Honeycomb has been a bit of a disappointment so far and because of that, all the tablets running it have not been received well despite most of them packing some serious horse power. It’s a bit unfortunate that the company's suffered poor sales of their product due to Google’s folly. On the contrary, their mobile phone version of Android just keeps getting better and with the latest build called Gingerbread, devices have gotten faster and battery life has improved breathing new life into older Android handsets. It’s no surprise that HTC has chosen to go with Gingerbread for their Flyer tablet (well that and the fact that Honeycomb doesn't support 7-inch tablets yet). There’s still plenty of market share up for grabs in the 7-inch tablet space as currently we just have the BlackBerry Playbook and the aging but still capable, Samsung Galaxy Tab P1000 as the major players. Let’s see if the Flyer can find a place in this expanding ecosystem.
Build and Design
The Flyer is definitely one of the best looking tablets in the market. The unibody aluminium frame coupled with the choice of plastics used is eye-catching. With most company’s using black or dark shades, HTC has chosen just the opposite which gives the Flyer a fresh and youthful appearance. The build is excellent just like most of their devices. All the buttons, ports and removable parts line up perfectly which gives you the feeling of a sturdy and well built device. It’s quite light as well at 420g and due to its small size, I found it quite comfortable when holding it with one hand.
Colors are rich and vibrant
The 7-inch capacitive screen sports a resolution of 1024 x 600 pixels and is surrounded by a thumb-size black bezel so you don’t accidentally touch the screen no matter which way you use it. The screen does not use Gorilla Glass and doesn’t have any oliophobic coating either so finger prints can be a nightmare. HTC bundles a pouch along with the Flyer so that it takes care of any accidental scratches. If you look at the screen from an angle you’ll notice a grid of dots, that’s for their Scribe technology which allows you to use a digital pen to draw/scribble on the screen.
The removable plastic cover can drive you crazy
Transferring data and charging the Flyer is done through what seems like a proprietary connector, which was puzzling, since all their phones have a micro-USB port - so why use something different. As it turns out, it's in fact a standard micro-USB connector so any standard cable will work. The volume rocker is placed on the left and the power button and headphone jack are placed on the top. There’s a little red light towards the edge of power button that glows red when charging. My first little niggle with the tablet is the plastic cover for the SIM and memory card slot which is a real pain in the a** to open. It's a struggle you don't really want to get into, but won't necessarily have to deal with on a day-to-day basis.
The unibody design gives it a classy look while keeping the weight down
There are two grills for the speakers at the rear and are cleverly placed in a landscape fashion since when you’re watching a video, that’s how you would typically use the tablet so you get a proper left/right stereo sound. Overall, the Flyer feels expensive (which it is) and well built so kudos to HTC for that.
The Flyer is powered by Qualcomm’s Snapgragon MSM8255T(ARM v7) single core processor running at 1.5GHz. This, coupled with HTC’s Sense UI 2.1 makes for a very good user experience. There are two sets of menu buttons placed alongside the bottom and on the left ,so you always have easy access to it no matter which way you're holding it. To unlock the tablet, simply swipe the ring forward and you’re in the home screen. Alternately, you could open an application directly by dragging it in the ring itself.
The interface is really slick with lots of fancy animations all over the place. The home screens have a nice 3D animation added. There’s a new shortcut bar similar to the ‘Icon Dock’ in iOS, which gives you quick access to most used applications irrespective of which home screen you’re on. There are plenty of customization options thrown in by HTC right from skins, wallpapers to themes, plus you can download many more through HTC Hub.
The notification bar has undergone a major facelift
The notification bar has also undergone a major overhaul. It’s now divided into three sections, the first shows you the ten most recently used apps, the second gives you notifications like alerts, new messages, etc and the third is ‘Quick Settings’ which gives you little toggle switches for Auto Brightness, Auto Rotation and connectivity settings. Going into the main menu, apps can be sorted by the ones you frequently use, have just downloaded or the whole set.
The default keyboard is very comfortable to use with good spacing between the keys even in portrait mode. Holding the tablet in this position, I was easily able to type using both my thumbs. Thanks to the 7-inch screen all the keys were within reach. It’s not so easy in landscape mode though, you’ll want to use it on a desk or your lap.
Unleash your creative side
HTC is using the digital pen functionality to differentiate the Flyer from the competition. The pen is operated using a single ‘AAAA’ battery. Normally you would be able to use the pen only in some sort of application like notepad or paint but HTC has one better and allows you to use it virtually anywhere other than the lock screen. Let’s say you come across something interesting while browsing and you quickly want to share, simply tap the pen icon on the bezel which brings up a little semi-carousel in the corner. This lets you jump directly to Evernote or you could tap the screen once which takes a snapshot of whatever is on the screen. Now you can scribble, make notes,etc on the snapshot and then either save it, print it or share it via Bluetooth, Facebook, Flickr, Gmail, Peep, Picasa, Plurk or Twitter. You can do this with any screen in Android.
The pen input offers plenty of options like pencils, ball-point pen, brushes, markers,etc. You can choose from a selection of colors and brush sizes as well. I can see the novelty factor here but I'm not sure how many people would actually care about it or base their tablet buying decision on this feature alone.