The HTC Flyer is the company’s newly announced 7-inch tablet that will sport a modified version of its HTC Sense user interface; and more interestingly, a pen that will let you interact with the tablet in a different way than you would with your fingers.
The HTC Flyer pen
HTC hasn’t actually used its own technology for the pen, instead turning to Israeli company N-Trig to power the new offering. Its technology called DuoSense is basically a pen and multi-touch capacitive screen that allows you to switch between the two without having to tell it what you are doing.
This means you can use your fingers for navigating and the pen for highlighting or making notes - a tactic that HTC has used here on the HTC Flyer.
The benefits are that you get a significant advantage over touch-only devices by enabling greater levels of precision and accuracy that cannot be achieved by fingertips alone, the downside is that you’ve got to carry a pen around with you, and in the case of the HTC Flyer find somewhere to put it, although the Flyer does come with a case with a pocket for the pen.
Where to carry it aside, HTC was demoing the use of the pen at its booth at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. It will currently work with a number of first party apps from the company as well as the main interface, but you can’t use it to navigate around the menu systems.
HTC Sense: for tablets
HTC claims it has “completely redesigned the Sense UI” for the HTC Flyer. While that is true to some degree, the main focus here has been getting the Sense UI to work in landscape as well as introducing a number of new features to make use of the bigger screen. For the most part however, it is still the Sense UI that HTC smartphone users will happily rave about.
HTC Sense here isn’t just a larger tablet version though - it sports 3D graphics as well. Widgets are now specifically designed for tablet rather than smartphone use and because you don’t get the option to make voice calls you won’t find a dial pad. In portrait mode the home screen is displayed similar to the HTC Desire HD with the company’s iconic clock, location and weather details dominating the top half of the screen.
At the bottom you’ll find a dock that features shortcuts to the “app grid”, Snapbooth - the company’s photo editing software, Music, Watch - the company’s new video app, and the paint box. These can be customised to suit the apps you use the most.
Like the phone version there are plenty of slides that you can roll through including the company’s ebook reader offering, People, Photos, Music player, and more.
Turn the HTC flyer landscape and the solution is the same, however you can see more of what’s coming as you slide through the options. The dock options on the bottom however, don't change or expand out to offer more.
Drawing with the pen
Tapping anywhere on the screen with the Flyer’s pen automatically takes a screen shot and then allows you to start drawing on it with the pen.
HTC call this feature Scribble and it’s very straightforward. You can use this technique anywhere within the system (we are checking as to whether that includes third-party apps as well) and once you have your screen shot you can start drawing 'till you get bored.
Pressing in the bottom right hand corner icon will then let you select different colours and different brushes which you can then use to scribble on the screen, and therefore the screenshot you’ve just grabbed.
There’s a wide variety of colours to choose from, brush styles, and thickness settings, with the pen able to determine pressure and create a line accordingly. It’s going to be very handy for artists or doodlers to get their message across.
Once you’re done you simply tap the image with your finger and that image can then be shared with a stack of social networking options, email, online photo albums or other apps.
Realising that the HTC Flyer is going to be about taking notes (especially as you’ve got the pen) HTC has bundled a dedicated version of Evernote into the Flyer and the new Sense UI.
Here you can make notes, attach pictures all while recording sound. Notes that are made with the pen are attached to a bookmark at the time of the audio recording meaning you can make notes as you go to reference back to key stages in your meeting.
The notepad itself dominates the screen, however the top strip is where you’ll find the record and playback functions.
The HTC Flyer also comes with an ebook reader and this allows you to load up a number of books to read on the go. The ereader itself is fairly standard stuff with pretty animations as you turn the page over. Where it is probably different from your average ereader is in the ability to make notes with the pen in multiple colours and styles.
As soon as you make a note or highlight some text the app creates a bookmark for that page and you’ll be able to whizz through the bookmarks at a later date seeing what you wanted to highlight at the time.
Watch is the new video app from HTC that has been created by Saffron Digital. Load up the app and you’ll be able to scroll through your videos in landscape or portrait mode in a carousel that’s very similar to iTunes.
Watch also has a video store allowing you to buy while on the go and purchases are processed via a credit card by the looks of our hands-on time. Once bought, the film or show will start to download to your device however will automatically pause when you switch to 3G data (i.e., when you’ve left the house) so you don’t incur huge data bills because you happen to be downloading the latest movie.
If you’ve used any of the HTC Sense phones before you’ll know exactly what Snapbooth is about. Basically it's a bit of fun that will allow you to take a picture of yourself or your mate (using either of the HTC Flyer’s two cameras) and then mess around with the image, either after the fact or at the time.
There are effects like Bulge, Mirror, Glow, and Sepia amongst others.
You'll be able to browse both landscape and portrait with the ability to search pages, bookmark and run multiple tabs.
We didn't see much more than the Google homepage so we aren't yet sure how it will cope with text and video.
Unfortunately HTC hasn't shown all the features of the device off, like game streaming via GameOn, or how email will work, or other first-party and third-party apps.
Of course, the thing we haven't mentioned is that the HTC Flyer is going to launch running Android Gingerbread, rather than the tablet-specific Honeycomb version of Google's mobile operating system. HTC told us that it'd put a lot of time and effort into converting HTC Sense into a viable tablet user interface and that it didn't want to have to re-do all this work for Honeycomb. Whether this is the case, or whether Google is being a little more restrictive on customisations to its new versions isn't clear.
But from what we've seen, HTC has put a lot of consideration into how the device will work as a tablet. When Peter Chou, HTC CEO, introduced the HTC Flyer to journalists in Barcelona, he said two notable things. The first was that HTC weren't interested in launching a rushed "me too" tablet, and secondly he said “our [HTC] innovation does not stop at hardware”. From the time we've spent with the Flyer, that much is obvious.