HTC, despite being Google’s largest Android partner, has been unusually slow to catch up with this tablet bug that has caught every hardware vendor. The first Android tablets were launched almost a year ago but it is only now that we are seeing the Flyer on store shelves. The Flyer does not have the latest buzzwords in tablet-land – dual-core processors, Honeycomb or a 10-inch display – yet it has a trick or two hidden up its sleeve that could potentially be its trump cards. Hit the jump for the complete review.
The Flyer looks like a blown up HTC Sensation from the front. Well, HTC has a good thing going in its smartphone design department and it ain’t such a bad thing to carry it forward in the tablet space too. The rear, however, is a different story all together. The top and bottom are two white pieces of plastic that come off to accommodate a SIM card and microSD card. Taking these pieces off is a monumental task and there were moments a many when I feared something would snap. Between the two is a metallic-finish portion that stays put and makes the tablet feel sturdy enough to last for a reasonable period of time.
I have been a big fan of the 7-inch display form-factor for tablets and the Flyer gets a couple of extra brownie points for that. It feels just right when held – not too big and just the right weight balance (420 grams, for the record). Holding the Flyer for a long duration – say a couple of hours while reading or watching a movie – did not tire my arms like the iPad and other bigger Android tablets do. Apart from that, it is very similar to any other Android smartphone with a micro USB port at the bottom, volume rockers on the left edge and the power and 3.5 mm audio jack at the top.
On paper, the Flyer is grossly under-powered for a circa 2011 tablet. It runs on a single-core Qualcomm Snapdragon processor clocked at 1.5 GHz. Spec watchers might crib, but the Flyer has not shown any signs of fatigue in the two months I have been using it. The 5.0 MP camera on the back is not worth writing home about and is good for some soft images that lack any detail whatsoever. The front-facing 1.3 MP shooter is good fun with HTC’s implementation of Photo Booth, which it calls Snap Booth. The 7-inch display with a resolution of 1024×600 pixels is sharp and makes browsing photographs (not clicked from the Flyer), videos or even reading e-books or browsing the Web a better experience. A mixed bag, really and whether it is enough for you or not will depend on what you would end up doing on it. I, for instance, seldom click pictures from a tablet and hence, never really felt let down by the lousy camera.
More than the specs, the build or the price, the software and stylus are the ‘deal-or-no-deal’ conditions with the Flyer. Many will complain that the Flyer runs on Gingerbread (Android 2.3.3) and not Honeycomb (Android 3.0), which Google created specifically for tablets. Well, I had the same apprehension too but after using both the Flyer and a Honeycomb tablet, I’m glad it does not run Honeycomb. Rather than waiting for Honeycomb, HTC improvised with the Sense UI it ships on its smartphones and created one specifically for the Flyer. I feel Sense UI for tablet is much better than its smartphone avatar as there is much more screen real estate to play with. The transitions look spectacular and the extra horses under the hood ensure the smoothness of the UI. Another advantage of running on Gingerbread is all apps made for smartphones render properly, unlike on Honeycomb tablets, where it is next to impossible to before installing whether the app would run properly or not. (I am not a fan of running smartphone apps in a small part of the display.) The Flyer comes pre-installed with HTC’s Watch app, which currently shows movie trailers. Sometime down the line, HTC will launch the full service in India that will allow users to buy and watch movies on the Flyer. Other pre-installed apps include Kobo e-book reader (dubbed reader), Polaris Office (only viewing), Press Reader (download and read newspapers from across the globe) and a Notes app powered by Evernote. And it is the presence of the last one in a slightly tweaked format that makes the Flyer special.
And now it’s time to reveal the trick, which might inspire you to pick up the Flyer. The notes app on the device is not the normal Evernote app you get on Android Market. Instead, it plays nice with a capacitive stylus, which is bundled with the Flyer. By tapping the pen mark with the stylus (that’s the fourth capacitive button on the bottom of the display along with home, menu and back) a new stylus menu opens on the corner of the display. Choose from an array of pens and brushes, select the tip size and color, and get going. Scribble, draw, do whatever you want. In the notes app, if you are recording audio while taking notes with the stylus, the notes get time-stamped. So if you cannot decipher a part of your note, you can touch that part and listen to the corresponding audio at that time to make sense of things. The stylus works through out the system and not just in the notes app. Tapping the stylus on the display takes a screenshot and you can scribble stuff on that screen and share the results with others.
It sounds great but the experience is not all that awesome. A plastic nib on a glass surface can never give you the same feel as a pen nib on paper. In this case, the nib skids frequently and scribbling notes becomes a futile exercise. However, it does well when you just have to mark some stuff, write a few words and hurl the image across to someone. Also, the device does not have any cavity to house the stylus. There is one on the case that is bundled in the box, we are told.
The Flyer has an excellent UI running on good hardware, everything packed into a really compact and comfortable form-factor. Not once while using it did I miss the fact that it ran Gingerbread and not Honeycomb. However, there is no way one can justify the price HTC wants consumers to pay. At nearly half the price, one can get the Samsung Galaxy Tab that too runs Gingerbread, has a better camera and a 7-inch display. Yes, it does not have a stylus but even HTC’s implementation is not perfect, yet. The Flyer, in my opinion, is about six months late, which in this age is the shelf life of such products. At close to Rs 40,000 for the 32GB 3G version, I would rather recommend an iPad 2 or the Motorola XOOM. HTC will have to rethink its pricing strategy.