The HTC Flyer bucks the tablet dual-core trend with a single core 1.5GHz Qualcomm processor. It also features the smartphone-centric Gingerbread instead of the more resource-intensive Honeycomb, so everything runs smoothly out of the box. Load up the Flyer with a live wallpaper and a bunch of heavy apps like Google Maps, and you?ll notice a slight performance hit. The Flyer powers on and starts up in about 30 seconds, which is average for other tablets in its class. The screen orientation was also zippy, though the Flyer will only adjust the screen to two distinct orientations, given that the Flyer?s soft keys are only present on two sides.
In overall performance, the Flyer bested only Xoom among Android tablets in the Quadrant benchmark (measures CPU, 3D performance, and memory, higher is better), but came within spitting distance of the Transformer and G-Slate.
Apps and OS
At first, I was wary of the Flyer running Gingerbread as it is a smartphone OS. HTC has not confirmed it will receive the Honeycomb update, but a Sprint rep commented the EVO View 4G, Sprint?s WiMAX version of the Flyer would. She may have been talking out of turn, because Sprint has officially been silent on the subject. It might make sense for both Sprint and HTC to wait on Ice Cream Sandwich, which Google claims will bring the tablet and smartphone versions of Android together.
Anyway, I was wrong to be wary. The HTC Sense custom UI perfectly adapts Gingerbread for the big screen. Sense divvies up Gingerbread into a homescreen with a handful of app shortcuts and seven additional screens for more app shortcuts or large widgets, all arranged in a rotating 3D carousel. Unfortunately, the widgets cannot be resized as they can with Honeycomb 3.1, and most are large enough that they take up the whole screen. Nevertheless, they make good use of the Flyer?s screen real estate.
HTC also applied a custom onscreen keyboard to the Flyer, which features quick access to symbols, haptic feedback for typing, and a decent word suggestion option. It?s much better than the onscreen keyboards found on the Xoom, iPad 2, G-Slate, or other recently-reviewed tablets.
The apps are a different story. Without Honeycomb, the Flyer cannot run Android tablet apps, meaning it?s stuck with the same issue that plagued the Galaxy Tab. Apps have either been adjusted to fill the seven-inch screen, or they run at smartphone size with a thick black border. I found more of the former than the latter, but after taking one look at the excellent CNN for Android Tablet app on the Xoom, I was disappointed to be saddled with the plain CNN for Android Phones.
There are a few missing elements as well. The Android Market movies are not available at launch, though HTC does have its own online movie outlet. The HTC selection is paltry compared to the thousands of movies offered up by Google, but there are a few decent titles, including new releases, to rent and own. When Google announced Android Market movies in May, reps claimed it will come to Gingerbread devices ?in the coming weeks.? We are still waiting. Also, there is no native video chat (Google Talk is present, but doesn?t support video calls on the Flyer), but there are plenty of video chat offerings in the Android Market.
The active pen support is the Flyer?s defining feature. Unfortunately, for US consumers, a pen does not come bundled with the device and an HTC N-trig unit will cost an extra $80 at launch.
The N-trig pen, or HTC Scribe Digital Pen, looks very much like the one that ships with the Fujitsu T580. In fact, I think it?s the same exact unit. It?s powered by an AAAA battery (included) and the pen tip has a very slight give to measure pressure sensitivity. There are two buttons, with one used for erasing and the other highlighting chunks of text. It has a nice weight, girth, and solid build when in the battery is in pace, but the tip causes it to rattle slightly when shaken.
The pen shows its true utility when used with the notes app that ships with the Flyer. It?s a surprisingly robust scribbling application that in addition to enabling pen-based notes and doodles, also incorporates audio annotation recorded via the onboard mic, pictures from the onboard camera, and file attachments. Notes can also be synched up with the Flyer calendar as well as Evernote, the popular note-taking and collaboration service.
All-in-all, it?s a great app, and I think scribblers will find it useful. However, it?s lacking in some areas. First and foremost, there is no handwriting recognition. The note-jotting experience is smooth and pleasant, but the notes app won?t convert the handwritten notes into text. Also, recording audio while jotting notes will result in a sound file with audible clanks from the pen hitting the screen. Finally, you can use the pen to tap and select the pen size, color, and type (the Flyer offers dozens of useful combinations), but you can?t use it to open the calendar, a new note, record audio, attach a file, or snap a photo ? those all require a finger tap.
In fact, the pen works for only scribbling on the screen and not navigation. We?ve extolled the virtues of navigating the iPad with a stylus, so it?s a shame that you can?t do the same with the Flyer and the N-trig pen. Instead of registering taps and swipes, the pen instead directs the Flyer to grab a screenshot. It?s an odd feature, one I cannot see much use for, especially in lieu of the navigation-based alternative.