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.
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.
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.lack of applications optimized for the Honeycomb software. HTC has wisely avoided that problem by sticking with Gingerbread.
On the downside, the View 4G/Flyer really feels like a ridiculously huge phone, and the lack of tablet optimization for key apps, such as Gmail and the browser, means the View 4G/Flyer is less powerful in some respects compared to the competition. The screen size, shape, and overall design of the hardware subtly suggest that the View 4G/Flyer is best used in portrait orientation. And in fact, most apps are set up to work best that way. This further contributes to the "large phone" status of the View 4G/Flyer.
The most worrisome aspect, however, is that Sprint says the View 4G/Flyer will be updated to Honeycomb in the coming months. If and when that happens, the device will have an entirely different user interface, requiring users to re-learn how to operate it. Sprint and HTC haven't said how they'll overcome any app compatibility issues this change will bring.
One thing the View 4G/Flyer has the other tablets don't is a stylus. HTC has created special software for the View 4G/Flyer that lets users take advantage of a touch screen-compatible pen.
The View 4G/Flyer has a dedicated area in the bezel that, when touched with the pen, activates the pen software. Tapping the pen anywhere on the screen--in any app--automatically takes a screen shot. The pen can then be used to mark up the screen with notes, comments, arrows, drawings, etc. Then, users can fire that marked up image off to whomever they wish via the email application or upload it to Evernote. There are obvious business benefits to this.
The pen and its associated application (which, by the way, offers a nice selection of colors and formats) is perfect for making edits to documents on the fly. Consider this scenario: You receive a document from a colleague. It needs several edits. Rather than explain the edits in an email, you can take a screen shot of the document, mark the edits you want made directly on it, and then return the document to the sender with a clear picture of what needs to be done.
Because the pen also interacts with the photo gallery, this could be a boon to field workers who often use cameras to record images. The pen adds the ability to include comments directly on the image, which can be helpful in communicating action items.
Beyond that, the Notes application that accompanies the pen can be useful for those who prefer to use a pen to the QWERTY keyboard for longer documents. The Notes app can record audio, as well as accept audio/video attachments, photos, and documents. It also integrates with the calendar. It is a decent app for the note-taking crowd.
The pen has two buttons to mimic quick presses and long presses. It's an expensive accessory, though, at $80, requires a battery, and I often misplaced it. Though the Notes application does works without the pen, that's what lends the app panache.
Odds And Ends
The View 4G/Flyer ships with more than 60 applications on board. Mobile professionals will like how the View 4G/Flyer integrates with Google's services, such as Gmail, Calendar, Docs, and Maps. Other productivity options include Polaris Office, Sprint Mobile Wallet, Sprint Hotspot (for sharing wireless data), TeleNav Navigation, and the Voice Recorder. As mentioned earlier, business users can also download and run any of the applications in the Android Market.
For the media lover, there's plenty to like. The Amazon MP3 player, Connected Media with HDMI support, HD gaming, NFS Shift, Nascar, Sprint Radio, HTC Watch, and YouTube applications mean there are plenty of ways to entertain oneself with the View 4G/Flyer.
HTC's Sense software allows users to completely customize their experience with the View 4G/Flyer. Wallpapers, skins, themes, widgets, app shortcuts, and more can all be applied to the home screens. The themes, in particular, might be useful to business users, as it allows users to create different home screen profiles for different uses. For example, users can create a "work" theme, and populate it with email, navigation, documents, etc. Come the weekend, it can be switched out to a "home" theme that prioritizes the browser, news feeds, and Facebook.
Overall, the View 4G/Flyer is a fine device. The hardware is attractive and works well. It hits all the right benchmarks with respect to battery life, wireless options, and camera performance; though I found myself wishing it had a dual-core processor from time to time. The size and weight make it highly portable.
While it lacks Honeycomb, the View 4G/Flyer's Gingerbread operating system gives it the advantage of app compatibility. Right now, that's huge. Sense 3.0 brings with it vast customization options, but it makes the View 4G/Flyer feel like a ridiculously big phone.
Can it be a valuable business tool? Sure. The pen and associated Note app give it an entirely unique use-case scenario that other tablets don't enjoy. The question is if HTC can convince developers to take advantage of those capabilities and put the pen to more productive use?
Personally, I prefer the larger screens available on competing devices, but for many, the HTC View 4G/Flyer may be the Goldilocks solution--not too big, not too small, but just right for their purposes.
Innovative IT shops are turning the mobile device management challenge into a business opportunity--and showing that we can help people be more connected and collaborative, regardless of location. Read the new report from InformationWeek Analytics. Download it now. (Free registration required.)