Recently the Android tablet market has exploded with a flurry of new devices from companies, including devices such as the Motorola Xoom, Acer Iconia Tab, ASUS Transformer and the soon to be released Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1. HTC has entered the race with their new and first Android tablet, the HTC Flyer, however unlike the aforementioned big players in the market, HTC has tackled the 7-inch space with their tablet; instead of Android 3.0 Honeycomb, they’ve packaged Gingerbread with Sense.
It may seem unusual that an entrant to the tablet market space would push out a smaller device with an older operating system, although HTC has a different idea with their tablet. It’s smaller than the iPad 2, making it more ideal for people wanting a more portable device that is perfect for reading books, newspapers, Google Reader, taking notes and the occasional film. In fact their taking so much of a different approach to the tablet that along with the capacitive touchscreen they’ve bundled a Magic Pen, allowing you to write on the screen just like you would a notepad. It’s attempting to tackle an area other tablets lack at, and we’ll see just how well they can do it.
Our HTC Flyer tablet was kindly lent to us by MobiCity; we will be reviewing the top-end model that comes with 32GB of on-board storage and 3G radios for mobile data, and unfortunately our review model didn’t come with the Magic Pen.
The Flyer has fairly modest specifications including an unspecified 1.5 GHz single-core processor, 1GB of RAM and a 7” 1024x600 display. Full specifications are below.
|GSM Bands||850 / 900 / 1800 / 1900|
|3G Bands||HSDPA 900 / 1700 / 2100|
|Display||7.0-inch 600x1024 LCD (6-point touch)|
|Processor||1.5 GHz single-core unspecified model|
32 GB internal (3G)
16 GB internal (WiFi)
microSD expansion slot
WiFi 802.11 b/g/n
Bluetooth 3.0 with A2DP
5 MP rear with autofocus
1.3 MP front
720p video recording
MicroUSB (charging, data)
3.5mm audio jack
|Battery||Li-ion 4,000 mAh non-replaceable|
Android 2.3.3 Gingerbread
HTC Sense for Tablet 2.1 (skin)
|Launch Date||May 2011|
|Size & Weight||
195.4 x 122 x 13.2 mm
There are no particularly notable things about the specifications here. You do have the handy microSD expansion slot which enables you to increase the maximum storage to 64GB, and there are both front and rear cameras.
The HTC Flyer is quite obviously a HTC device when you first look at it. You have the screen dominating the front area with a 1.3cm bezel surround - incorporating the capacitive touch buttons, the front facing camera to the left with status light and sensors, and the large HTC insignia to the top.
The device’s body is a mixture of aluminium unibody design, taking up the majority of the back, and soft-touch plastic for the removable cover and bottom section and glass for the front display. Popping through the aluminium on the rear are two (stereo) speakers plus some rear branding. Towards the top you have the rear 5MP shooter embedded in the removable plastic.
Just on the plastic, it is difficult to take the rear cover off; it requires more force than we thought it would and almost felt as if we were going to break the cover during the process. Behind it are the SIM and microSD slots, and no removable battery to speak of – not really an issue. The back cover also wraps around to the front of the device, and it has a slight bit of give to it that puts a small amount of secureness doubt in our mind when holding it from the top/left area. That said, the cover never came off accidentally during testing and we’re sure it’s more secure than the give lets on, especially as you won’t need to remove the cover much once you put your SIM/microSD in.
Around the device you have the sturdy power on button and 3.5mm audio jack to the top, volume buttons and two holes presumably for dual microphones to the right and the microUSB charging port to the bottom. The bottom USB port is actually a form of HTC proprietary connector as seen with the charger, but will charge and transfer from a regular microUSB cable.
The overall design of the Flyer is very sturdy thanks to the aluminium casing and looks great due to the combination of brushed silver metal and white plastic. There is a handy lip up to the left and right of the device while holding it in landscape mode than gives it that bit of an extra grip; the bulge in the bottom plastic area also helps to hold the device. The bezel is just the right size not to obstruct viewing while holding it, and although the front camera is in the wrong spot for portrait mode it is perfect for landscape
What we found interesting about the bezel is that there were two sets of capacitive touch buttons embedded in them, one for portrait and one for landscape. This definitely helps to have both of these sets as otherwise you might have to make awkward hand movement to reach to one area of the device to use the buttons.
