While HTC is no stranger to admirers of their string of successful smartphone releases (notably, the EVO 4G and the Legend, among others), the company had been eagerly expected to make a foray into the tablet computing market, and with the announcement of its HTC Flyer device, the wait is over. While the HTC Flyer’s price tag is prohibitive for many budget-conscious tablet buyers (Editor's note: Since the time of this review, the Flyer's price has fallen drmatically, retailing new for around $299), the device itself touts an impressive list of specs and added features that help draw a clear line between it and the slew of other non-Apple competitor tablets that continue to appear at an eye-popping frequency, many to their quick demise (see TouchPad, HP). Considering the devices which offer a true alternative to Apple’s dominance of the tablet market are few and far between, we here at TabletLeader took a closer look at the HTC Flyer to weigh whether this device might be more worth your hard-earned dollars than the iPad 2 or other popular tablets.
What We Like:
- The 7-inch screen model allows greater portability than an iPad 2
- The Gingerbread-modified Android OS
- The Magic Pen, with its attached Notes app and other possibilities
- The slick 1024x600 display, which allows for clear and responsive viewing and navigation
What We Don’t Like:
- The hefty iPad 2-dwarfing price tag (Editor's note: Since the time of this review, the Flyer's price has fallen dramatically, retailing new for around $299)
- The lack of dedicated Android 3.1 HoneyComb OS
- The limited opportunities to utilize the Magic Pen and other added features
- The sub-par camera and speakers
Perhaps the most significantly different aspect of the HTC Flyer, a 7-inch tablet in a time where the 7 inches has seemingly become the only size for a tablet not featuring an Apple logo, is that instead of attempting to go skinny like everyone else, the Flyer has gone bulky- with its solid aluminum unibody, the Flyer is undoubtedly more rugged and sturdy than its slimmer and sleeker competitors. While in comparison to said competitors the Flyer does seem both heavy and bulky (nearly a pound in weight, and the multicolored design makes it much less sleek than solid color competitors like the Galaxy Tab), it does stand up to wear and tear very well, which should be expected from a device priced at well over five hundred bucks. The Flyer also comes standard with a white case, which provides the perfect covering for an already stoic device.
Furthermore, while the weight and thickness are noticeably worse than many competitors, the 7-inch screen size allows for both one-handed usage as well as increased portability, allowing the Flyer to be able to be slipped into even a pocket for transportation. While the Flyer certainly can’t replace a smartphone (they’re called phones for a reason), most of the other functions of a smartphone (notably Google Talk, email, and Twitter) are easily performed by the Flyer, meaning one equipped with a 3G radio could certainly supplement your less-than-smart phone if you are so inclined. The display itself is of the Super LCD ilk, measuring in at 1024x600 resolution, and comes with the standard impressive brightness and clarity you would expect from such a high-quality screen.
Another area that the Flyer’s hardware really shines is in its battery life, which certainly challenges the 10+ hours of constant usage playback that can be expected from the iPad 2, currently considered the industry standard for battery performance. The Flyer also comes equipped with an adaptable sleep mode, which allows the device to be configured to turn off its radios and other power-eating devices during certain times of day or night (say, midnight to 6am while you may usually be sleeping) which further enhances battery life. Other notable hardware features include the power light, which emanates a small light if the device is notifying you of anything, making for a slick little addition. As far as speakers go, while HTC included SRS sound enhancement for a wider and more nuanced listening experience, the speakers themselves are reminiscent of those on most tablets and smartphones (i.e. not very impressive). Another more disappointing area of the device regards the camera, which while measuring in impressively at 5 megapixels is disappointing in its responsiveness (the Flyer’s sensor is just not up to snuff with the resolutions made possible by the camera).
Finally, one of the biggest differences about the HTC Flyer’s tablet experience is a result of its inclusion of a Magic Pen, an electronic stylus meant to take advantage of certain apps included in the Flyer (notably, the Notes app among others) as well as provide a different experience from your standard thumbs-on-the-screen approach. While the Magic Pen itself is delightfully responsive and especially useful in certain situations, the greatest weakness lies in the lack of apps geared to take advantage of the Pen. The bottom line on the Magic Pen is that while it may not supplant your own digits for use with many of the Flyer’s features, it is a handy (and somewhat addictive) addition to the normal tablet computing experience, and if you’re looking for a new way to take notes or annotate during class, this could be it.
As one of the many new slate of Android tablets powered by the Android Honeycomb 3.1 OS, HTC is biding its time while tinkering with the new OS by powering the Flyer with Gingerbread. While this is naturally not preferable to the full experience of Android 3.1, HTC has done a nice job in terms of performance and responsiveness with Gingerbread, especially in comparison to the stock offerings of Android 3.0 currently touted by some of the Flyer’s tablet brethren. When the device is unlocked, users face a grid of eight homescreens spread across a 16-slot grid, which can be filled by other apps and widgets as the user sees fit. While the UI itself is not very dissimilar from that popularized by the Hero two years ago, HTC has obviously put a greater emphasis on animation and 3-D imaging, as illustrated by the number of small graphic additions (one example is the semblance of a carousel when scrolling through the apps).
Another successful addition rolled out by HTC is the split-screen navigation, which allows for easier navigation with multiple windows open (especially in the case of browser, gallery, or calendar apps). On the downside, many of the other apps have not been tinkered with to take advantage of the extra screen real estate the HTC Flyer provides over a smartphone, so that while certain apps (like Gmail) benefit greatly from the improved space, other important apps (like Google Talk) required downloaded modifications to allow them to take advantage of the extra features of the Flyer (such as the front-facing camera).
In our search for an alternative we could proudly recommend to you as an alternative to the iPad 2, so far the HTC Flyer is one of the best cases we can make. Its impressive slew of features and notable outside-the-box takes on the tablet computing experience make it at least a solid competitor in both performance and design, as well as a popular route for anyone who greatly prefers the Android interface to that of iOS. However, the biggest concern for the HTC Flyer (besides the smaller limitations we already covered) is its price tag, making it in most cases a more expensive alternative to the iPad 2 (Editor's note: Since the time of this review, the Flyer's price has fallen dramatically, retailing new for around $299).
While the Flyer makes a great case for being worth its lofty price tag, the issue still arises that when comparing the iPad 2 and the Flyer, if portability and Android aren’t your major preferences, the iPad 2 still probably provides the better tablet computing experience in both performance and usability. While we wait for future iterations of the Flyer, we leave you to consider whether the HTC Flyer is more worth your hard-earned dollars.