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HTC Flyer – no low-cost flying

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It’s Tablet Tuesday and, in the first edition of our Gadget Ten Question Tablet Test, SEAN BACHER puts the HTC Flyer through its paces and finds it well-rounded, but overpriced.

HTC has built a good reputation in the smartphone arena. With its adoption of the Android operating systems on its devices, the reputation continues to stand. Its devices are solidly built, work well and are usually reasonably priced.

The company hasn’t rested on its laurels, and is continuing to delight users with new innovations in smartphones and now also in tablets, with the HTC Flyer.

In the first of a comprehensive series of tablet reviews, we look at the HTC Flyer and put it through Gadget’s specially designed Ten Question Tablet Test (see the criteria here). Will it fly or will it crash?

1.         The sound of one-hand tapping (Can you comfortably hold it in one hand and operate it in the other?)
The HTC sports a 7-inch screen. This smaller screen size means that the tablet rests comfortably on your hand, both in portrait and landscape mode. The virtual keyboard that pops out is well laid out and the buttons are big enough to tap without you having to worry about hitting two keys at the same time.

Furthermore, the HTC is enclosed in a cool aluminium case with two plastic parts at the top and bottom of the unit. This aluminium shell not only makes the tablet feel sturdy, but its weight also means that it sits firmly in your hand.

I felt quite confident that the device would not fall out of my hands while tapping away on the move. It is just a little heavy for continual use, however.

7/10.

2.         The Angry Birds test (How responsive is the device in interactive tasks?)
The Flyer comes with the Android 2.3 operating system, known as Gingerbread, but it is topped with HTC Sense, a proprietary user interface that makes for a more integrated and user-friendly experience. Coupled with a 1.5 GHz processor, 32GB of internal storage and 1GB RAM, this means it’s not the most powerful tablet out there, but gets tasks done without frustration.

I ran a variety of applications, ranging from processor intensive games through to menial point-and-click apps, and all ran well. The interface remained responsive and not once did I need to sit back and wait while the number crunching went on in the background.

And Angry Birds? The touch-screen responded crisply when I yanked the birds back in their catapult and they landed precisely where I aimed. The fact that they often missed their target by miles had little to do with the device itself!

The Flyer uses a screen technology called capacitive touch as opposed to resistive technology. This means that the glass screen is coated with a transparent conductor and, when your finger touches the screen, it distorts the screen’s electrostatic field. A message is sent to a processing unit telling it the location of the touch, and the processor performs the fucntions that lead to the required action.

A resistive screen, on the other hand, comprises many layers in the screen. Two of these layers are conductive and are separated by a gap. When you touch the screen you connect these layers and a ‘touch’ is registered, which is sent to the processor.

Both technologies have a positive and a negative side. Capacitive technology is more expensive, but is less accurate and responsive, and you can’t operate a capacitive screen when using gloves, as it works off the electricity in your body.

Besides that though, the Flyer is a really responsive tablet, with no hang-ups or freezes.

8/10

3.         The tablet gender test (Can it multi-task? Hint: males can’t.)
Starting up numerous applications didn’t affect the device at all. Its generous 1GB of RAM meant that the Flyer never ran out of room for me to open a new application – while the previous one continued to run on its own in the background. A quick hold-down of the the Home button takes you to the task manager from where you can see and manage all active applications. You also have the option to kill all open applications at the push of a button.

The Flyer includes a task-switcher application which also lets you easily move between active applications.

The HTC multi-tasked better than most humans I know.

Score: 8/10

4.         Testing by the book (Can it replace novels and textbooks?)
Although the HTC is not a Kindle replacement, it handles novels, newspapers and textbooks exceptionally well. Included with the device is a reader which lets you connect to the Kobo ebook store to download additional titles. That will be enough for many, but the Kindle store remains the gold standard – the iTunes of books, one could say.

