Wednesday, June 29, 2011

All tablets are not created equal

For my first review I've chosen a fantastic set of tablets. The HTC Flyer and the EVO View 4G with Sprint 3G/4G. I've found that I tend to lean toward 7" tablets for their superior portability vs the 9.7" and 10.1" sizes that make up most of the tablet landscape. Here's a comparison shot with both of these tablets with an iPad for size reference.
First off let's get the general specs out of the way:
Single Core 1.5Ghz Snapdragon processor
HTC Sense 2.1 for tablets
16GB internal storage for Flyer/32GB for the View 4G
Weight 420g
Bluetooth 3.0 with A2DP
Wifi b/g/n
5 megapixel rear camera and 1.3 megapixel front cam for video chat
MicroSd card slot up to 32GB

The display is one of the brightest and most colorful I've come across. Watching HD videos and playing games are a joy and text is clear and without pixelation. It's a standard LCD display, but I would have guessed SLCD easily after my first use. The 7" form factor is best used in landscape orientation when it comes to web browsing and video playback. For reading books however, portrait is the way to go. It's very similar to the popular Nook Color in landscape. All in all it's just a really great display.

EVO VIEW 4G radio performance
The 3G performance of the View was disappointing to say the least. Sprint's plan is reasonable at $35/mo for 3GB of 3G and unlimited 4G. If in a 4G area I would recommend this tablet heavily. 3G performance was simply awful. 3G speeds were much lower than my EVO 4G or EVO 3D. 4G speeds were solid with 6-10Mbps down. I found that I still had to use wifi to get anything done on the View (no 4G) which defeats the purpose of buying this over the wifi only Flyer. Here's a Speedtest shot to explain what I mean.

These tablets both run Sense 2.1 for tablets and is almost identical to Sense 3.0 found in Smartphones like the EVO 3D and HTC Sensation. Anyone who has used a recent HTC Android device will feel at home here. It's running Android version 2.3.3 instead of the Tablet centric 3.x Honeycomb. Personally, I prefer the combination of Sense/Gingerbread to Honeycomb. While HC is made specifically for tablets it feels very unfinished to me. There are very few tablet apps in the Market and many apps don't resize to fit the larger HC tablet displays. Apps tend to run full screen on the Flyer/View and I've experienced very few force closes while running applications. For now I'd say that HTC made the right call, although they have said that Honeycomb is coming "soon". The new Sense UI is simply gorgeous. Widgets are full screen for the most part, but users can set each of the home screens up as they like with shortcuts, bookmarks, folders or Widgets. HTC's Watch service for purchasing movies is included and is pretty great. Choices are limited now, but more titles are added daily. Movies can be rented or purchased for $8.99-$14.99. I purchased I am Legend and Due Date and both look great. Also, if you have an HTC Sensation or EVO 3D titles can be shared among devices.  Here is the 8 screen LEAP view.

The biggest thing that sets these tablets apart from the rest of the pack is HTC's Scribe digital pen. The pen allows users to take screenshots, scribble, take notes and highlight. The Scribe has 2 buttons. One is for erasing and the other for highlighting. It's also pressure sensitive so a harder press makes for a bolder line. It adds a level of productivity not found in other Android or iOS tablets. Here's an example of what  you can do with it.

I'm happy to say that battery life is excellent on the Flyer/View. The Flyer seems to last longer due to it's lack of 3G/4G radio, but they both get 6-10hrs of actual usage. I could get through 2 days of moderate to heavy use out of both models which is all I could ask for. I didn't get to test 4G much on the View, but I'm sure that heavy 4G usage would drain the battery much faster.

If portablilty is king for you then I don't think you can do any better right now than the HTC Flyer. It's a fast, capable tablet that will suit your on the go needs very well. I've recently used the Moto Xoom, Acer Iconia Tab, Galaxy Tab, Blackberry Playbook and the iPad 2. The Flyer is my pick for the best overall performer, but the iPad 2 is also an excellent choice if you prefer the larger form factor or need a million games. The software seems much more polished than the Honeycomb tablets listed above as it makes for a more enjoyable overall experience. If you're in a Sprint 4G market and don't mind a 2yr contract the View is fantastic. While 3G performance was subpar (update will likely fix this issue) pulling 6-10Mbps down on 4G will get the job done for sure.
It's worth noting as well that the View supports Netflix due to recent firmware update while the Flyer does not. I'm sure it's coming either by official support or by one of the many members of the xda developers forum.  If you're in the market for an Android tablet without contract you owe it to yourself to head to your local Best Buy (exclusive) to check the Flyer.