Once the iPad had got the ball rolling there was no way that HTC was going to sit out the looming tablet war.
Its first effort runs on Android (no surprise there) and it’s gone for a pocket-friendly (just about) model with a 7in screen and a few interesting tricks with a stylus.
It comes in a couple of different versions – Wi-Fi only, which comes with 16GB of memory, and a hybrid Wi-Fi/3G version, which allows you to email and surf the web when you’re away from a Wi-Fi network or hotspot, but oddly, doesn’t support voice calls.
It comes with 32GB of onboard memory though, and you can add more to both models via microSD card.
Design and build
There’s a bit of an old school iPod-y feel to the HTC Flyer with its brushed aluminium surround and back, topped and tailed by white rubberised plastic (for access to the SIM and memory cards, and also for the aerials, which have difficulty working through metal.
The sleek 195x122x13mm casing weighs 420g making it just about pocket-friendly if you’re wearing a suit, though there’s still not much chance of it fitting into a pair of jeans.
Volume buttons are on the side and the bottom has a microUSB power/sync port though annoyingly, it has a cutaway design that means it won’t work with other microUSB leads, so you’ll have to make sure you pack your HTC one with you wherever you go.
On top there’s a power/sleep button and a 3.5mm headphone jack.
The 7in touch screen offers a resolution of 1024x600 pixels and looks very fine. It’s sharp and detailed when displaying menus and pics, and looks smooth when showing video.
Interface and OS
Google has produced a tablet-specific version of its Android operating system – Android 3.0 Honeycomb – but while you can use it on Motorola’s Xoom, for instance, you won’t find it here.
The Flyer runs on Android 2.3.3, but for the most part doesn’t reveal the system’s small screen origins. Many of the apps we tried looked just as they would on a standard handset, only bigger, though that’s not always the case, and some seemed to end up stuck in a corner.
With the Xoom you’re limited to those apps from the Android Market which are optimised for the OS, but with the Flyer you can download virtually anything, but there’s no guarantee it will make full use of the screen.
There is however HTC’s Sense 2.1 for tablet user interface, which looks similar to Sense 3.0 at first glance, with its security ring on the lock page, which you can open by pulling it to the side, or go straight to an app by pulling an icon directly into the ring.
But it also offers a few extras to make use of the bigger screen acreage, such as a preview pane for your emails.
One thing that’s very new however is the battery–powered stylus the Flyer comes with. This isn’t a return to old-school Windows tapping and menu prodding however, but a genuinely useful and versatile tool that’s very much an option rather than an essential.
It allows you to draw and write, not just on blank pages, but also on websites, emails and in other apps. You can take a snapshot of the screen and save it as a picture, complete with your notes and either keep it or send it on.
A couple of buttons on the side of the stylus allow you to erase or highlight and there’s a range of nib thicknesses and colours to choose from. Surprisingly though, it doesn’t come with a handwriting recognition app that could turn your writings into text. At least for now.
Something else that’s missing is an easy way of carrying the stylus, since there’s nowhere to slide it into the body of the Flyer, though there’s a slot in the rather nice leather-look pouch it comes with.
There’s a 5 megapixel camera on board which can take snaps at a maximum of 2592x1520 pixels and record video at up to 720p HD.
As with other HTC cameras however, the results are okay but far from spectacular – you’ll need to be careful with your light to get anything like acceptable results. There’s also a 1.3 megapixel camera on the front which you can use for self-portraits or for video chat.
Apps and browser
The Android browser hasn’t been adapted specifically for the larger screen, but it does a perfectly good job of presenting web pages in any case. It supports Flash too, which gives it an up on the iPad.
Media and connectivity
HTC Watch, the company’s new online video store is included, so you can rent or buy videos direct and share them with up to five different devices.
It also comes with its own ebook reader, though there are also others you can download from the Android Market, including Amazon’s Kindle reader.
Videos look fine and there’s the option to stretch them to fit the screen if you prefer. The Android music player is intuitive to use and there’s a seven-setting equalizer to help you get the sound you like, including SRS pseudo surround which gives the impression of broadening the sound stage. The supplied headphones are on the tinny side though, and ripe for upgrade.
Performance and battery life
There’s no dual-core processor under the hood but there is a powerful single-core 1.5GHz model backed by 1GB of RAM.
It’s not slow by any means but there are occasional signs of lag when switching between apps. Likewise the 4000mHA battery sounds like it should do the business but in practise it barely managed to make a full day of heavy use.
- Luxurious casing
- Bright, sharp 7in screen
- Sense 2.1 for tablet UI
- Fancy stylus
- Not Android Honeycomb
- Non-standard USB connection
- Some lag
- Limited camera
Verdict: The HTC Flyer marks a strong opening salvo in the tablet wars – light and portable, with an impressive range of features and intriguing use of a stylus, though it could be a bit faster and smoother to stand shoulder to shoulder with the iPad.
More info: HTC Flyer spec