Continuing from the last review, where I unboxed the HTC Flyer, ran through the initial setup and worked through some customization. Now I’m going to talk about using the HTC Flyer for various tasks.
Reading PDF’s and eBooks
One of the things I really like about the iPad and iPad2 is the screen size for reading PDF’s. Of course, Apple doesn’t get credit for allowing the device to easily read PDF’s. I use a third party application called GoodReader to perform this task, needless to say, having a 10″ screen to read PDF’s is quite nice. The HTC Flyer comes packed with a PDF Reader, I can’t say if this is a standard part of Android 2.3 or not, or if it’s something HTC packed into it, but it works well enough. I was able to throw some PDF’s into a “Books” folder I created under the HTC’s root “My Documents” folder, and upon running the PDF Reader it easily found my PDF’s. The only things I didn’t like about the PDF Reader was the inability to lock the orientation and paging is done only with a vertical swipe. The lack of an orientation lock made it hard at times to read, since a slight tilt would cause the reader to rotate. Overall, reading PDF’s on the 7″ screen isn’t bad, but I had to pinch, zoom, and scroll a little to position my text so it fit properly.
In addition to PDF’s, I also have a collection of epub books. The epub files work nicely on my iPad, and when sync’d up, show up in my iBooks shelf. The HTC Flyer has a similar application simply called “Reader”. I threw a few Jules Verne books into the “My Documents” folder and the “Reader” application found and loaded my them with no problems. The “Reader” application doesn’t suffer from any orientation problems, but in contrast, it doesn’t even offer the option, but given how ePub files are, it doesn’t matter very much.
Overall, reading books and PDF’s is quite good; epubs faired better than PDF’s, mainly due to the reader application that is included by default. I didn’t venture out into the marketplace for any other reader applications, but I’m sure there are bound to be better ones out there.
I don’t heavily rely on my iPad2 for music playback, but I do have some music on them. Apple makes music organization relatively painless through the use of iTunes. It’s a love/hate relationship. On one hand, it’s nice to have a single application that can make buying and transferring music to the iPhone or iPad easy, on the other hand, you’re at the mercy of iTunes to keep your music together. I’m actually not too sure what a recommended application to use for Android devices are, but I was essentially able to grab some mp3’s and drop them onto a “Music” folder I created in the root of the HTC Flyer. To challenge the Flyer, I threw in a couple of Chinese tracks from my wife’s collection to see how it would handle the names. HTC’s included player software is it’s own panel and I was pleasantly surprised that the HTC Flyer not only found my music tracks, but picked up the Chinese names with little effort.
In general music playback is fine, the only unanswered question I have is how do I manage playlists? I’ve grown accustomed to using iTunes to manage and create playlists, the lack of something to do this with leaves me a bit lost.
One of the first panels to the right after swiping to the left brought me to a video viewer application, simply called “Watch”, which HTC provided. I thought it was a video player, similar to IOS’s Video app, which would simply play whatever videos I threw onto my iPad, but it appears the “Watch” is simply a front end to their storefront for what seems to be a paid video service (oh boy! Another online video rental service!). For testing purposes, I threw onto the HTC some .mp4 files I created for my iPad to see if the “Watch” app would find them, and indeed, it did NOT. There also didn’t seem to be a way to play my own movies. I had to venture into the Android Marketplace to find a file management tool, since there was none provided. Luckily, there are a large number of free file managers to choose from. Upon finding one and installing it, I was able to navigate to the folder I put the mp4 files in. Upon selecting a file, the HTC Flyer was able to play the videos with little effort.
Overall, video playback was fine, but I was disappointed that there was no video player besides the “Watch” application, and I had to go poking around the Marketplace for a file manager just to play my own videos.
Web Browsing and Flash Support
Being in Apple-land for so long, I sort of forgot about what having Flash was like in a browser. In fact, I really didn’t miss it all that much, except for the few places that have embedded flash video that I just can’t see in Safari. It was actually sort of refreshing to have a more full web browsing experience. One place I visited was my son’s TaeKwonDo school’s site, Agape Martial Arts (http://www.agapemartialarts.com). I was able to view several of the form videos on their site without any problems right from the browser. The only funny thing I encountered was when viewing some videos in full screen mode, as soon as the video ended, the HTC Flyer acted like I pressed the power button and went to sleep. Web browsing was smooth and pretty quick over wifi and no lags in rendering the sites I had gone to. The HTC Flyer was also able to render Chinese language web sites with no problems. Below are two images from my attempts to visit http://www.wechoosethemoon.org, which is a impressive flash site that celebrates the 40th year of the moon landing.
