The HTC Flyer: A Different Android Tablet

June 3, 2011
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HTC has been one of the staunchest supporters of the Android platform and even went ahead to dedicate an entire line of devices to Google’s new OS. It was even the manufacturer tapped by the search company to create its first flagship smartphone, and was also  first to introduce Android phones to masses. Its handsets are some of the most well-built and frequently updated, and even their older models can hold their own against newly released ones by other Android makers.

So when it was rumored that HTC would be launching a tablet, people were anticipating something great. Now that it’s out, you have to admit it’s pretty sleek. So what makes the Flyer so special? Read on and find out.

 

The Magic Pen

Of all the Android tablets available today, the Flyer is the only one that made pen input a focus. Many capacitive touchscreens are geared towards making finger input easy but as a consequence, using a pen-like input device doesn’t yield the fine-tuned lines we are used to when writing. To solve this, HTC developed what they call the Magic Pen which utilizes a battery-powered pen in addition to an extra layer of sensors on the device’s screen to create customizable handwritten inputs.

An optional purchase, the Magic Pen enables you to write out fine lines for scripts, illustrations and notes on selected apps. It acts pretty much like any writing device – harder pushes mean darker lines and you can erase with it, highlight text or change colors using the color palette. It’s a unique feature that should make scribble-happy users like artists and writers

It comes with a few caveats though. First, unlike some Windows-based touchscreen devices that accept pen input, the Flyer doesn’t have palm recognition so writing can be a bit tricky if you are accustomed to having your palm rest on paper. Another thing is that there’s a lack of apps that can utilize the feature. Aside from the Notes app bundled in and a couple of others, you can’t use it with your favorite Android note taking app, at least not yet.

It does let you do quick screencaps and doodle on anything so you can take notes and even sync these through Evernote but it’s not as seamless as having the feature baked in your favorite maps app (perfect for sharing directions) or PDF app (signing docs would be a breeze). Oh, and remember that the pen isn’t a like your finger – you can’t tap away notifications and select menus with it.

 

Sense UI

The tablet is not built on top of Honeycomb but is on Gingerbread, not that it matters much since all of HTC’s devices come wrapped with HTC Sense. If you’ve used a Sense device before, you know that it’s an entirely different experience compared to stock Android. Here, you still get the fancy changing weather widget, the integration of your contacts and social streams, and the homescreen helicopter view of everything.

Now there are many critics to Sense as well as many supporters, but overall you have to try it yourself and be the judge. For regular users, HTC’s custom UI adds some fancy into the daily routine but it does consume a bit of processing power (and sadly, you cannot turn it off). Checking mail and browsing will be fine, but if you get to the heavier stuff like watching gigabyte-sized videos or running a lot of apps in the background, the Flyer slows down noticeably. Some minor app management is all you need though to keep it snappy.

 

HTC Watch

Like many of the newer smartphones from this Taiwanese manufacturer, this device is bundled with HTC Watch. This is a streaming video service that hopes to be a Netflix for HTC devices where users can get blockbuster releases on the run. The content at the moment is sparse but expect more to come as the service matures. It offers everything from movies to shows to trailers and you can either rent them or buy the title outright. How it will hold its own versus Google’s own Movie Rental service, only time will tell.

A word on movie playback as well: since movie watching is one of the features HTC is promoting for the Flyer, it does play movies quite well. The bundled video player supports a lot of different formats, a breath of fresh air considering the lack of this on HTC’s other gadgets. And of course, 720p is supported but if you really want to enjoy watching stuff on the Flyer, better plug in your headphones for a true SRS surround sound experience.

 

Cloud Gaming via OnLive

If you want to get your game on as well, OnLive is the service you need. What it does is it lets you play games like Duke Nukem Forever and Unreal Tournament III on your tablet and any other supported device. All that’s needed is a fast connection for a good playing experience. You can even test out games through free 30 minute rentals before you subscribe. So if you get tired of flinging birds around or planting sunflowers, this should satisfy your need for more advanced gameplay.

 

The Hardware

Unlike most devices, this tablet is of the unibody variety which makes it easier to hold. That and the smaller 7-inch screen means that it’s great for mobile use. Other tablets have opted for a bulkier frame which makes carrying them around everywhere less than ideal.

The smaller screen also has one added bonus: longer battery life. If you are one who likes to keep 3G on at all times, you’ll be happy to know that doing so won’t be as battery guzzling as you’d expect on a smartphone. You can get an entire day’s worth of usage from it, push notifications and all. HTC also has a power saving feature bundled in the Flyer as well, for even longer usage times. This should make the Flyer last a day on moderate use, just in time for you to charge it at home.

HTC skimped a bit on the other hardware though. The speakers are the usual tinny tablet fare and the same goes for the camera for both audio and video. Don’t expect it to take fantastic travel shots as it is more of a note-taking camera for snapping photos to doodle on.

At first glance, the processor seems to be a premium 1.5Ghz monster, that is until you compare it with the dual-core tablets that other makers are churning out. It’s not going to be able to be the best device for Honeycomb apps when it gets its update this summer, but should work fine all the same.

 

Conclusion

The HTC Flyer is a superb machine that jams in a lot of services in a small package. It’s certainly one of the most innovative with its Magic Pen and OnLive gaming. It’s priced at a bit of a premium compared to other tablets in its class which is justified given the unibody build on top of basic specs. The Magic Pen though takes us aback since it is not included as part of the regular package, and is $80 to boot. HTC should have really made it an outright part of the bundle since it’s the one thing that makes it different. In any case, the Flyer is a must have for both pen doodlers and HTC stalwarts alike.

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