For a 7-inch tablet the weight could have been a bit lighter than the 420 grams it currently weighs, however for that to happen you would have to replace the aluminium body with a plastic substitute and that would degrade the overall build quality, something we’re not sure is an acceptable trade. Also, the curved body helps disguise the actual width of the device (13.2mm), which isn’t amazingly thin but it’s not too noticeable in everyday usage. For a comparison, it’s around the same thinness as the original iPad and just thicker than the competing 7” Galaxy Tab.
Also worthy of a note is the 7” display itself, which is reasonably vibrant for an LCD display – containing good contrast and white levels, fairly good color balance and acceptable blacks. It’s no AMOLED, but it’s easy to read from and the resolution is good for a screen of that size (it beats the iPad’s in terms of pixels-per-inch). Outside performance is acceptable, with poor colors and low visibility under direct sunlight, however with black-on-white text reading outside (as with reading a book) the display performs well – there were no angles we could find where the text was even somewhat unreadable.
In The Box
There is nothing particularly amazing about the HTC Flyer box: inside you get the usual set of booklets, a microUSB charging cable in white, a wall charger with permanently affixed cable and (surprisingly) a leather HTC carrying case. The case feels great, has a soft fabric inside and magnetic clip and should protect your device from wear and tear.
Inside the box should also rest a HTC Magic Pen which was not included with our review unit, unfortunately. Also note that the wall charger we received was a Type G plug (UK, Hong Kong, etc.), but Mobicity were kind enough to include in their larger postal box not only a universal adapter to Type I (Australia) plug, but also a Type I USB wall charger and an additional microUSB cable.
The HTC Flyer runs a combination of Android 2.3.3 “Gingerbread” and HTC’s Sense 2.1 for Tablets. Upon hearing of the Flyer we thought HTC would have bundled Android 3.0 “Honeycomb” but for whatever reason that has not happened. Does it matter? Not really. HTC’s Sense interface is actually quite good on the Flyer and definitely helps give the tablet a less mobile feel that stock 2.3.3 would have given.
We’re not going to go into too much detail on the individual apps, but we’ll mention the important ones. First off is the launcher, which is a seven panel rotator with slick 3D effects when you slide between screens. Widgets appear to expand in a 3D manner and the screens slide in a cube-like way, which really shows the power of the 1.5 GHz GPU powering the Flyer. Speaking of widgets, HTC has included loads, ranging from your bookshelf to music, email, news and more. There are so many widgets you quite possibly will have a hard time choosing between them.
The bottom of the launcher features the application drawer button, three application buttons, plus the personalize button to easily add widgets or change your scene or skin for HTC Sense – similar to what exists on mobile phones. The three application buttons by default are Notes, Reader and Watch (more on those later), however they are interchangeable so you can place whatever apps you want into the dock.
For the lockscreen, HTC has gone with a ring that is slid up to unlock, plus four (changeable) application shortcuts that if dragged into the ring will launch the respective program. This is a fantastic idea and makes on-the-fly launches of apps such as the browser super quick. The Music app also adds a tile to this lockscreen which allows you to switch songs and pause/play.
There is also a custom Sense notification pane with a task manager and quick settings built in. Out of all the Sense features, this is visually the worst part, however it functions smoothly. The notifications themselves could be a bit bigger, but this is only a minor issue.
On to the apps included with the Flyer:
This is a big one, as taking notes is one of the things the Flyer is designed to do. With HTC Notes, you can sync all your notes to the Evernote cloud if you have an account: a handy feature for frequent note takers and it saves time connecting your tablet to a PC. The actual taking of notes is fairly basic; with a simple notepad design you can write text and annotate it with your Magic Pen, take or attach photos and also record audio notes. When you’re done you can attach the note to a calendar event or share it via the many sharing options.
During our testing we spent a full day using the Flyer as a note taker, and it really is quite good at it. Typing on the keyboard with some practice ended up being considerably faster than writing with conventional pen and paper, and if you have the Magic Pen doing quick diagrams is easy. There are lots of options for the app and it really shows as a well-designed, polished HTC application
The reader app is another critical one for the 7” tablet. The size of the device and the great screen lend itself very well to reading books, and HTC has pulled together a fantastic book application to do the reading with. Included with the device are a few free books to try, which inside the Reader application show in coverflow very fluidly. Opening any book takes it to an iPad-like virtual book, complete with 3D page turning animations which are a nice touch, and by default the font is a nice and readable size.
