Tuesday, October 11, 2011

HTC Flyer Review

They may have been late to the tablet game, but HTC wasn't going to let everyone else have the fun. HTC's first, as well as our first review of an, Android Tablet is a step away from the current crop of Honeycomb 10.1-inch as it's running Android 2.3 with Sense for tablets and has a 7-inch form factor. We will try to see if going with Gingerbread is the right decision and whether or not the Scribe technology is enough to overlook other Android tablet offerings.

Overall Construction
HTC has, over the last year, really stepped up the build quality of their devices and move to very premium feeling materials while competitors have stayed status quo with cheaper lighter materials. This is as evident as ever with the HTC Flyer. Made of a unibody aluminum housing the Flyer feels incredibly solid.

If there was any phone analog to the Flyer it would be the HTC Legend. If one could take the Legend, stretch it out to a 7-inch form factor you would get the Flyer. Like the Legend, the Flyer's chassis is carved out of a solid block of aluminum making the Flyer one of the most premium feeling Android Tablets on the market.

At 13.2mm thin and tipping the scales at about 420g, the Flyer isn't the thinnest and probably is heaviest 7-inch tablet available but the overall feel of the device simply exudes a premium feel to it. The size and weight are really an ideal balance for those looking to do reading, browsing or gaming on smaller tablet than the current crop of Honeycomb Tablets.

We found ergonomics to simply be fantastic on the device. The slightly concavely curved edges grants a firmer grip and the slight bump on the bottom of the device also allows for a secure grip in one handed use. Also worth mentioning is the superiority of a 7-inch form factor for gaming. On our usual game of Dungeon Defenders we found the controls SO MUCH easier to reach than on a 10.1 inch tablet and even the largest phones (like the Infuse 4G)the Flyer was spacious enough to really put the cramped controls to shame.

HTC Flyer

Perhaps the most important part of an Android phone is its touchscreen. On an Android tablet this importance is even greater since almost 100% of the time you spend using a tablet it will be looking at the screen.

HTC certainly did not skimp on the screen of the Flyer. We could not get confirmation for either HTC or from other reviews that HTC's first tablet is equipped with a Super LCD screen but like Vlad from the Verge, we firmly believe it to be a Super LCD screen.

Viewing angles, colors, sharpness and contrast were simple phenomenal. With a resolution of 1024x600px on a 7-inch screen the Flyer actually offers a higher DPI than the run of the mill 1280x800px resolution on the 10.1 inch Honeycomb Tablets.

Overall, the Super LCD screen on the Flyer is one of the best we've seen on any devices we've reviewed putting it up there with the Super AMOLED and Super AMOLED Plus screens of the world.

Single-touch and multi-touch gestures were all very accurate. Pretty much status quo for any given high end Android device.

Again, following the trend of being different from other Android Tablets, the Flyer has 2 sets of permanent Home, Menu and Back buttons for portrait and landscape use. As mention this is far different form Honeycomb tablets the implement their buttons in the OS itself. There is also a pen input button that only reacts to the Scribe pen being pressed on it, more on that later in the review.

The hardware buttons all had a good feel to them. Interestingly the power button also doubles as your notification light. Once you pry of the removable cover that hides the microSD card (and SIM on Vidéotron version) you can see that there is a small LED indicator under the button.

On the topic of the Power button, if you plan on getting the Flyer when removing the back cover be careful not to push the power button as it pops off easily and is hard to put back correctly.

Battery Life
Equipped with an impressive 4000mAh battery, one would expect terrific battery performance from the Flyer and it certainly doesn't disappoint. At full charge, the Flyer EASILY carried us through two days of moderate use with juice to spare. Our time with the HTC Flyer was a bit shorter than usual so we could not test it as much as we'd like but safe to say the battery life was simply phenomenal.

Sadly though, like most Android Tablets the battery is non-removable thus non-user replaceable.

