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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 EVO View 4G
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HTC EVO View 4G
Perhaps the biggest benefit of sticking with Gingerbread and Sense comes in the form of support for applications. The View 4G/Flyer doesn't need Honeycomb-optimized applications. It works with all the same Android apps that any Android handset does. That means it has full access to the 200,000+ applications in the Android Market. I downloaded and tested several and they scale to the larger display just fine. One of the sour notes hit by all the Honeycomb tablets is a 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.

Stylus

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.

Bottom Line

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.

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