It has been over a month since I received the HTC Flyer for review and I have just decided to post my review on this device. I am sorry for the delay, but this device became one of those forgettable review devices that I receive and was placed below several review units and just got lost in the shuffle. I have used this device extensively for 2 weeks when I first reviewed it and I also have been playing with it for the past few days to refresh myself with any possible updates that may be available for the device. Unfortunately, Android Honeycomb has never come to this device and may never come at this late in the game. The Flyer is still running Android 2.3.3 (Gingerbread), an OS designed for use on a smartphone specifically. You can currently find the HTC Flyer, which is WiFi only, in a Best Buy near you as well as online. Sprint is also selling the HTC Flyer, as the EVO View 4G, which is a 3G/4G enabled tablet. There is also an accessory, called that Scribe Pen, that is available to the Flyer that unloads a few noteworthy features which we will discuss more about under the software section.
The HTC Flyer, as I mentioned before, is running Android 2.3.3 (Gingerbread) on a tablet form. Gingerbread is a great experience for most users and still gives you access to thousands of applications for this device. But all the tablet applications, few that there are, will not be accessible to this device since it does not come with the version of Android designed for tablets called Honeycomb. Even though the screen on the Flyer is just 7-inches, compared to the 8.9 to 10.1-inch tablets out there, it is still a tablet and should be treated as one in software capabilities. The device definitely has the specs to run Honeycomb but, for one reason or another, HTC has decided to not bring it to their tablet as of yet. At initial release you could accept that HTC did not want to place an unstable and buggy early version of Honeycomb on their first tablet to market. But now Honeycomb has been revised and improved upon in a few build updates and HTC no longer has any excuse for bringing Honeycomb to their tablet. Now there are consumers who are capable of rooting their devices and placing any Android software build they would like to on their Flyer or View 4G. Those users are not limited to what HTC chooses to release or not and the sky is the limit for them. But for the general consumer masses who are not savvy in that respect and are hostage to what the manufacturer release in software; they are without any resolution. There is very little that is different between the WiFi only HTC Flyer and the Sprint HTC EVO View 4G, aside of the color difference seen in the pictures above and the 3G/4G modems in the Sprint version of the Flyer. There is also a difference in some of the applications as the Sprint variant will come with a slew of Sprint applications pre-installed on it such as Sprint Navigation, music and a few others.
I like the carousel homescreen movements that we see with HTC Gingerbread devices. The Flyer may not be running the tablet oriented Android Honeycomb, but it does have the latest version of HTC Sense with version 3.0. HTC Sense is the user interface (UI) that they lay on Android that sets the experience apart from other manufacturers such as Samsung and others who use their own unique UIs. Sense brings lockscreen features of an animated weather update widget with a set of four shortcuts to jump to located on bottom of the screen. After you unlock your screen you are greeted by 8 homescreens on the carousel of HTC Sense and there are plenty of spots on these homescreen to add shortcuts to applications and even customize with plenty of fun widgets. But without Android Honeycomb there is no way to reset the size of widgets at your level of choice, instead you will have to take whatever default size the widget is offered as in Gingerbread. Besides the animated graphics you do not see much difference in the homescreen look as compared most Gingerbread HTC devices. Certainly, for a tablet, you would expect a high level of differentiation from smartphones. But there appears to be little present.
HTC has introduced a new experience though the split views in the browser, calendar and gallery applications. When you browse the web you can view previews of tabs on the top of the browser and can really be helpful when you are multitasking through your web experience. The gallery app allows you to view a gallery of photos while still viewing the other albums to the side for simple navigation through them. The calendar also follows this advantage by letting you view a day’s schedule one side while dually providing another side to view daily, weekly, or monthly schedules as well. While these features are nicely implemented there is not much else which leaves us with a feeling of lacking. Yet again another example of a an Android tablet manufacturer not taking true advantage of the screen real estate that they have built for their tablet.
Now with the the Flyer comes some new apps and services from HTC that are useful on tablet but only compete marginally with better similar applications. The first would be HTC Watch which is a application from HTC that allows users to rent and even purchase movies through their tablet. The prices are similar to what you would see with the Blockbuster application, but why not go subscription streaming with Netflix, for rooted users that is, and only pay one low flat rate for unlimited monthly viewing. We do appreciate the ability to watch a movie while downloading another in the background. Now we get to the HTC Scribe Pen that we mentioned in the introduction. This is an accessory that should have been included in the package with the HTC Flyer, but HTC decided to sell it separately for $79.99. Because of the integral part the pen can play in note-taking, the total of tablet and pen came out initially at $579.99 in most retail channels. It adds to the value of tablet by functioning with the Notes application in an dedicated manner for painting, drawing, and writing as you will see in our unboxing and first look video of the HTC Flyer at the end of this article. There you can annotate, highlight, and doodle all types of cool and fun things while another cool thing you will see in the video is how you can draw from almost anywhere on the screen on an application in the Scribble mode that HTC has implemented on this device.
The additional cost of the Scribe Pen along with the fact that there is no convenient out-of-the-box way to carry it along side the Flyer, not even like a magnet, is what continues to plague this accessory. There might be more development behind this from app developers if HTC had placed Honeycomb on this tablet, but for now we can only hope for the future. There is also an OnLive gaming application that allows us to take advantage of streaming gameplay from OnLive and works pretty well given you have a good speed connection.
The hardware of the device is pleasing in some areas and lacking in others. Let us start with the bad things first. The HTC Flyer weighs in at 14.8 ounces with a thick looking frame compared to tablets that are much bigger in size, such as the Apple iPad 2 and Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, and for a 7-inch tablet (1024×600) resolution that is only powered by a 1.5 GHz Qualcomm single core processor with no dual-core goodness we expect a smaller frame. One feature that plenty of consumers use or want tablets for has been to use video calling applications such as Skype and other video programs. The device does come with a 1.3-Megapixel camera to take advantage of video calling applications and is located on the right side of the bezel of the device. The rear 5-Megapixel camera, that has no LED Flash I should add, overs acceptable quality still shots as long as your in very good lighting. HTC claims the device shots 720p HD video, but I have to say that it was a joke compared to what smartphones are capable of producing. The quality seems to be ported up poorly and seem more like SD or 480p resolution recording.
There is 16GB of internal memory with the option of expanding memory via a Micro-SD card slot located under the back cover around the rear camera. Even though, we think, given the smaller size of the display that the Flyer could be thinner and lighter I can still appreciate the solid feel of the device. Bluetooth 3.0 with A2DP, WiFi b/g/n support, and DLNA are a few of the other things on board this tablet. Besides Scribe Pen there is not much that sets this device apart from others.
The HTC Flyer has a $499.99 MSRP before the cost of the Scribe Pen is taken in to account, and to be honest, that is a bit much for a 7-inch tablet running Android Gingerbread. Given the present landscape of HP TouchPads for $99 and iPad 2 tablets running for the same price as the Flyer, then I would have to recommend the competitors. Drop the price a few hundred, lets say $249-$349 and we have something to talk about.
Don’t get me wrong I love the aluminum construction, responsive interface, and the idea of the magic pen. The display, while only being a TFT display, is still a beauty to behold and the device as a whole is still a solid piece of exterior work and size. While the HTC Flyer shows a probable good future for the tablet future at HTC, we would advise against picking one up until the price drops. Better yet, why not wait for the second generation of tablets from HTC to be released. Be sure to check out our video before of the HTC Flyer in action and chime in on the comments field below if you already took the plunge on this tablet and would like to share your own experiences in a few sentences.