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Caption by: Sandra Vogel
HTC's entry into the tablet market is a little subdued: the HTC Flyer is small, is powered by a single-core processor and lacks the range of hardware accessories that accompany the Asus Eee Pad Transformer. It also runs Android 2.3 rather than the tablet-specific 3.0 (Honeycomb) version seen on the Eee Pad and Acer's Iconia Tab A500.
The HTC Flyer has a 7 inch screen. In many ways it is closer to last year's Samsung Galaxy Tab than to the newer, larger crop of Android tablets. With the 3G version of the Galaxy Tab selling for around £350 on Amazon at the time of writing, does the £599.99 (inc. VAT; £499.99 ex. VAT) Flyer offer enough?
The HTC Flyer is a neat little device, its 7in. screen nestling within a chassis that measures 195.4mm by 122mm by 13.2mm. That's close to the Samsung Galaxy Tab's 190.1 by 120.45 by 11.98mm, although there's a significant weight difference: the Galaxy Tab weighs 385g, while the HTC Flyer is a hefty 420g.
The 7in. HTC Flyer weighs 420g and runs Android 2.3
The backplate has a metal central part with white plastic at each end. One of these slides off to give access to the SIM and microSD card slots. The battery is hidden under the backplate and can't be removed or replaced.
There's a 3.5mm headset jack on the top edge, alongside the power switch. On the long right edge is a volume rocker, while the bottom carries the microUSB connector for power and PC connection. Annoyingly the fitting is non-standard, and we were only able to charge and connect the HTC Flyer using the provided cables.
The 7in. screen has a resolution of 1,024 by 600 pixels — the same as the Samsung Galaxy Tab. The screen is quite reflective, but no more so than other tablets, and the image is sharp and bright. It comes into its own for web browsing, document reading and video viewing in particular.
The screen bezel houses a front-facing 1.3-megapixel camera, but is otherwise clear until you switch the device on. At this point, four icons are backlit on either a short edge or a long edge depending on the device's orientation. There are only two possible modes — landscape with the camera at the top, and portrait with the HTC logo at the top. It's slightly irritating that you can't move through all four possible screen orientations.
Three of the backlit icons are Android Home, Menu and Back shortcuts. The fourth is a pen icon.
The Flyer caters for pen input via its 'magic pen'
A digitiser pen that HTC enthusiastically calls 'magic' at its web site is provided with the Flyer. There's no storage slot for this on the device itself, but you get a white slip case with a pen holder on the outside. We suspect the pen will get lost quite easily even if you use the case.
The 'magic pen' is activated by tapping the pen icon, whereupon a small arc appears in the bottom right corner of the screen with options such as pen type, ink colours and so on.
Uses are limited at present. You can draw directly onto any screen, effectively taking a screenshot and adding your own layer to it. Or you can use an HTC app called Notes to record writing and add sounds, images or other files. Notes links in with the popular third-party Evernote app. You can also use the pen in HTC's own Reader app to annotate or highlight text. You can highlight and erase text by holding one of two buttons on the pen.
HTC has implemented all this quite well, and the aluminium pen itself is nicely weighted and well built. But we're not sure it has huge value in the long term.
With no on-device home, the pen will be easy to lose. The lack of handwriting recognition means its potential for data input is limited. Evernote users may enjoy a new way to capture data, and third-party apps may well take advantage in time — although with just one tablet sporting the feature, the incentive isn't great. Time will tell whether HTC has hit on a good idea or simply come up with a gimmick.
There are two versions of the HTC Flyer available: as reviewed, with 32GB of storage, Wi-Fi and 3G, it costs £599.99 (inc. VAT; £499.99 ex. VAT); a Wi-Fi-only version with 16GB of storage costs £479.99 (inc. VAT; £399.99 ex. VAT).
The Flyer's HSPA mobile broadband supports downloads at up to 7.2Mbps and uploads at up 5.76Mbps upload (network permitting). Despite it looking like an oversized HTC smartphone, the Flyer's SIM support is only for data, not for voice. There is Wi-Fi (802.11b/g/n) with support for wireless printing and tethering, plus Bluetooth (3.0) and GPS. At the back is a 5-megapixel camera; this lacks a flash and shoots average-quality photos.
Both Flyer models are powered by a 1.5GHz processor backed up by 1GB of RAM. This is no slouch and we had no usability problems, but dual-core CPUs are becoming the norm in tablets and high-end smartphones these days — HTC itself uses a dual-core processor in the Sensation smartphone.
The HTC Flyer also fails to offer HDMI mirroring, but the biggest problem is that it runs Android 2.3 (Gingerbread) rather than the tablet-specific 3.0 (Honeycomb). On top of Android 2.3 sits a version of HTC Sense that looks very similar to Sense 3.0 as found on the HTC Sensation. The new-style lock screen is present, for example, which allows you to drag one of four icons into a semicircle for quick launch.
The user interface flips nicely from portrait to landscape mode, and the eight home screens spin round and round like a carousel as you swipe a finger across the screen. There's a five-item shortcut bar along the bottom of each home screen, three of whose icons you can personalise. The other two open the main apps menu and allow you configure the look and feel of the UI.
There are some split-screen viewing options that help make the most of the 7in. screen. In calendar mode you can see a busy summary on the left and individual events on the right. In email your inbox sits on the left, with messages on the right. In the music player your library is on the left, playing tracks and controls on the right. It all looks very slick, and should be familiar enough to existing HTC Sense users.
HTC has added its Watch application, which allows you to buy and rent movies. HTC's Reader is populated with a number of e-books, but the Flyer is comparable in size to Amazon's Kindle, and the free Kindle app for Android is available in the Market. It took us just a few minutes to install the app and sycnchronise our account, so we wonder if HTC's Reader can gain any traction.
SnapBooth shows off the camera effects by allowing you to apply them to individual images in a preview mode. Other familiar HTC apps are also present , including Amazon MP3 and the Car Panel, which provides a large-icon interface optimised for in-vehicle use. Business users will appreciate Polaris Office and the PDF viewer.
A tablet needs to deliver good battery life, and the Flyer isn't great in this department. We managed half a day of middling to intensive use before needing to recharge the battery, and were never confident of getting through a full day away from mains power. We can't fault the processor for speed, though, despite it being a single core device.
The Flyer's relatively small size makes it seem more like a giant phone than a tablet, despite the lack of voice-dial facilities and the presence of the 'magic' pen. The Flyer is certainly a different beast to 10in. Android tablets and Apple's iPad. It's most similar to Samsung's Galaxy Tab, but more expensive and, 'magic' pen aside, has little new to offer.
Caption by: Sandra Vogel