When Samsung launched the first notable Android tablet in the form of the Galaxy Tab last year, the 7-inch device was frequently dismissed as being just an oversized phone.
Nine months later, a similar criticism could be levelled at the HTC Flyer. This one doesn’t make phone calls, thankfully, but in most other respects it feels like an upsized Sensation. It’s not totally a me-too device, however, thanks to the one neat trick it has up its sleeve.
The 7″ Flyer looks smarter than many of its rival tablets, with a white case and unibody aluminium design. There are a few nice touches along the way, in particular the backlit capacitive buttons that are also positioned below the screen – rotate the device from portrait to landscape mode and the buttons at the end of the tablet will disappear and new ones will be illuminated along the long edge. The screen is sharp and bright and tremendously responsive, but not so good in bright lighting conditions due to the fact that it is excessively reflective.
The Flyer runs Android 2.3 at launch. HTC would argue that the Sense UI makes the OS choice less important than on an uncustomised device, but it does still matter. Some of the screens throughout the UI are clearly not designed for larger display sizes, and you also get the smartphone versions of the Gmail and browser apps, rather than the tablet-oriented ones from Android 3.x.
The one true unique selling point in the Flyer is the inclusion of the Magic Pen. Rather than being a throwback to the days when touch-screen devices needed a stylus to be controlled, the Magic Pen is not used for navigating the UI. Instead it is a tool for writing and drawing on screen.
How it works depends on which app you are using: the Notes app in the device offers the full functionality wherein you can write, draw and so on directly within a note. In some apps or webpages, you can hold down one of the two buttons on the pen and select text on the page (the other button erases your scribblings). And everywhere else, touching the pen to the screen saves a screenshot that you can then annotate.
It’s an interesting idea, but as a first-generation product it doesn’t quite work. You can’t use the pen for separate handwritten notes or drawings, for example. There’s a slight lag as you drag the pen across the screen, your writing is far larger than it is on paper, plus you cannot rest your hand on the screen as you write.
This means the Magic Pen is restricted to use as a tool for annotations, where you would scribble notes on a screenshotted image of a page of a PDF document or PowerPoint presentation and then email it off to a colleague. It may serve a purpose in this regard, but it’s a pretty niche function.
Take the Magic Pen out of the equation and the Flyer becomes a more ‘ordinary’ tablet. The 1.5GHz processor seems fast enough to handle most tasks smoothly, but the single-core offering cannot handle 1080p video at a time when most of its rivals can. And while it can stretch to 720p, the quality of recording through the camera (and stills, likewise) is average at best.
Kudos to HTC for trying to do something different with the Flyer, but as a first effort it disappoints. The Magic Pen adds only modest value, and the rest feels closer to the Samsung Galaxy Tab from last year than the cutting-edge dual-core devices that will sit alongside the Flyer on the shelves. For something so expensive, that is a problem.
Written by Sandra Vogel