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HTC Flyer Review: In Depth

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The Flyer is HTC’s debut Android tablet and one that stands defiantly out from the current crop of tabs. Sporting a 7-inch screen, the HTC Flyer doesn’t come with the huge screen real estate of Motorola’s Xoom or Samsung’s Galaxy Tab 10.1/10.1V, nor does it have a dual-core chip beating at its heart.

However it does feature the new-look version of HTC’s Sense UI – Sense 3.0 – that greatly improves on the stock Android experience and features the new HTC Watch movies on-demand service built in.

Plus, it comes with the Magic Pen – a battery-powered stylus that allows you to make on-screen annotations, turning the Flyer into a 21st Century notepad. Read on to see what other surprises the Flyer has in store and how it measures up.


What we like

As we’ve come to expect from HTC products, the Flyer is a lovely looking out bit of kit both inside and out. The Flyer sports HTC’s trademark design – a metal unibody that’s accentuated with plastic pieces (coloured white here) that have a rubberised feel. We also like the smaller size of the Flyer – it’s a lot more portable and less unwieldy than the comparatively bulky Xoom.

These white accents make it easier to grip the Flyer when you hold it in landscape, while adding a level of protection to things like the camera unit, the power switch and the connections (3.5mm and micro USB). As well as extra grip/protection, this metal-plus-white-bits design makes the Flyer stand out from the uniform blacks and dark greys of the Android tablet competition.

Inside, the Flyer features HTC Sense 3.0; the latest version of HTC’s custom user interface that we’ve seen previously on the Sensation. Sense 3.0 improves/expands on previous versions by adding a clever lock screen widget and some impressive 3D-style visual effects.

The new lock screen widget allows you to unlock the Flyer and jump straight to a specfic app or function. Say the camera, your favourite game or the calendar for example. It works in a similar manner to the unlock screen of the INQ Cloud Touch (only with a snazzier, sharper interface) and some of the lock screen widgets that we’ve seen on Android MP3 players, namely Power AMP, MixZing and Amazon MP3.

This is a really useful feature as it saves time, seeing as you don’t have to unlock and hunt down an app shortcut. Up to four of your favourite functions can now be accessed through one fluid gesture.

We liked the rotating 3D effects of the widgets as you flipped between homescreens. The seven homescreens of the Flyer now also float on top of a rotating 3D tombola drum. Visually pleasing as this is, it also allows for easier access to everything- you don’t bump into an invisible barrier when you try to scroll left or right of the left and right-most homescreens as you would on previous versions of Sense.

It’s a fresh take on a tried and tested formula, and, again, makes the Flyer stand out from the stock Honeycomb look adopted by most other Android tablets.

In another departure from the tablet norm, HTC has elected to bung in a battery-powered active stylus with the Flyer. Dubbed the ‘Magic Pen’, the stylus is pretty magical.

A quick tap of the screen with the Magic Pen will take a snapshot of whatever is on the Flyer’s screen at the time, just like when you press the power and menu buttons simultaneously on an iPhone. This is a great feature in itself; taking screengrabs on your Android device is otherwise a patience testing affair which normally requires your device to be connected to a computer to work.

But that’s not all the stylus does. As well as this, you can also use it to jot down virtual messages in Evernote, make annotations in the margins of eBooks and generally mess about by scrawling things across the screen.

Whatever you end up drawing/scribbling on, you can save it as a JPEG and send it to friends via a range of options, Gmail, Dropbox, Facebook, Twitter, take your pick.

Depending on which way you look at it, it’s either a useful note taking/annotating tool, or an amusing distraction. Either way, it’s definitely a good thing. Just don’t yell ‘Expelliarmus!’ whenever you use it.

Finally, there’s the HTC Watch video on-demand service. This, as you’ve probably heard, allows you to rent and buy a range of movies to watch on up to five different HTC devices.

Movies look great on the 7-inch screen and we liked that you get a range of stereo surround options. These made more of a difference when you were watching with headphones on; to our ears, there wasn’t much difference through the external speakers.


What we don’t like

As much as we love the Flyer’s slick unibody design, we reckon that the lack of a slot for the stylus is a problem. The fact that there’s nowhere to store the stylus means that it could easily be lost.

Speaking of slots, we were hoping for an HDMI connection somewhere on the Flyer, to play movies download on HTC Watch on an HD TV set.

There is the option to stream stuff via DLNA, but not as many people have a DLNA-certified TV set as they do one with an HDMI port. Still, there is a work around; HTC does sell a DLNA adapter that plugs into the HDMI port of your HD TV, but it’s an extra £100.

Though some apps and games scale nicely to the Flyer’s 7-inch screen, there’s a great deal that don’t. Check out our pictures above of Angry Birds and Drop 7 being played on the Flyer above for an example of what we mean. The standard Facebook for Android app doesn’t make the best use of the Flyer’s screen space either – everything looks a bit compressed.

Similarly, the Gmail and YouTube apps (which are the versions optimised for Android phones) look out of place on the tablet-sized Flyer when compared to the tablet-optimised versions that we’ve seen on the Xoom. Hopefully when the promised Honeycomb update rolls out, we’ll see these replaced with the new tablet versions.

The Flyer’s 1.5GHz chip means that it’ll power through things like web browsing and Facebook at a merry old clip. But we noticed a bit of slowdown when there was a lot going on – if you’re downloading/updating apps, browsing the web and listening to music, everything gets a bit heated and laggy. High-end games like Dungeon Defenders didn’t fare that well either. Things were generally OK, until a big number of enemy sprites appeared, literally causing a pile up.

 

Battery life for the Flyer is also not that great. An hour in to watching a film we noticed that over half of the battery had been chowed down – we started watching the film fresh off of a full charge as well. If you were taking this to kill time on a train journey we’d advise that you switched airplane mode on to conserve as much power as possible.

Conclusion

The HTC Flyer certainly succeeds where other Android tablets have fallen down, in that it provides a slick, nicely designed user interface. We really love how HTC Watch is implemented and how the Magic Pen/stylus works; we had hours of fun doodling on our screens with the Flyer.

Where the Flyer falls down is on app support and battery life; if you’re the kind of person who wants a tablet to tinker with and install a multitude of apps, then we’d advise you to wait for the Honeycomb update to roll out before investigating. Right now, there’s just not a huge amount of apps available to use on the Flyer.
 

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