If that’s your preference, the Android Market Place also offers a Kindle reader which lets you download books from Amazon, much like any other tablet or Kindle does.

A range of news and weather applications automatically download relevant updates to your device.

So far, so normal. But the HTC also includes something that adds to both newspapers and textbooks: a pen.

When I first saw the Magic Pen – a battery-powered active pen that relays information to the tablet – I thought HTC had taken a step back. But, once I learned how to used it, I was hooked. With the pen you can highlight any part of a document – especially useful when reading newspaper articles or annotating a text book. It also has a scribble option so you can write on any screen where the pen is supported.

However, the pen really came into its own on the notepad page. HTC automatically sets this up up on one of the eight home-screens. With this application open, you can jot down notes and numbers on the fly. Perfect for when you are on the move and don’t have time to open up the required application and, for example, make sure the keyboard is in number mode and not text mode because you want to jot down a phone number. Just swipe to the notes screen and start writing.

HTC’s innovative addition of a pen means the the Flyer scores close to top marks here.

Score: 9/10.

5.         Live long and prosper (How’s the battery life?)
The battery life was rather unimpressive. A fully charged battery kept me going for just under a day, and that’s not keeping it on all the time.

Furthermore, when streaming video, music and the like, things got even worse. If I didn’t completely shut the Flyer down when it was not in use, and just let it go into sleep mode, I would.
The HTC loses chunks when it comes to power.
Offering up to 14 hours of standby battery life, the Flyer failed as I was barely able to watch a full lenght movie without reaching for the charger.
Score: 4/10

6.         It’s all about You(Tube) (How well does it handle online video sites?)
Video works wonderfully. The included YouTube app means you don’t need to go through a browser to access the site, but can instead search for video on the tablet itself.

Watching ripped DVDs (my own that is) on the Flyer worked without a hitch, with the only limiting factor being the battery power.
Although the Flyer only sports a 7” screen, I found it more than adequate to watch a movie without having to scrunch up my eyes to see smaller objects.

Score: 7/10

7.         The retro test (Can it replace your radio? TuneIn Radio reveals all.)

If that surround sound function can be demonstrated more effecitvely, it might just blow you away.

Score: 7/10

8.         On target (Is the on/off switch easy to find and use in the dark?)
When you first get the device, it may take you a few seconds to locate the power button. Its at the top-left hand side of the unit. Once you know where it is you should never miss it again, since it isn’t  flush with the shell as with some tablets. This means it easy to find in the dark, or to switch off in a hurry should the need arise.

Score: 7/10

9.         Keep control (How effective are the control buttons – hardware and software)
When the HTC Flyer is in sleep mode or off, there are no visible buttons apart from the power and volume buttons. Switch it on in portrait mode, and four built-in buttons light up on the bottom of the screen. Turn the device on its side and an additional set of these buttons appear, once again at what is now the bottom of the screen.

Why four? One is the Home button, one is an Options button and one is a Back button – the same you would find on just about every Android device. The fourth, though, sets it apart: it is the pen mode button. This one you can’t push; you tap it with the Magic Pen, it glows a bright green and brings out a little palette from where you can access your pen options. All in all, very innovative use of controls.

Score: 9/10

10.       The iPrice Test (Is it competitively priced? And we all know which device we’re comparing.)
At R6 500 that the Flyer is expensive for an Android device. The Samsung P900 Galaxy Tab 7”, which has a similar spec, comes in at below R6 000 and the iPad 32GB Wifi and 3G unit will set you back R6 600. Would you buy this before a high-end iPad at the same price? There are other tablets of the same specification at a much cheaper price.

Score: 4/10

The bottom line
Overall score: 70/100

A score of 70% means the Flyer falls short of being a top performer, but it is mainly price and battery life that lets it down. Aside from that, the device is well rounded, performing admirably in most departments. If you’re never far from a power supply, it won’t disappoint.

* Follow Sean Bacher on Twitter on @seanbacher

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