Apart from the standard book-like functionality there are features to highlight important bits of text, add notes, bookmarks or even search the entire book. You can view all of these in a Sense-like interface with a slide panel at the bottom. Also included is a full bookstore by Kobo, which has a very nice browsing interface and a considerable library with books that are priced competitively with Amazon. All in all the booking reading functionality of the Flyer is very good.
News & Press Reader
There are two news-type apps included on the Flyer: News, which is a Google Reader-powered feed syndicator; and Press Reader which allows you to view print editions of major newspapers. The News app is not revolutionary – it’s simply a Sense-like news feed reader than formats online news from RSS feeds to the screen size. It does however have a nice interface, good Google Reader-like functionality and a useful widget that makes it a good addition to the Flyer and a better choice than the official Google Reader application.
The Press Reader app is powered by PressReader.com and is actually available from the Android Market, just it’s bundled with the Flyer. With it, you can purchase papers for just US$0.99 each (first 7 are free), or US$29.95 for unlimited access to the 1,800 papers available. The interface is nice, not as fluid as the book reader app but it is still functional and good enough to view digital editions of papers.
The web browser for the HTC Flyer is a mixture of the stock Android browser and a HTC Sense skin. The skin is perfectly optimized for the tablet in both portrait and landscape, with a pop-out window button that is smooth to use, a visually appealing bookmarks manager and overall nice Sense highlights. The device does support Adobe Flash, as you would expect with an Android 2.2+ device, which functions well and doesn’t overly compromise performance.
Other performance throughout the browser is very good. Pinch-to-zoom and panning around web-pages is very quick, fluid and without any sort of lazy checkerboarding or re-rendering. Even intensive websites such as Engadget and the BBC are no sweat for the processor inside the Flyer, and Flash intensive websites are also a breeze. For a single-core tablet the experience is actually amazingly good; we thought a dual-core chip might have been needed in this tablet for browsing but that’s not the case.
There is one unfortunate downside to the browser used and that is despite unchecking the display mobile site option, some websites will still insist on showing you their mobile versions with no way to switch to the desktop version. For a 7” tablet, viewing mobile webpages is simply not what should be happening as the browser is good at displaying desktop versions.
The included keyboard with the Flyer is what appears to be an enlarged version of the HTC Sense keyboard found on mobile devices. It’s quite easy to type on in portrait mode once you get used to the largeness of the keyboard compared to a mobile, and while holding the device it is quite comfortable to use with your thumbs. There are some odd, minor autocorrect glitches we noticed but nothing that with practice you could avoid.
The landscape keyboard is also good, while not as good as the portrait mode, it is easy to use while resting the Flyer on a table-top or flat surface. It’s definitely too awkward to use while holding the device, and sometimes while using it on a table we accidentally hit the capacitive touch buttons below the keyboard. Again, with more practice using the keyboard you could easily overcome this issue. Also of note is that, despite the curved back of the Flyer, the device does not rock while typing on at a reasonable pressure level.
Other Included Apps
Most other apps on the device are simple HTC Sense applications that have been optimized for the 1024x600 resolution display of the HTC Flyer. Notable ones include two bundled non-HTC apps, Soundhound and Kid Mode, which could be useful; the Quick Lookup app is great for on-the-fly searches; Polaris Office is included for read-only office editing; HTC Hub and HTC Likes are included but both are useless; and finally there’s a Messaging apps that allows you to send SMSes if you have SIM inserted.
Oh dear. HTC includes a surprisingly solid set of apps with Sense, however with 3rd party apps it’s a whole other story. Downloading apps from the Market is a serious hit and miss. There are some apps which work wonderfully, support the screen size and look great on the Flyer’s 7” display. Then there are the others: problems ranging from loading the app in just a small area on the screen surrounded by black, weirdly small fonts, awful stretched graphics or weird formatting errors.
This is not HTC’s fault, more Google’s. Unfortunately the tablet app infrastructure is not quite there yet due to the slow take up of Android tablets, and Google does nothing to help the situation. Honeycomb was one step (the operating system) and now the Market needs some serious fixes. For devices with obviously tablet-sized displays such as the Flyer with its 1024x600, the Market should warn users that the app they are downloading is not optimized for their screen resolution. This would stop end users wondering why the apps they download look so bad on their new tablet.
