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Posted at 08:56 AM ET, 05/25/2011

HTC Flyer Review: Solid, but pricey

The HTC Flyer, aka, the tablet with a pen, is a surprisingly fun and easy-to-use tablet. While the word “stylus” may conjure images of brick-sized PDAs, the Flyer’s stylus gives the device a little oomph that distinguishes it from the never-ending parade of Android tablets flooding the market.
And, to be fair, HTC doesn’t call it a stylus — it’s a “magic pen.”

Price: $499.99, without the HTC Scribe stylus. The stylus itself is $80. For what you’re getting, this is kind of a high price to pay. The tablet without the pen is the same price as the 16 GBWiFi-only iPad 2, and with the pen it’s closer to the price of a Honeycomb tablet like the Motorola Xoom. And it costs far more than its biggest 7-inch competitor, the Galaxy Tab.

It’s worth noting that Sprint will also have a version of the Flyer branded as the HTC EVO View on its WiMax network, for which it is already accepting pre-orders.

Specs: The HTC Flyer has a 7-inch screen, 1.5 GHz single-core processor, 16GB of internal memory, a microSD card slot, dual cameras and a headphone jack at the top near the power button. The optional pen runs on one AAAA battery. It also has a micro-USB port, though it’s a little oddly shaped to fit with the Flyer’s power cord. You can charge with either the proprietary cord or a standard micro-USB.

It’s worth noting that the Flyer isn’t exactly the prettiest tablet out there. It has an oddly thick bezel, and thick, white plastic endplates that don’t jive with the aluminum body. And the color makes it a magnet for dirt and smudges — particularly if you, like I did, store it in the same place as your newspaper. The endplates on the loaner I got from HTC’s PR team are now more smudgy gray than pristine white.

On the other hand, those plastic bumpers and its Gorilla Glass screen make it sturdy. After a weekend in my purse with my keys and other assorted mish-mash, the tablet is still scuff-free.

The battery life on the Flyer I got from HTC was middle-of-the road, though other reviewers such as Chris Burns at SlashGear, have found it to be exceptional. With moderate use, the Flyer I used could go for a day or so without being plugged in; heavy use had me reaching for the charger before the day was done.

Speed: The Flyer isn’t slow, exactly, but it’s easy to tell you’re working with a single-core tablet instead of a dual-core tablet. Head-to-head with a dual-core tablet in a speed test, the Flyer would be no competition.

That said, even running several apps at once, it showed little lag. Essentially, it’s “quick enough” for basic tablet functions such as checking your e-mail, surfing the Web and watching YouTube videos. Video — even Flash — runs smoothly on the Flyer with little to no noticeable skips.

Only streaming video with multiple apps in the background caused enough lag to really annoy me.

Ease of Use: This tablet is ridiculously easy to use. Anyone comfortable using a smartphone will be just fine with the Flyer. The tablet has three main navigation buttons — a home button, options button and back button — that move with you when you switch from portrait to landscape.

Sadly, the tablet’s not running Honeycomb — the tablet-optimized version of Android — but rather a version of Android 2.3.3 Gingerbread with an HTC Sense overlay. It will receive a Honeycomb update sometime in the future.

For navigation, the Flyer has several template home screens that are fully customizable. If you hold the device in landscape, you can see multiple screens at once in a carousel. Pinch the screen, and you can see all of them laid out at once.

You can also set two sets of shortcuts:one from the home screen and one from the lock screen. You can even go straight to a shortcut app when you wake up the tablet by dragging its icon into the middle of a ring on the lock screen.

As for it’s size, the tablet initially feels a little hefty at just under a pound. But the more you use it, the less the weight becomes an issue-- when reading it has a pleasing, almost reassuring weight to it. The 7-inch size is, in my opinion, just about perfect for on-the-go tasks. It fits into medium-sized purses and even roomier coat pockets with ease, and was no problem for me to hold in one hand on the train or bus.

Versatility: The Flyer doesn’t quite hack it in the audio-visual quality department. The cameras are serviceable but not fantastic, with some fuzzy edges. The speakers, too, are so-so but get the job done. Don’t depend on the Flyer for multimedia masterpieces, but it’ll get the job done for video chat and updates to the grandparents.

Gaming on the Flyer also is much more disappointing than expected. At launch, HTC said the device would be partnered with the gaming service OnLive, but when I asked about that I was told OnLive “does not play a part in the US HTC Flyer.”

As I said above, it’s running Gingerbread, so the apps for the tablet are more optimized for phones. That means some apps look stretched out or way too small on the 7-inch screen — it’s a shot in the dark whether you’ll get an app that looks really good on Flyer or not.

In addition to the Android Market, the tablet comes pre-loaded with 32 fairly useful apps that look great on its screen. These include: the mail app, which lets you log into multiple accounts at once; the Kobo-based reader app; Weather and Friend Stream, which unifies your social media accounts in one stream.

The best of these default apps, however is Notes, which syncs to the popular note-taking application Evernote. In Notes you can take audio notes or photos,or write/type notes, tag them and save them to Evernote with almost no effort at all.

The pen: Which brings us to the pen. You could use this tablet without the pen, but why would you? It’s the feature, albeit a pricey one, that sets this tablet apart.

The pen is touch-sensitive — the harder you push, the thicker the line. The tablet gives you a choice of six pens and eight colors, plus an eraser. You can customize the nib by tapping on the green pen icon in the menu bar. Tap the screen with the pen outside of the Notes or Reader apps, and it will take a screenshot of whatever you’re looking at. You can then annotate and share using the HTC Scribe “Scribbles” feature. The pen itself has two buttons — a top one for erasing and a bottom one for either highlighting text or hiding your Scribbles.

It shines in Notes, where you can add diagrams or doodles to your text notes. Evernote’s handwriting recognition software even makes your handwritten scribbles searchable, even if it isn’t always 100 percent accurate. There is some lag when writing at normal speed, but it isn’t that distracting.

(Bonus: A left-handed friend even said it passed the southpaw test.) The pen is also decent for quick sketches, since you have plenty of digital utensils and pressure gradations with which to create your masterpiece.

It does, however, have its drawbacks. Apart from the cost, the most infuriating thing about the Flyer is that the pen only works for certain applications. Most of the controls call for your finger, so in a situation that came up surprisingly often, I would try to select something (e.g., an app, or an alert) with the stylus and accidentally take a screenshot. I got used to it, but this is definitely something HTC should look at fixing in the future.

Botton Line: The Flyer offers all the basics beautifully and distinguishes itself from the pack by offering pen functions that other tablets just don’t have. But the price is an obstacle — a big one.

So while the Flyer is cool, it’s hard to justify paying that much for a single-core, Gingerbread tablet that more or less requires a pricey accessory. Unless you’re an avid notetaker or sketch artist with a little extra cash to burn, it probably isn’t for you.

Have you tried out the Flyer? What do you think about it so far?

Related stories:

HTC Flyer stylus will be sold separately

Sprint announces HTC EVO 3D, EVO View

PHOTOS: iPad 2, Xoom, HTC Flyer compete as tablet wars intensify

By  |  08:56 AM ET, 05/25/2011

Tags:  Tablets, Gadgets

 
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