First Impressions: HTC Flyer

HTC is a prolific device manufacturer, that is a fact. Yes, all the HTC devices out there probably all look the same but there’s no denying that there are probably more HTC smartphones in the market then any other manufacturer right now.

But it’s not all quantity with the Taiwan-based manufacturer. Being chosen by Google to built the first Nexus phone, HTC is prominent when it comes to building quality devices too.

So we’ve established that HTC is a pro when it comes to making devices, and when it comes to Android devices, one can argue that HTC makes some of the best of them. But so far it’s been phones, phones and more phones from HTC.

2011 is the year of the tablet. For the first time we will see tablets coming in from more manufacturers than ever before. Aside from the usual suspects, tablet devices will come from HP, Acer, RIM and many others.

While others have been quick to jump on the Android tablet bandwagon, HTC have been taking their own sweet time. So why has HTC taken this long to put out a tablet? Was it to make sure that they have a winner in their hands? Is the HTC Flyer a real contender in the tablet wars? How does it stack up against the iPad 2? Is the stylus and HTC Scribe just a gimmick or does it really bring innovation to offer users an enhancement that they can really appreciate?

Head on over to after the jump to find the answers to these questions and more. This is our first impressions of the HTC Flyer.

Display, Design and Built-Quality

The HTC Flyer is not only the first Android tablet to come out of HTC but it is also the first Android tablet to feature an innovative interface that combines the use of a stylus to offer users an extra dimension to the way they can interact with the device’s interface. This is an interesting concept that we will talk about in more detail later, but first we’ll talk about the display, overall design and built-quality of the device.

The Flyer is a 7-inch tablet with a Super LCD screen pushing out 1024×600 pixel resolution (same resolution as on the 7-inch Galaxy Tab). In comparison, the iPad and iPad 2 with its 10-inch screen has 1024×768 pixel resolution. Though the screen is smaller compared to the 10-inch iPads, the Flyer packs a higher pixel density and this translates to a sharp display that makes reading documents and web pages easy on the eyes and viewing pictures and video a joy. This is a very good media player.

We didn’t get a chance to really test the screen under full-on outdoor direct sunlight conditions but the launch venue was semi-outdoors and the screen was plenty bright and clear under those conditions. Other than that we noted that reflection is vastly reduced on the Flyer as compared to other screens, and this is always a good thing. The screen was also very good at resisting fingerprints which a big plus for a lot of people. Unlike the 7-inch Samsung Galaxy Tab, there’s no Gorilla Glass protection on the Flyer’s display and that’s a bummer.

In terms of design, the Flyer doesn’t detract much from the HTC design language. In fact it doesn’t detract at all from the other HTC devices. But the thing is, while we find the indistinguishable design of the multitude of HTC smartphones out there boring and uninspiring, the design of the of the Flyer looks fresh, unique and rather stylish despite looking like a much larger HTC Sensation or Desire S.

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Don’t expect the Flyer to win any thin device awards though. The 7-inch tablet measures 13.2mm thick, almost double that of the svelte iPad 2 measuring just 8.8mm thin. But that’s not a fair comparison considering the smaller screen on the Flyer means a smaller footprint for the designers to spread the internals of the device to make it thinner. But even by 7-inch tablet the Flyer is thicker. The Galaxy Tab for example, is 1mm thinner at 11.98mm. Having said that, we have no issues with the Flyer’s thickness.

The one source of complaint that we have with the HTC Flyer’s design is the rubber covering at the top and bottom back portion of the device. It’s not so much the material but rather the colour. You only get one colour option with the Flyer and that is silver with white rubber accents. We noticed on the demo units that the white rubber portions are starting to turn grey with some black scuff marks — the white makes dirt and scuffs very obvious. We’d prefer the rubber covers to be in black.

Built-quality of the HTC Flyer is trademark HTC. Nothing to complain here. The unibody aluminium construction is as solid as it gets with curves and tappers where it matters making it very comfortable to hold with one hand, and similar to the Samsung Galaxy Tab, the 7-inch form factor is also something we’re very fond of. It’s the perfect balance between pocketability and screen size.

The aluminium body does add a bit of heft on the Flyer with the device weighing 415 grams compared to the Galaxy Tab’s 380 grams but it’s not something we noticed with both devices in our hand.

Internals and User Interface

Specs-wise the HTC Flyer runs a single-core 1.5Ghz processor with 1GB of RAM and 32GB of on board storage that is expandable via MicroSD. Imaging comes in the form of a 5MP camera at the back (no flash) with 1080i HD video capability and a 1.3MP front camera.

Powering the Flyer is 4000mAh battery with a rather poor rated running time — four hours on continuous video. This is atrocious considering the Galaxy Tab with the same battery capacity gives seven hours of non-stop video playback while the iPad 2 offers 10 hours non-stop video. This is a cause for concern for us with the Flyer.

Other points to note with the Flyer’s hardware: You get stereo speakers and dual-microphones for stereo sound recording. The speakers are quite loud but as you’d expect with tiny speakers, the sound is rather flat but considering this deficit, still ok for watching movies and viewing videos on the go.

While the HTC Flyer is a 3G device you can’t make phone calls on it like you can with the Galaxy Tab, though we were told it is still possible to send and receive text messages with the device.

