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6/17/2011
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Review: HTC Takes Different View Of The Tablet

The HTC EVO View 4G and Flyer offer a smaller alternative to the competing models, but without Honeycomb are they really just ridiculously huge phones?

 HTC Flyer
(click image for larger view)
HTC Flyer
If 10-inch tablets aren't your thing, HTC hits the market with a more portable piece of hardware in the EVO View 4G/Flyer, a seven-inch device that runs Android Gingerbread and HTC Sense 3.0 rather than the tablet-optimized Android Honeycomb.

It's also the only tablet with a stylus and pen input capabilities, but are these solid differentiators, or is the View 4G/Flyer too, little too late?

Two versions of the HTC tablet will be available by the end of June. The HTC Flyer, a Wi-Fi only version sold directly to customers with no interference from the wireless network operators. It will cost $499 and has 16 GB of on-board storage and microSD card slot for additional storage. The HTC EVO View 4G is the Sprint-branded version, and it includes both 3G and 4G cellular data powers, as well as 32 GB of internal storage. Pricing and data plan information for the Sprint version isn't yet available.

InformationWeek has both devices on hand and will put them through their paces to see how they compare to the overall tablet market.

Hardware

In most respects, both versions of the HTC tablet are identical. They have the same size, weight, shape, (7.69 x 4.42 x 0.52 inches), and screen. The screen measures seven inches diagonally and has 1024 x 600 pixels. I found the screen to be bright and it produced accurate colors, though the resolution was a bit less than I'd like.

The weight is a smidge under a pound, but it feels heavier than it should. At more than half an inch thick, the View 4G/Flyer comes off as slightly chubbier than competing tablets, such as the iPad 2 and Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1. It does, however, feel solid and strong. Materials and build quality are excellent. HTC knows how to pick materials and put things together.

As for controls, the View 4G/Flyer has a volume toggle on the right side, a power button and 3.5mm headset jack on the top, and a microUSB/MHL port on the bottom. The bottom port serves triple duty: It is used for charging, syncing with computers, and passing digital audio/video to HDTVs via HDMI. This is an added bonus. The controls all worked well and don't get in the way of using the View 4G/Flyer.

In sum, the View 4G/Flyer is a comfortable device to interact with, and the smaller size makes it easier to carry around than larger competing devices.

Performance

The View 4G/Flyer runs on a 1.5GHz Qualcomm SnapDragon processor. It forgoes two cores and sticks with a single engine under the hood. The processor leaves the View 4G/Flyer feeling a bit under-powered at times. For instance, the user interface was sometimes slow. Something as simple as panning through the numerous home screen panels was herky-jerky and not smooth. Applications performed well, though.

Both versions include 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi, GPS, and Bluetooth 3.0. In tests over my 802.11n Wi-Fi home network, the View 4G/Flyer was able to reach download speeds with a peak of 24.4 Mbps. Uploads were less impressive, peaking at 7.6 Mbps. As long as the available Internet connection is speedy, so is the View 4G/Flyer. The GPS receiver was able to locate the device to within several meters most of the time and it interacted flawlessly with applications such as Google Maps. The Bluetooth radio supports stereo music streaming and high-speed wireless transfers between two devices. This is a feature not yet found on many devices.

The Sprint-branded version includes EVDO 3G and WiMax 4G. By including these radios, View 4G users aren't chained to Wi-Fi hotspots and can instead find connectivity anywhere Sprint provides wireless services. Sprint's 3G network is capable, though limited in terms of sheer power. With EVDO coverage available, I saw average download speeds near 1.3 Mbps and average upload speeds near 800 Kbps. These are common figures for the 3G network. Don't worry about how slow those speeds are though; 1.3 Mbps is more than adequate for email, basic browsing, and tons of other network-needing apps. Under a WiMax sky, the View 4G performed better in the speed department, with peak downloads reaching 6.1 Mbps and peak uploads hitting 1.7 Mbps. Again, these speeds are plenty fast for most business needs.

The View 4G/Flyer packs a massive 4000mAh battery and I found battery life to be excellent. The View 4G/Flyer easily lasted days on a charge with casual use. Even under heavy use, with all the radios turned on, the View 4G/Flyer powered through two full days. That's great for productivity. When your laptop dies, the View 4G/Flyer can serve as an emergency computing device.

The View 4G/Flyer includes a 5-megapixel camera on the back and a 1.3-megapixel camera on the front for video chats. The camera software is powerful and includes plenty of options for adjusting how the View 4G/Flyer captures images. Though using a tablet device feels awkward when it comes to snapping images, the View 4G/Flyer doesn't feel nearly as weird as an iPad or Galaxy Tab does. The 5-megapixel camera takes very good images. Want to make some funny comments on the photo? Break out the stylus and have at it. The View 4G/Flyer also shoots 720p HD video. The video looked pretty good, but I did notice that it was a bit blocky from time to time.

Software / Apps

Rather than run Honeycomb, HTC opted to go with Android 2.3 Gingerbread with its Sense 3.0 user interface overlay. This is the exact same system software that is shipping on HTC's latest smartphones, including the EVO 3D, and the Sensation 4G. While Sense 3.0 is amazingly flexible and looks really good, there are some trade-offs for sure.

First, holding the View 4G/Flyer next to the HTC EVO 3D, for example, shows that the system software is almost identical. The only difference is the View 4G/Flyer's inability to make phone calls. Otherwise, the way the home screens work, the menus, the customizations, etc., are all the same. The View 4G/Flyer is stable, easy to use, and feels cohesive. Sense 3.0 is the best version of HTC's custom user interface, which includes neat features such as customizable lock screens, and powerful widgets.

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