Internal Hardware
Once again, as reiterated before, the Flyer wasn't build like the current crop of Android Tablets equipped with Dual Core Tegra 2 SoCs. Part of the problem (we believe) was that HTC is a very tight partner with Qualcomm and Honeycomb 3.0 and 3.1 only supported the 1280x800px resolution as well as Tegra 2 SoCs. This probably was the reason why HTC took so long to put out the Qualcomm single core Snapdragon powered HTC Flyer and Qualcomm dual core Snapdragon powered HTC Jetstream.

- 1.5 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon Processor
- 1GB of RAM
- 16/32GB of Internal storage expandable with microSD card slot upgradable to up to 32GB
- Adreno 205Graphic processor
- 21.1Mbps HSPA+ capable chipset (with Vidéotron)
- Wi-Fi b/g/n
- 5MP auto-focus camera and 720p HD video capabilities

Overall performance of the Flyer was simply fantastic. The 1.5 GHz Single Core processor and 1GB of RAM ran the tablet like a dream. We also found the hardware to be more than sufficient to run games like Dungeon Defenders, our real world stress test of choice.

HSPA+ "4G" Capabilities
The review unit we received was the 16GB WiFi only version so we didn't get to test any "4G" HSPA+ speeds on Vidéotron but would like to just acknowledge in this section that the Flyer is available through Vidéotron with HSPA+ capabilities.

Speaker and microphone
Unlike phones, the microphone isn't too important to be that great so we will just say it was sufficent. The speaker on the other hand are quite important and we found them to be quite good. Judging from the holes on the back of the device it seems like the Flyer sports stereo speakers which is nice but in our tests with some applications like YouTube we could not get the stereo effect like on Honeycomb Tablets. This could be because of the OS or the YouTube/Flash but in any case they are very good speakers this will perhaps get its issues resolved once it is updated to Honeycomb.

While tablets aren't exactly your device of choice for taking pictures, it's always good to have. This is probably the reason HTC didn't include one of their better sensors like the one found on the Sensation or even the upcoming Amaze 4G.

We found the camera to be pretty run of the mill as far as cameras are concerned not really excelling at any situation. The Flyer also doesn't have and LED flash so night shots are near impossible. Also, video weren't much better than stills, but again we didn't expect too much from a tablet rear facing camera.

The 1.3MP front facing is like most other front facing cameras status quo, good enough for video chatting and vanity pictures.

Sample Pictures


Sense UI for Tablets
HTC has always included HTC Sense with all its branded devices and the Flyer is no different. Sporting Sense 2.1 For Tablets the Flyer should feel very familiar to anyone who owns or has owned an HTC device in the past.

This tablet version of Sense UI is actually much closer to Sense UI 3.0 more than 2.0 (which isn't as suggested by the number). Sporting the same 3D animations such as the spinning carousel in the homescreen, as well as the lockscreen with customizable shortcuts and of course the renowned HTC widgets, Sense 2.1 for Tablets has the same level of polish you will find in their flagship devices the Sensation 4G, EVO 3D and upcoming Amaze 4G.

One must remember that the Flyer is running Gingerbread and not Honeycomb therefore several modifications had to be made to meet the functionalities found in Honeycomb that aren't found in Gingerbread. These include but are not limited to; an improved weather app, an improved calendar, a Honeycomb like fragment separated email app, as well as a modified notification pane.

All of these changes really make the "tablet" experience on the Flyer very enjoyable and you almost (just ALMOST) forget that you are using a Gingerbread tablet and not a Honeycomb tablet.

That being said, while all these changes are nice, it's clear that Android 3.0/3.1/3.2 Honeycomb would have been a better choice of OS version for this tablet but simply wasn't an option because of limitations to Honeycomb and the preferred hardware configuration of HTC.

For more info on Sense UI 2.1 for tablets (3.0-ish), check out our review of the HTC Sensation 4G.

We also would like to mention that, last month we reported about the leaked Honeycomb update for the Flyer. So the update should be available in the VERY near future.


Scribe Technology
To the best of my abilities I held off talking about the best part of this tablet, really the only thing that makes it stand out in the bevy of Android Tablets out there, (most that are equipped with better hardware) and that is the HTC Scribe Pen and the Scribe technology found in the Flyer.