The point of interest with the Flyer it is user interface. Running an Android 2.3 Gingerbread, the Flyer comes with a new form HTC Sense specifically designed for tablet. In terms of usability, the new HTC Sense brings improvements that veteran HTC users can appreciate but at the same time, it is easy enough for new users to pick up and use right out of the box.

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HTC says a Honeycomb update is coming to the Flyer in Q2 but we feel that the Sense for tablet work so well with the device that there is almost nothing lacking with the Flyer’s UI. It is that good and intuitive to use.

The Flyer, like the HTC Sensation, features what HTC calls the active lock screen. Unlike standard lock screens that shows only time, the active lock screen offers up weather and stock updates (amongst other things) right from the lock screen itself. Another nice feature of the active lock screen is the ability to start applications right from the lock screen itself. This saves you some time and a few taps on the screen when you want to start an app. The applications that you can start from the active lock screen is completely customisable.

Other than that you get this nice home screen animation that HTC calls the scroll wheel where instead of sliding panels, you get a scroll wheel like animation showcasing your various home screens. With the Flyer you get eight home screens.

The Flyer also features two sets of capacitive navigation buttons for when you’re using the screen in landscape or portrait mode. It’s a minor detail but significant enough to get noticed and useful enough for us to appreciate.

The unique feature of the Flyer is the magic pen and HTC Scribe technology. HTC’s Scribe technology works with the magic pen to give you a pressure sensitive stylus that you can use to draw sketches or scribble notes and annotations onto pictures, notepad and web pages viewed on the Flyer.

It is not to be mistaken for a navigation device, you can’t use the stylus to switch home screens or to launch a website for example, that is not the purpose of the stylus. The magic pen is developed to add another dimension to the user experience of the tablet. Where the iPad is “magical” the Flyer with it’s magic pen and Scribe technology is even more so. Every picture, web page, email and note, every presentation or word document are instantly personalise-able with your handwriting.

We see us being on holiday with the Flyer and sending of pictures with personalised notes scribbled directly onto the picture to our family and friends. It just adds that touch of closeness that you don’t get with other tablets and that’s just one example of how the magic pen changes the way you interact with the flyer. We foresee numerous applications and ways that users will think off when they see what the technology can do.

With the pen, you get various options like tips and colours as well. You can have a felt-tip pen, a narrow-tipped ballpoint pen or a wide-tipped marker and more, the choice is yours.

Scribe and the magic pen on the Flyer is a genuine innovation and we like it very much. It’s not merely a gimmick but something many will find great use for in a multitude of situations and we can’t wait to have more time with the Flyer to really explore the potential of this new interface from HTC.

There are however a few niggles. One, Scribe takes a bit of getting used to but once that is out of the way, the user interface is as natural as writing. Two, there’s no way to store the magic pen in the Flyer as you tradition would with a stylus. In addition, the pen has no pocket clip so you can’t put it in your shirt pocket like a normal pen. Not having a place to put the pen is a major issue for us. Being a much like a pen, without a proper place to store the stylus would mean that the tendency to lose it is very high.

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We were told that there will be a case that holds both the Flyer and pen together when the device goes on sale on May 12. That would be one solution but it still doesn’t resolve the matter altogether.

Plans and Pricing
Retailing for RM2,499, the Flyer will be on sale starting May 12 from Maxis. The operator has also announced that it will offer the flyer for as low as RM199 with maximum contract term of 24 months. This has left many wondering if there’s a catch in the form of a high monthly retainer from Maxis.

We spoke to Maxis COO Jean Pascal Van Overbeke to get more details about the bundled service plans for the Flyer and while he didn’t offer much information about the plans, he did mentioned that there is no catch and the plans that Maxis offers will be competitive and attractive.

At the end of the day

We only had the Flyer for a couple of hours at the launch event but even in that short period of time it’s difficult to contain our excitement about this 7-inch tablet. From the HTC Sense for tablet interface to the Scribe technology and magic pen, HTC has done everything right with the Flyer.

The Flyer is a very well thought out tablet with so much to like about it but it is not without its downsides. With just four hours of continuous video playback running time, the battery is a major concern for us. Also, the lack of a proper place to store the stylus may render it useless for people who can’t be bothered to carry the pen around and that would be such a waste.

The inevitable question is, how does compare to the iPad? Our hands-on time with the Flyer was brief but it was enough to make us consider the Flyer over the iPad. Being an Android device, you get better flexibility with the things that you can do with the Flyer.

In terms of apps we will say that the iPad has the upper hand. This is compounded further by the fact that paid apps are not yet supported in the Malaysian Android Market but that’s not saying that Android users in Malaysia are limited with the apps that they can get for free. In fact, there are quite a number of paid apps on the Apple App Store that have full versions offered for free in the Android Market. So while App Store has the advantage, it’s mostly a matter a preference.

In terms of screen-size, there are those who prefer the iPad’s 10-inch and there will be others who like the portability of the 7-inch Flyer but for most people who will be reading emails, checking Facebook and Twitter and play the occasional games, there is no reason not to consider the Flyer over the iPad.

At the end of the day, the Flyer is a perfectly competent and capable tablet that brings genuine innovation to the tablet wars — dare we say, much more than Apple did with the iPad 2.