It would be a simple fix that’s easy to add, and would also work well for any screen resolution changes for mobile devices. If the developer has not ticked the box that says it is optimized for a 1024x600 display, it will still allow the user to download it; just warn them of the possible incompatibility. The Market desperately needs this if tablets and phones are going to coexist peacefully with the same app source.
Under the HTC Flyer’s hood we’re seeing an unnamed 1.5 GHz single-core processor coupled with 1GB of RAM; despite the unspecified processor through apps we were able to determine an Adreno 205 GPU was the GPU inside. According to HTC’s built in Task Manager, the Flyer has 806 MB of total memory, around 370 MB of which is free at boot with no tasks open. As the Android system is quite good at killing apps where appropriate, we only recommend using the Task Manager to intervene where necessary and not to continually kill apps as a habit.
Loading up Quadrant Standard on the tablet gives a fairly acceptable result of 2003, which is a couple of hundred points higher than our Galaxy S. The Samsung Galaxy S is powered by a 1 GHz single-core Hummingbird chipset, and no doubt the increase in clock speed with the Flyer helps to give it a score of just over 2,000 here.
Running the Neocore graphics benchmark gives a score of 50 FPS, which is good considering the screen resolution. The similar resolution Samsung Galaxy Tab does score a slightly higher 54 FPS, which is most likely attributed to the PowerVR SGX 540 GPU used. For a more intensive graphic benchmark we used GLBenchmark 2.0: the Flyer scored 17.3 FPS in the Egypt test and 22.1 FPS in the PRO test – right on par with other Adreno 205 devices of smaller screen resolutions, so the HTC Flyer does pretty well here.
In terms of real world performance the Flyer is very speedy. Unlike Sense on some early HTC devices, on the Flyer it absolutely zooms through the interface and all the fancy 3D animations it brings. The browser is fast, loading music is fast, boot times are very fast (10 seconds or so) and gaming performance is quite good. Also worthy of note is the 3G performance, which due to the larger antenna frequently gave us better signal and faster download speeds than with our mobile devices.
There is an unfortunate lack of speed with transfers to the internal storage. With a nice 32 GB inside our device (split into 20 GB user space and 7.5 GB app space) there is almost no reason to use the microSD expansion port – unless you want reasonable transfer speeds to and from the Flyer. On average we managed whopping 2.4 MB/s through the data cable, taking us close to 45 minutes to transfer 6 GB of films for testing. This is quite frankly terrible, as we managed 6 MB/s to the Class 6 microSD we tested with and we can transfer at a much higher rate to the internal storages of other devices.
The HTC Flyer features two cameras: a 5-megapixel rear shooter with autofocus and 720p video recording, and a 1.3 MP front shooter. There is no flash on the device, but this isn’t a major issue as flashes on mobile devices are often terrible.
The camera software (and to some extent the Gallery app) provided by HTC on the device makes the cameras look atrocious through the live preview, however the pictures taken by the device are not nearly as bad as they look through this preview. The Camera app includes a fairly standard set of features, including easy buttons to switch to camcorder and to the front camera, a prominent shutter button, some quality settings such as ISO, white balance and resolution, and some basic scene effects.
Below are some sample shots of both the Flyer’s cameras in various scenarios.
On the left we have the best shot we could get with the Flyer, which was a close-up flower shot in daylight. The colors there were quite vibrant and good. On the right is the low-light shot, which is not bad considering it accurately represents the amount of light in the room but it is a bit grainy.
Here is a shot of the sky and some trees, with the sun behind, from several metres away. As you can see the image lacks clarity, which is highlighted further by the 100% crop on the right.
Finally, here is a comparison between the back (top) and front (bottom) cameras. As you can see the front camera is reflected, more grainy and has a colder white balance; the rear camera is clearer and more true to the situation (moderate incandescent light), however slightly on the warm side.
Also we did a video playback test of both cameras at the highest quality (720p for both). You can view it below.
The 7” display of the HTC Flyer lends itself well to media playback, and the device supports numerous codecs and comes pre-loaded with a Watch app for streaming movies and TV shows. For whatever reason, this Watch app does not include anything but movie trailers currently. We’re not sure if it’s because of our testing location (Australia), but the Watch app is completely useless unless you like to stream trailers.
