Tablets are indeed growing as an independent gadget segment with enough computing and software muscle. While the tablet segment is still quite premature in India, HTC has introduced a new tablet called Flyer, which has a 7 inch display with commendable hardware for a high-end smartphone.
Design and hardware
HTC Flyer comes in a white box package along with a Magic Pen, micro USB cable, charging adapter, earphones, AAA battery, leather pouch and Quick Start guide.
In recent years HTC has been experimenting with aluminium in its smartphones and has now done the same with Flyer, which has an aluminium uni-body. HTC Flyer has plastic covers at the top and bottom which might look chic at the first instance but certainly don’t go well with the overall white-grey-white back panel of the tablet. Perhaps an entirely grey aluminium uni-body shell would’ve been great, but that would have made the tablet heavier. HTC Flyer weighs 420 grams including the battery. It is heavier than the Samsung Galaxy Tab 7 that weighs 380 grams.
HTC Flyer has a 7 inch LCD touchscreen display that supports 1024 x 600 pixel resolution, making the icons and text appear crisper. It offers vibrant colour reproduction that makes images and video more appealing to watch. Due to the high brightness output and great viewing angle, the LCD display makes the tablet usable both outdoors and indoors.
In the portrait mode, the front facing VGA camera lies on the right side of the screen while the 5 megapixel camera rests at the back. There are two small speakers which are clear and provide enough volume for you to wake up your neighbours.
In terms of looks HTC certainly scores points. The Magic Pen has a full uni-body aluminium finish with a turnable cap to put in an AAA alkaline battery. The front panel of the tablet has four capacitive buttons of which the extreme left one is for the Magic Pen menu.
As you switch between portrait and landscape mode the capacitive buttons move accordingly. However, this only happens when the tablet is turned towards the right. The capacitive buttons will appear only on two sides under the display as one of the other two has a front facing VGA camera.
In the hands the tablet feels rich and is certainly comfortable to carry around compared to the bigger 10 inch tablets. Prolonged use of Flyer in portrait mode might become a bit painful due to its weight but the tablet is absolutely fun to use in landscape mode.
Software and user experience
HTC decided to go ahead with the 2.3 Gingerbread version of Android operating system instead of Android 3.0 Honeycomb on Flyer. Though HTC has promised, as of now there is no information on whether and when the version of Android 3.2 Honeycomb meant specifically for 7 inch tablets will be released for the Flyer. If that happens, Flyer will have a robust operating system.
HTC Sense user interface layered on top of Gingerbread provides a seamless user experience along with a bunch of nifty apps and settings. The tablet is powered by a 1.5 GHz Qualcomm processor. Its 16 GB internal storage is enough to hold a couple of movies, music tracks and countless documents.
Working on text documents and presentations on the Flyer is a pleasant experience due to its large screen. Several HTC applications have been tweaked to make the best of the 7 inch display. The 3D effect while flipping among widgets on the home screen is pretty fluid. The notifications panel offers direct access to quick settings, the music player, and a couple of recently used apps. HTC Sense also brings notifications to the lock screen to which one can add a number of apps. Simply drag the icon of the app on the lockscreen to the circle in the center below to jump directly to that app.
Messaging and web browsing are more fun while using the tablet in landscape mode. The onscreen keyboard in landscape mode is totally comfortable for thumb typing and one can gain speed while using it that way. Sense keyboard has nicely laid out keys on the onscreen keyboard and one doesn’t have to struggle much to get familiar with different functions like copy, paste and text selection. The word prediction feature too is quite accurate.
There is one snag though. Several Android apps are not compatible with Flyer due to its non—standard screen resolution.
HTC Scribe technology aims to bring digital note-taking functionality using Magic Pen. There are two buttons on the Magic Pen — one is for writing/drawing and the other is for erasing. So you can basically use Magic Pen to quickly take notes or mark something important on the screen.
Magic Pen works with Evernote only and will not let you scribble anywhere on the tablet. For doing that you will have to take a snapshot of the screen by pressing and sliding the Magic Pen. The right-most capacitive button is the Magic Pen customisation menu that will let users turn the digital pen into a brush for painting.
Note-taking becomes fun with the Timemark feature that lets you capture audio clips and jot down notes alongside. After that if you tap and hold on any word in the written notes, and you will be taken to the exact section on the recorded audio clip where that word occurs. Do note that the accuracy with which this feature works is based on the accents in the recorded audio.
The Magic Pen can be put to good use by letting kids sketch and draw pictures on the tablet and there are several brush choices.
Multimedia and imaging
Watching movies and photos on the 7 inch LCD display is quite comfortable since the screen is neither too small for you to squint nor too big. In terms of videos, Flyer supports the usual formats — 3GP, MPEG4, WMV, DivX, XviD and AVI. That says a lot about the native video player which quite smoothly plays 720p HD video as well. Additional Adobe Flash 10.3 Player support also makes watching Flash videos fun using the YouTube app or Opera browser. Video playback is smooth and jitter-free on the native player as well as with other video player apps such as RockPlayer Lite and MoboPlayer.
Flyer comes with a Dolby Mobile chip and SRS Surround sound. If you have a good set of headphones you can enjoy HTC Surround 5.1 mode in the native player. The twin speaker points at the back are loud enough for you to use the device as your music system or alarm. Audio quality is quite good even with music apps like PowerAMP, which offers Dolby FX HD thanks to the Dolby Mobile chip.
At the back, the 5 megapixel camera does a decent job vis-a-vis images and even records 720p HD video using the Camcorder app. Unless the video chat feature rolls out for both Google Chat and Skype, the front facing cam can only be used for Snapbooth to take funny portrait images.
HTC Flyer packs a 4000 mAh battery which can ensure a day’s browsing, checking mails and using social networks. One can watch at least four movies each two hours long. Even with heavy use of 3G networks or WiFi for web browsing the battery takes a while to die.
Do note that location services, if kept on by default, eat up battery life considerably. Also, several applications like Skype keep running in the background for no reason and eventually end up eating battery juice.
Looking at the hardware specifications and the software packed on it, HTC Flyer may seem like an overgrown smartphone. Scribe technology along with the Magic Pen certainly does make the tablet stand out amongst similar 7 inch tablets. A stylish look and premium body chassis comprising a unibody aluminium shell adds brownie points to the aforementioned features.
The HTC Flyer is priced at Rs 37,500 which is certainly a premium price for a 7 inch tablet, particularly since a couple of 8.9 inch and 10.1 inch tablet alternatives are already available at the same price. Price indeed is one of the biggest de-merits of this tablet.
Flyer offers a good pack of features in terms of note-taking with Magic Pen, multimedia and ease of web browsing. Alas, it falls a bit short when it comes to compatible applications. HTC has opened Sense SDK to developers already so more Sense UI based apps are en route. Besides that, HTC has also promised to open Scribe technology to developers. In the near future several Sense apps for the Magic Pen are scheduled to be released. However, only when HTC rolls out Android 3.2 Honeycomb with a bunch of Sense UI apps supporting Scribe technology will the tablet look definitively like a good investment.