Following speculation that Android 3.2 Honeycomb will add support for 7-inch tablets, there’s a good chance we’ll see more and more tablets popping up in this compact size. But what happens if you can’t wait and you need one now? Currently the two leading 7-inch tablet contenders are the HTC Flyer and Blackberry Playbook – two very different tablets vying for your money. Which suits your needs best?
Build and screen
Unlike the selection of rather dull, unimaginative black tablets, the HTC Flyer has an aluminium unibody design which feels solid, topped off at either end with white accents (one of which conceals the 3G slot) that are rather wobbly. The only port is a a proprierty one for charging transferring data.
In contrast the Playbook follows a more conventional looking tablet design, with a rubberised back and charging, HDMI and micro USB ports along the bottom, and a too small power button along the top.
Both devices have a 7-inch screen with a resolution of 1024×600, Boosting the brightness to maximum and playing back the same HD movie clip on each tablet, results are satisfying from both tablets, although the Flyer exhibits slightly warmer colours. Web page rendition is better in the Playbook though, which has purer whites, although off-angle viewing is similar on both devices.
Navigation and UI
The HTC Flyer runs Android 2.3 Gingerbread, which been overlayed with a redesigned version of HTC Sense 2.1. HTC Sense is incredibly intuitive to use – the ability to customise each screen with icons and shortcuts means almost all your favourite features are just a flick away. This new version now includes a 360-degree rotating carousel of homescreens, which minimises to the centre of the screen when you flick quickly through. Along the bottom of the tablet are illuminated Android Home, Menu and Back keys, which are accessible in landscape and portrait mode, in addition you can also customise three features along the bottom of the screen.
The Flyer also comes with a pen you can use to make annotations during certain applications or take screenshots. It takes times to become familiar with it, but is a neat touch for the office or school.
RIM has taken a different totally different approach with the Playbook, which is the first device based on the QNX operating system. Underneath the central screen are sit category icons for: All, Favourites, Media, Games and Blackberry Bridge. The screen space shows thumbnails of open applications, which are all active making it quicker than the Flyer to swap between a video, webpage or email. Instead of buttons, a series of gestures are used making the Playbook feel exceptionally slick – you flick up from the edge of the screen to return to the main menu and close an open application by flicking it off the screen.
The Blackberry Playbook includes a dual-core 1GHZ processor in comparison to the HTC Flyer’s single core 1.5GHZ processor. Although the Flyer never feels slow for most tasks, it’s definitely not as quick as the Playbook when you swap between applications.
Both devices support multiple browser tabs, with open web pages displayed as thumbnails. One thing we really like about the Flyer and is a feature of Android is when you zoom in the text wraps to fit the space automatically. Double tap the test on the Playbook’s browser and it does zoom in, but to enlarge the text further you need to pinch and zoom, when you do this the text doesn’t wrap to fit the space automatically – the Apple iPad is the same. Otherwise it’s a great brower.
The HTC Flyer is equipped with a 5-megapixel main camera and 1.3-megapixel secondary camera, while the Playbook matches the 5-megapixel main camera, adding a 3-megapixel secondary camera. From our indoor and outdoor shots, when examined closely the HTC Flyer’s pictures are far softer with more noise than the Playbook. We should point out we are being critical here and examining the pictures at full size – for most people the Flyer’s pictures will be perfectly adequate.
Video results are a different story , the Flyer captures 720p HD videos which is very soft, blocky and doesn’t even look like it is high definition, while in contrast the Playbook’s 1080P footage is much sharper. While the Playbook includes an HDMI port for playing back the footage on a TV, it’s a real shame there isn’t one on the Flyer.
Buy music through the Playbook via the 7Digital store, albums are around £7.99, with singles around 99p. The Flyer uses Amazon MP2 where albums costing around £7.49 and singles range from 79-89p. Amazon MP3s interface is slightly simpler than the Playbook, but both are very easy to navigate.
Playing back music through on-board speakers, the Flyer sounds very tinny, with bad distortion at higher volumes. Although SRS digital enhancements improves things, however it’s still nowhere near as good as the natural sound from the Playbook’s speakers.
We should give a special mention to HTC Watch here, where you can download the latest movies, which is easy to use and looks great.
The Blackberry Playbook is really suffering due to its lack of apps, while the app store itself is far easier to search than the Android Market it has nowhere near the choice. Although the tablet has only been available for a month or so and it doesn’t help that the OS is different to regular Blackberry smartphones, which means a different app store . In the future Android apps will be incorporated into the store, but at the moment it’s poor. Since writing this we have had it confirmed that Blackberry smartphone apps will work on the Playbook, although no date has been specified.
In contrast the HTC Flyer has access to the Android market and its 200,000 apps, not all of these have been optimised for the larger screen so are stretched, but you do get a lot more choice.
It’s really hard to choose between the Blackberry Playbook and the HTC Flyer. Both have numerous – and very different – advantages.
For web browsing the multimedia the Playbook is the best choice, it’s exceptionally quick, with a great UI and screen. However our main complaint is the lack of apps which is something that will take time to improve, we’re not a big fan of having to tether to a Blackberry handset to get your Blackberry mail on the go, although you can tether to other manufacturers smartphones for the web. A 3G version should be coming, but there’s no news on timings.
With it’s pen and note-taking capability (including synching with Evernote) The 3G equipped HTC Flyer is a good option for work on the go, when you want something small for meetings, although with OnLive coming soon and Watch for games and movies it’s also a solid choice for students.
Tell us what you think. Will you be buying a Playbook of Flyer? Or will you prefer a larger screen of the Honeycomb Motorola Xoom or the iOS Apple iPad 2? Let us know via Facebook or Twitter.