In a market that’s now being flooded with 10” Honeycomb tablets, HTC is already being different with their 7” Gingerbread based Flyer. The real stand out feature of this tablet is the n-trig duo sense pen and touch digitizer. HTC is no stranger to working with Android, with their Sense interface adorning many Android based smartphones. This is Sense’s first appearance on a larger tablet, in addition to the first one to hit the market with an active digitizer. So, how does it work? Is it worth adding a pen to an Android tablet? Short answer – oh yes. Long answer – read on…..
7" 1024x600 duo sense screen
1.5 GHz processor
Flash and HTML 5
Wifi and BT
Front Camera - 1.3 MP
Back Camera - 5 MP
16GB storage + Mirco SD card slot
Ambient Light sensor, G-sensor, Digital Compass, GPS
Hardware and Design
The Flyer is a 7” tablet, which may just feel like an overgrown smartphone to some, but keeps the tablet very portable, and easy to hold in one hand. The brushed metal backing is rigid and feels great in the hand, but does make the tablet slightly heavier than most other 7”ers. Each end is capped by a strong white plastic. The lower end bulges out a little, but makes a great grip when using the tablet in landscape mode. The upper plastic piece houses the 5MP rear camera and slides off for access to the Micro SD card slot.
Everything on the back is built with a gentle curve that feels great in the hands, but the way the metal edges join the glass front can feel a little sharp. The plastic edges also curve up a bit higher than the screen making for easy grips in landscape. In portrait, the 7” device is easy to hold in one hand for extended reading sessions. I’ve already ready through a several books and a magazine in the two weeks I’ve had it. The size is also nice for gaming as it's easy to hold in two hands for landscape driving games, while still being small and light enough to hold in one hand for puzzle games. I've recently gotten hooked on a pinball game. 7" is a good size for thumb typing (and pinball flipping) in portrait.
Screen and Touch
The 7” screen at 1026x600 is smaller than the new Honeycomb tablets coming out, but still a good size for reading, browsing, email, and note-taking. It’s bright and clear with good viewing angles. Touch is very responsive, and navigating the device is easy. Fingerprints do build up, but not more than any other touchscreen driven device. A matte screen protector can help eliminate fingerprints if it becomes too distracting. The 7" screen makes reading feel like holding a paperback book, and note-taking feel like working with a smaller journal. The screen rotates quickly in response to the accelerometer, but only goes two ways, there are no "upside down" orientations.
Ports and Buttons
The minimal design includes only two holes - one for headphones, and a mini USB port for charging or connecting to a computer. Physical buttons include the power/lock button the top, and a volume rocker on the side. Three capacitive buttons switch from two sides to always be on the bottom whether holding the device in landscape or portrait. There is also a button that responds only to the pen (kind of like the buttons on the bezel of the HP TC1100) which pulls up pen tools in apps that support it, or brings up options for taking a screen shot (to draw on) anywhere else. The other two sides house an HTC logo and the front facing camera.
Cameras, Sound, and Speakers
The cameras are decent, but not spectacular. The rear camera did a fine job of capturing my cats being cute.
The speakers put out enough sound that I'm happy watching podcasts without plugging into external speakers, although the sound is much fuller that way.
Aside from the stock Android apps and google apps, HTC has included many Sense apps and widgets. I found the New app and the Friend Stream app to be nice enough that I didn't feel the need to add the Google Reader app or Tweetdeck. Those two apps, and the Mail app, all have a nice split pane setup in landscape mode to take advantage of the extra screen space the Flyer offers over the average phone screen. The Sense widgets are great for having access to all of these feeds at a glance.
The Pen and Pen-Aware apps
Yes, it's an n-trig digital pencil. That means it's short and houses a 4A battery. It's a little on the heavy side with the battery, but not in a bad way, more in a substantial feeling kind of way. It has two buttons, one for highlighting and one for erasing. I think eraser buttons should be required on everything. It's a little odd to get used to an eraser button being on the side of pen, rather than flipping the pen over, but it's so nice to have. The nib is a little noisy and does rattle in the pen a little. It's not so much that I felt uncomfortable using it in quiet meetings, but some have reported that the pen noise is very distracting when trying to make audio recordings with written notes.
There are several apps on the Flyer that will accept pen input - but not all apps will. None of the third party apps I tried will accept pen input, although HTC has promised an SDK for the pen, so hopefully we'll see more apps with pen support soon.
Both Polaris Office and PDF Viewer will allow inking over various office documents or PDF files. Ink in Polaris office is smooth with several good pen sizes to choose from, although viewing that ink in other places may be difficult. The ink did not show up when the .doc was opened in Google Docs or the web version of Word. Inking in the PDF reader is a bit more problematic with even the smallest pen size still being a little on the thick side for some. It should be sufficient for signing documents or doing some markup, but it may not be accurate enough for some. After inking on a PDF file, you can choose to save the ink as a separate layer that can be edited in many desktop PDF editors, or to flatten the ink into the PDF preventing signatures from being erased.
The Notes app is really the killer app for this device. It syncs with Evernote, including Evernote's OCR for searching your handwriting or text in added pictures. Notes can include screenshots, pictures from the gallery or the camera, audio recorded as the note is taken, video if you have a premium Evernote account, documents and files, and ink from several brushes and pens. I've found myself using the Evernote web clipper extension in the Chrome browser as a quick way to send a webpage to the notes app on the Flyer for later reading.
The Reader app is also pen aware for taking notes in books. I'm not one to write in books much, but if you need to mark up texts, all the brushes and pens are available. While the Reader ties into the Kobo book store, it uses Adobe Digital Editions DRM, so I was able to open my Barnes and Noble nook books in the Reader app as well as a magazine from the nook store. It supports ePub, so all of my downloads from smashwords and feedbooks, as well as free books from Google were also easy to add via Calibre on the computer.
While manipulating documents is not the most interesting thing a device can do, it’s an import component of almost everyone’s day. From jotting down a shopping list to taking notes in class or in meetings, the HTC Flyer is a standout winner with its active digitizer and tight Evernote integration. Between Polaris Office and the PDF Viewer, there are options for pen markup of most any document you would need to work with in a day. There’s also plenty of power under the hood for diversions such as video watching or flinging some birds at some pigs. Books and magazines look great on the 7” screen and, once again, this is the only device to provide the option for marking up those books and magazines with the active pen. While the Flyer may be a pricier option than other 7” Android tablets (especially with the pen being sold separately), the addition of the active pen for note taking and document markup make it well worth the added expense in my book.