HTC Flyer: Up, Up And Away

With such a great name for itself in the smartphone sector, HTC must have been feeling the pressure when it unveiled its debut tablet, the HTC Flyer, at Mobile World Congress earlier this year.

The Flyer certainly surprised the tech world but not necessarily for the right reasons. For a start, it was a single-core tablet running Android Gingerbread entering a market where dual-core Honeycomb devices were already making a splash. However, with some unique features and packing the ever-popular HTC Sense user interface, could the Flyer still prove to be a worthy competitor for its dual-core counterparts?

Design

The HTC Flyer has a very similar form factor to the firm’s smartphones with a casing constructed from aluminium and white plastic. On first inspection, it looks like a giant Wildfire S although its trendy appearance makes it stand out from the rest of the tablet crowd. That said, it doesn’t have a very ‘formal’ appearance which could affect its appeal to corporate users.

It’s a pretty compact thing at 195.4 mm tall and 13.2mm thick but is a tad on the heavy side, weighing in at 420 grams. Although the Flyer’s sturdy build means it should withstand a few knocks and bumps on the move, the outer shell does have a whiff of the ‘Fisher-Price’ about it. The glossy 7-inch capacitive touchscreen proved a magnet for fingerprint marks although it matches up to the BlackBerry Playbook with a resolution of 1024 x 600, producing a clear, crisp picture.

Navigation is undertaken via three standard Android touch-sensitive keys stationed at the foot of the display but these adjust and move to the outside edge depending on whether you’re in landscape or portrait mode. We quite liked this little touch and it demonstrates the thought HTC put into the overall experience offered by this device.

Power and Operating System

The HTC Flyer isn’t exactly a head turner specs wise with a 1.5GHz single-core processor and the Android Gingerbread operating system (although an upgrade to Honeycomb will be available in the future). Whilst it may not match up to the likes of the iPad 2 and Motorola Xoom for tech prowess, the Flyer was still a pleasure to use, offering a lag-free and speedy performance.

HTC Sense really comes into its own on the Flyer and further enhances what was already a fantastic set of features. The weather widget now offers beautiful live animations, and users can choose four apps or functions to jump straight to directly from the lock screen. The seven customisable homescreens have also been given a 3D-edge and are displayed in a carousel-style interface which we had hours of fun swishing around just to see how fast we could make it go.

The Flyer also comes with its own ebook and video stores – HTC Reader and HTC Watch – so you can really take advantage of that 7-inch display by downloading books, films and TV shows directly onto the device. While HTC has optimised its own apps for the Flyer’s bigger display, not all Android apps have followed suit with some appearing stretched and ill-suited to a 7-inch screen.

Take Note…

HTC has brought a fantastic new feature to the tablet table in the form of the Magic Pen, a peripheral designed especially for use on the Flyer and which utilises the manufacturer’s Scribe technology. In a nutshell, Scribe enables users to write on a touchscreen as if they were using an actual pen and it’s the kind of technology that’s perfect for students and business folk alike.

The Magic Pen itself is extremely accurate and responsive to the touch and can be used on most aspects of the user interface. So, if you want to take notes on a web page for instance, tapping the pen on the display instantly captures a screenshot you can then scribble on with whatever you see fit. The pen also offers lots of different brush styles and two built-in physical buttons can be used to highlight and delete any text or drawings, eliminating the need to faff around with the undo or eraser options.

The HTC Flyer also comes with the Notes application which can be used in conjunction with the Magic Pen to annotate office docs. You can also attach photos and other documents to the notes you make as well as record any meetings or lectures with the dedicated function, which you can rewind or fast-forward to specific places afterwards. The only downside is that there’s no place to store the pen on the tablet itself so you’ll have to keep it safe when you’re not using it.

Internet: The HTC Flyer’s web browser isn’t just a blown-up version of the one found on its smartphone counterparts and features a neat tabbed browsing function which displays all the pages you have open minimized at the top of the screen. As you would expect from a high-end device, the Flyer supports Flash and is available in Wi-Fi and 3G models. You can also tether the tablet and use it as a Wi-Fi hotspot.

Camera: The Flyer packs a 5 megapixel rear camera and a front-facing 1.3 megapixel snapper. There’s 32GB of internal memory on offer, so you don’t need to invest in a microSD card to start taking pictures like on most other HTC devices, plus HTC Sense offers loads of options to enhance your shots. The rear camera is capable of shooting HD footage at 720p too.

Other tech specs:

  • Music player – Supports MP3, AAC+, WAV and WMA files
  • Video player – Supports DivX, Xvid, MP4, H.263, H.264 and WMV files
  • 1GB RAM
  • MicroSD card slot that supports cards up to 32GB
  • MicroUSB port
  • A-GPS
  • Bluetooth

Any downsides?

Even though the HTC Flyer handles extremely well during usage, it doesn’t quite match up to the performance offered by dual-core tablets, and considering it’s in the same sort of price range of many of these (a 16GB model costing around £480), this could see it lose out to the better specced devices. It’s also quite a shame that not all Android apps have been adapted for a 7-inch display although we expect this to be remedied given time.

Conclusion

The HTC Flyer carves a niche for itself in the tablet market thanks to its intuitive Magic Pen. The fact that this works perfectly bodes well for the Flyer, especially since its specs aren’t overly impressive. Even so, the overall user experience isn’t hindered by its modest innards thanks to a winning combination of Android Gingerbread, HTC Sense and the 1.5GHz processor. If cutting edge specs aren’t your top priority and you want to get a tablet that’s has a little personality, the HTC Flyer is well worth considering.

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