Apart from that flaw, the HTC Flyer has acceptable media playback. You can load your videos straight from the Gallery app, and the playback interface is easy to use but without any amazing features. We tested several popular media codecs with the device and had mixed results:
- Our 480p Dexter TV-show rip, encoded with XviD in an AVI container with stereo MP3 audio, had sluggish, low framerate playback on the Flyer. This is disappointing considering XviD is a frequently used high-compression standard
- Our 480p WMV file worked perfectly
- Our 720p YouTube rip, encoded with H.264 AVC (.mp4) and with stereo AAC audio, played back with great quality, clarity and without stuttering
- Our 720p Wall-E Blu-ray rip, encoded with H.264 AVC (.mp4) with AAC audio, did not play at all. This is strange considering our YouTube rip with the same codec worked fine.
- Our 720p Kill Bill Vol. 1 Blu-ray rip, encoded with x264/H.264 (.mkv) with AC3 audio, was not recognized as media by the Flyer
- Our 1080p x264 .mkv was also not recognized
It is unfortunate to see the Flyer supporting all the minor codecs while rejecting or poorly playing the most used. If you want to use the Flyer as a serious media device you will have to convert your media away from XviD/compressed H.264, which will in turn take up more space as you will lose the compression benefits.
Luckily the Flyer plays back MP3s and FLAC files with ease. The audio quality from the in-built speakers is fairly good for small speakers, however still remains quite flat, tinny and seriously lacking bass (as you would expect). The Flyer does have two, stereo speakers on the rear of the device, which enables it to be quite loud and also produce two channels without headphones. If you want to improve audio quality through the inbuilt speakers you should turn on SRS mode, as the software processing does improve the quality noticeably; however it can’t fix the lack of bass.
Audio output through the 3.5mm jack is what you will most likely be using to listen to music. The Flyer can output a decent amount of volume and is clear in the mid-low to high range sections, however compared to an amplifier the lower end bass output of the Flyer was a bit lacking. That said the bass can be improved through the SRS mode but will most likely overpower the rest of the frequencies and is probably best to stick with Normal mode. We wouldn’t go out of our way to say the Flyer’s music output was bad as it’s certainly not, it just wasn’t particularly amazing.
The non-replaceable battery inside the HTC Flyer is a whopping 4,000 mAh, and most of it is needed to power the 7” LCD display. One thing that is very noticeable before even turning the device on is the overall charge time from a flat battery. It took us around 4 hours to fully charge the device, and this was using the included 9V 1.6A charger. Luckily it takes longer than that to discharge.
With moderate to heavy usage we easily managed to make the Flyer last all day. With around 4 hours of note taking with internet disabled, plus a couple of hours of internet browsing through WiFi and around an hour of gaming we ended the day with the Flyer on around 30% battery – so with more intensive (8+ hours) usage you will probably reach flat by the end of the day.
With light usage we easily managed to have the Flyer last two days. Unless you are using the tablet non-stop or somewhat intensively you won’t have to charge it every day – which is somewhat a bonus as charging from flat takes time.
To decide whether you want the HTC Flyer or not rests on whether you have a need for what this 7” tablet offers. If you need a device which can easily take notes and use a stylus, is great to read books and news, and smoothly browses the web via 3G then the HTC Flyer could be the right tablet for you.
If you are looking for something larger, or something with a greater focus on multimedia we suggest looking elsewhere. Despite the back of the box saying with the Flyer you can “immerse yourself in movies” the lack of playable formats, despite the support for them, means that you should probably be looking at something else if you constantly want to watch videos.
Then there’s the price. We really can’t ignore the fact that at AU$849 this tablet is not cheap. It does have the fantastic looks and build quality of the HTC aluminium unibody, but for the same price you could land yourself a more powerful 32GB+3G iPad 2, larger Motorola Xoom 3G with Honeycomb or for several hundred dollars less you can get the older 7-inch Samsung Galaxy Tab. The Flyer is simply too expensive to compete with these devices and needs at least a $100-150 price drop to make it more appealing.
All up the Flyer is good, and the software on it really shines for what it is designed to do. Combined with the Magic Pen you could fully make use of the great features available to it with some solid hardware to back it. However with the price and the other less flash features of the device it is just not quite right to recommend as an all-round Android tablet just yet.
HTC Flyer P510e 32GB+3G
Neowin Verdict: 7.0/10 (Good)
|The Pros||The Cons|
++ Solid aluminium unibody design
- Price is high
You can buy the HTC Flyer right now for AU$849 (32GB+3G) or AU$799 (16GB WiFi-only) unlocked and outright from MobiCity.