Taking Pictures and Videos
I’m going be pretty frank with this section. Contrary to many other reviews you find on the Internet, the camera on the HTC Flyer is awful! I’ve never seen such an abysmal 5 megapixel camera. I actually don’t really think it’s the hardware that’s at fault though. It almost appears as if the software the drives the camera is permanently setting the image quality to the lowest possible, so what you ultimately get is a garbled muddy mess of pixels. Video didn’t fair much better. The camera settings allow for 720p HD video, but the white balance isn’t very good, and once again, the quality of the images were awful. Now, to be fair, I thought maybe I had a defective unit, so I hopped on over to my local mall and into the Best Buy Mobile store to try their HTC Flyer demo unit. Sadly their demo unit didn’t fair any better. While there I tried the camera on the Samsung Galaxy that was next to it, and the Samsung was much better. Below are some test shots I setup to demo the camera, comparing it to my iPad2, iPhone4, Nintendo DSiXL, and my Canon s95, you can be the judge. Just a note, the linked images below are straight from the camera, I didn’t color correct or retouch them.
|Test Image 01: Objects, under well lit conditions, about 3-4 feet away from subject.|
The first test has the subject matter, which are books and an statue of Yuna from Final Fantasy X, under a well lit table at a slight distance. The Canon S95 and iPhone 4 pretty much destroys the Nintendo, HTC and iPad2. But if you look at the closeup of the HTC image, you’ll see horrid artifacts that muddy up any decent detail in the image, it just seems the algorithm seeks out faces and deliberately distorts them for you.
|Test Image 02: Same as 01, but close up, about 1 foot from subject.|
The second test is the same subjects as Test 01, but this time, the camera was closer to the subjects. In this test the HTC Flyer faired better, but the image is still poor compared to the iPad, and of course, the Canon S95 destroys the rest, although the iPhone 4 fairs pretty well.
|Test Image 03: Snapshot of a Magazine Article.|
The third test is just simply taking a picture of a page from a magazine. Sometimes, I need to take a quick snapshot of an article or a form that I come across, instead of running over to some copier, why not just pull out my trusty tablet or phone and take a picture. If you look closely at the images above, the iPad2 and Nintendo DSiXL don’t fair well here, the resolution is too low to take a decent readable snapshot of a page. The HTC Flyer does ok here, but if you look closely, there are spots all around where the image is blurred.
|Test Image 04: Closeup of a Face|
The last test I did was a close up of a face, now, I realized after taking the photo’s, that I didn’t conduct this test well, since I was hovering over the subject about 2 feet away, which you won’t be doing with a real person. But in this test, we see the HTC Flyer does an ok job as well in comparison to the rest, the iPad2 still has better color quality, and the image in the HTC is still soft. It seems that the HTC Camera’s method of compressing images does a very bad job if the image is taken from any type of distance, and fairs better if the image is close.
For video performance, I took two scenes from my iPad2 to compare with the HTC Flyer. First scene is outside on a cloudy and foggy day (the weather wasn’t that cooperative), and the second scene is from my son’s TaeKwonDo school, Agape Martial Arts.
If you notice in the video, the image on the left is from the iPad2, and the white balance is much better than the HTC Flyer. Image clarity is also better on the iPad2. Needless to say, I am quite disappointed in the camera performance on the HTC Flyer. It’s not that I’m looking for a replacement for a dedicated camera, but if you’re making a product that is supposed to go against the iPad, and you tout your camera is 5 megapixels (far better than the iPad2), then it better at least perform better. In this case, it just doesn’t.
So here’s a summary of my findings:
- PDF and EBook reading is good.
- Flash support!
- Chinese language web sites.
- Drop your music and books onto the tablet.
- No Packaged Video Player or File Manager.
- Bad Photo and Video quality.
- PDF Reader is very basic, no rotation lock.
That’s it for Part 2. I think I have one more major part left for this review. I’ll go into the Stylus, and some of my other thoughts on the Android experience. Thanks for reading, and please feel free to send me any comments, questions, or suggestions.