tablet with natural pen-like inputs and while there are a few neat tricks here and there, I don’t see how this adds much value especially when the thing is an $80 accessory. The point of the capacitive stylus is to let you take hand-written notes, annotate web pages or books, give people a painting canvas and to give users that familiar pen-like experience.
There are some neat bells and whistles too, as you can record audio notes while writing things down and your written notes will pop up onscreen during playbook when you wrote them. The notes are easily shared and Evernote is built in to help you keep track of these wherever you go.
I’m just not that into the Digital Scribe Pen, as I don’t like how it needs a battery, the responsiveness is not amazing and I’m not sure how often this would really be useful to most people. What I really love about it is that it makes it simple to take screenshots for reviews but that’s about it.
Maybe third-party developers will be able to hook into it soon and HTC may come to its senses and bundle it in eventually but I think it’s a clear pass for now. Ok, maybe you artist types will like it and there could be some usage for students because you can annotate e-books. It’s still very much more about the potential right now than the actual usefulness.
We ran the HTC Flyer through the standard three Android benchmarks for system, processor and graphics performance and the tablet did well thanks to the 1.5 GHz Snapdragon processor. Beyond just the numbers, I can tell you that I barely noticed any lag when I was switching between apps and it was a strong device overall. We ran each benchmark three times with all other apps killed and averaged the score below.
Quadrant – System Benchmark
Average = 2098.66
Linpack – Processor Benchmark
Average = 56.982
Neocore – Graphics Benchmark
Average = 56.982 frames per second
Web Browser, Multimedia, and Camera
The HTC Flyer uses the Webkit-based Android browser with a few little twists to better take advantage of the large screen. For example, when you hit the “Windows” or tabs button, a little drop down menu will take up a quarter of the screen. The advantage of this over HTC’s phones is that you can see all the windows you have open at once while still being able to view the page you’re on. It’s a small touch but I dig it.
Other than that, the browser experience is pretty good as there’s intelligent zooming, multitouch zooming and the Adobe Flash experience works pretty well. Still no Hulu directly from the browser (licensing issue on Hulu’s part) but you can still find plenty of places to find fun videos to watch.
The HTC Flyer does a solid job of playing and recording your media, as it can handle .aac, .amr, .orgg, .m4a, .wav and .wma audio files and .3gp, .3gs, .mp4, .wmv, .avi and .xvid videos. Transferring your (legally obtained, of course) songs, movies and TV shows is as simple as dragging and dropping. The stereo speakers on the back sound great.
This is the first device to land in the United States with the HTC Watch service and this lets you rent or purchase movies and TV shows for your tablet or other HTC devices like the Hub. Watching videos on the 7-inch screen is a pretty good experience but you do kind of wish for that extra space you’d get on a larger tablet. As for HTC Watch, it’s a solid service but like I said with the Samsung Media Hub, I’m getting sick of all these fragmented media stores. Someone please give me an Amazon Cloud Player for movies and videos and I’ll be happy.
The HTC Flyer tablet has 5-megapixel camera and a 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera for video calls and self portraits. Both of these cameras are pretty darn good for what they are and because this is a 7-inch tablet and is more portable, you’ll probably wind up using these cameras more than you would on a 10-inch tablet.
The camera UI has all the goodies you’d expect like tap-to-focus, facial-recognition software, auto focus, geo-tagging and more. It’s simple to share photos via your favorite social network or e-mail and the front-facing camera is not amazing but it’s good enough for self portraits and some video calls. The preloaded Snapbooth app is a fun way to goof around too.
I would have loved a flash on this thing but it’s by no means a deal breaker. Videos also came out pretty well – good enough for sharing quickly on Facebook – but it’s nothing to write home about.
This 7-inch tablet has some decent battery life, as you can get a solid 7 to 8 hour out of a single charge. It’s not quite as good as an iPad (which has a larger battery) but this has more than enough juice to get you through a full day at a conference or a cross-country flight. The cool thing about this is that recharging only requires a standard microUSB cable.
The Final Verdict: Fly or die?
The HTC Flyer is a beautiful device that has some elegant software, so is this 7-inch tablet worth getting over an iPad, Xoom or larger device? It’s an interesting question because it opens up the question about whether there really is a market for a 7-inch tablet.
I firmly believe that a 7-inch tablet can be an amazing productivity tool, as I’ve been to various conferences where my Galaxy Tab (7-inch) got plenty of usage while the iPad stayed shoved in my backpack. The portability of something like the HTC Flyer is definitely a major advantage.
The only issue is that I really believe 7-inch tablets need some form of mobile data connectivity to truly be useful on the go and this version of the HTC Flyer falls short in this regard. I really hate the idea of having to pay more and sign up for a new data plan for a Flyer but hopefully Sprint will be smart when it releases its version of the Flyer (EVO View 4G) and offer no-commitment data rates. I have multiple hotspots, so the connectivity issue isn’t as much of a pain for me as it may be for some of you.
The HTC Flyer is a well-designed, high-quality piece of hardware and the Sense UI is good enough to almost make you forget that Honeycomb exists. It’s packed full of features and the pricing (about $499 WiFi only) is definitely reasonable. If you want your tablet to be more of a companion to your smartphone, this may be the right device for you. If your tablet is mainly going to rest at your home, you may want to opt for one of the larger competitors.
(Sorry for the lack of videos in this review, as that’s my fault for forgetting to pack the tripod while I’m traveling. Instead of giving you shaky-cam footage, I’ll wait to do this up properly.)