To many users the pre-iPad Tablet experience was that of capacitive screens and stylus input and while touch digitizers on capacitive screens have vast advantages over the old resistive screens there remains many situation where the fine input of a pen cannot be beat by even the best touch digitizer.

For these situations the HTC Flyer gives you the best of both worlds. A top notch touch display that is ultra responsive to finger gestures with the fine input of a pen for hand written notes, drawings, etc.

The Scribe pen doesn't work as a replacement for your finger but rather another input option. The way it works is that for almost any place in the OS in almost any app, you take the Scribe Pen, tap it anywhere on the screen and you get a screenshot of what you were doing and can then proceed to doodle, caption, etc.

For taking notes HTC has also pre-loaded their Notes app which takes Pen input at any time and can be synced to Evernote, which we really appreciate. The Notes app can record also sound and insert pictures for more complete notes when reviewed at a later time.

If the Pen is tapped on the green button on the bezel that only accepts pen input, you get a bevy of option in terms of pens, colors, pen sizes, etc. Also worth noting is the very good hand rejection when using the pen. We had no problem using the pen with our hands touching the screen simultaneously.

The Scribe pen matches the construction of the Flyer itself being made of a solid piece of aluminum and also feels like a premium product.

That being said not all is peachy with the Scribe technology. The accuracy and speed of the pen input is far less than we would like, as we found writing notes felt far less accurate and responsive than an actual pen on paper. Now it might sound too harsh to compare the two, but seeing as the Flyer (as well as the pen) seem to be targeted at the on the go student/artist crowd it would be a hard sell to recommend the $580 Flyer (plus Scribe Pen) over the $5 notepad and pen.

Overall the Scribe technology is nice, but not as refined as we would like it to be. It certainly does set it apart from the rest of the tablet market and will without a doubt garner the interest of several people looking for this kind tablet.

Is the Scribe Technology enough to sway you away from tablets like the iPad/iPad 2 or Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 or the ASUS Eee Pad Transformer? Probably not, but just maybe. Why do I say "maybe"? Remember that the HTC Flyer is getting Honeycomb pretty soon (or is available for you tech savvy hackers) and should alleviate many of the issues we had with the Flyer.

The hardware might not be up to part but it certainly did not lag in comparison to its dual core competitors and from initial reaction from people using a leaked Android 3.2 ROM, it seems the solid performance carried over to the Honeycomb version.

The really tough sell (no pun intended) with the Flyer is that it is priced the same as Galaxy Tab 10.1 and iPad 2 and more expensive (when coupled with the pen) than the ASUS Eee Pad Transformer /w Keyboard Dock which is arguably a better combo. That being said, price aside the Flyer is a good first attempt at an Android tablet from HTC.

Final Verdict
Overall Appearance: 9.5/10
- One of the finest, most solid and premium feeling tablets on the market.

Screen: 9/10
- Awesome Super LCD screen. One of the best available on a tablet. Great all around.

Buttons: 9/10
- Responsive capacitive buttons, good solid hardware buttons.

Internal Hardware: 8.5/10
- Solid performance from a single core in overall use as well as gaming. Flash performance a slight letdown compared to other HTC devices.

Speaker and Microphone: 7.5/10
- Decent stereo speakers (although couldn't get the stereo effect in some apps will possibly be fixed in Honeycomb update)

Camera: 7/10
- Mediocre stills and video, but bar isn't too high for tablets trying to be cameras.

UI Changes: 7.5/10
- Sense UI 2.1 for Tablets is well rounded and polished like the versions found on the Sensation and EVO 3D. Wish it had Honeycomb out of the box but understandably doesn't for various reasons. Will be upgraded shortly.

Addition Enhancements: 8.5 /10
- Scribe Technology is very interesting and innovative but lack polish in responsiveness and accuracy. Very eager to see Honeycomb version in updated Flyer and Jetstream.

Included Apps/Bloatware: n/a
- Since we reviewed the WiFi version the Flyer simply has no carrier bloatware.

Final Score: 8.3/10

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