Live HTC Flyer Review: Inking Experience

As an ink blogger, the feature I’ve been most enthusiastic about testing on the HTC Flyer is ink. The Flyer is designed for pen input in a way unlike other pen tablets before it. What I’ve found is the experience breaks out into quantity vs. quality. It’s easy to spill a lot of ink, but it ain’t always pretty.

[Click here for Part 1 of my live review "First Impact", here for Part 3 "Video on the Go", and here for my ongoing ink note-taking in Evernote.]

Pen is only for inking

Before I go any further, there’s one critical point about the Flyer’s pen input I should share first: the pen is for writing and drawing only. What that means is the pen cannot trigger any on-screen buttons, except its dedicated one on the bezel and the menu that pops up when that button is touched with the pen. Everything else it does on the screen is ink. This is vastly different from the Windows experience in which pen serves as cursor control, and capacitive tablets, like the iPad, in which a stylus is just a finger substitute. The Flyer treats the pen as a pen. That may not be the ideal solution, but the implementation is smart.

Screen size

I’m a big screen guy when it comes to inking. I started with a 10″ 4:3 slate, moved up to 14″ 16:10 convertible, and then back down a tad to 13.3″. I like a lot of writing space. The problem with that is I can’t exactly pocket one of those machines. The HTC Flyer with 7″ display gives up a lot of writing space, but is easy to carry in my gadget satchel that clips to my belt loops. Jotting notes on the go is almost too easy.

But that small screen forces me to write at a size smaller than I normally do. It also has me working closer to the edges with minimal space to rest my hand. Furthermore, when I do rest my hand, I must be mindful of the touch-sensitive bezel buttons, which are easily triggered if I pull the pen too far from the screen. My handwriting suffers as a result.

Screen feel

The smooth screen on the Flyer makes it easy to flick through photos and push web pages around. It’s quite a fingerprint magnet, but the touch control is great. I’ve found it to be smoothly responsive. But the pen glides over it like I’m writing on glass, which is literally the case. The tip is hard and smooth. The screen is slick and glossy. The lack of drag allows my hand to fly, but the loose control results in sloppy lines.

Unsophisticated software

The Flyer’s software hits the mark on convenience with quick access to notes and screen markup via the pen. In terms of pen usage, the implementation here is great. Less impressive is the way ink is handled by the software. It is a drawing system, plain and simple. While the integration with Evernote allows for a degree of handwriting recognition (not to the level of a system that tracks line strokes), it only applies to search, not conversion to text.

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Another piece missing is line smoothing. Any credit I normally get for the beauty of my handwriting, half belongs to the line smoothing system in Windows Tablet PC software (It’s “my Botox.”). Without it, well, as you can see for yourself in my samples from the Flyer, it’s pretty rough. Whatever problems the digitizer is giving me, I would say the unsophisticated software deserves equal weight for that. I don’t kid when I say Microsoft has a huge lead in pen input technology (that they may be squandering).

Touchy hardware

I know some of you won’t touch N-Trig digitizers, and my experience with it in the Flyer so far won’t sway you away from that. The detection range of the pen is a little tighter than I’m used to with Wacom dual digitizers. I’ve had to be more conscious about keeping the tip close to the screen or have my hand trigger the screen. When jotting notes, I commonly trigger the on-screen keyboard and touch-sensitive bezel buttons by accident.

On top of that, the pen got stuck one day, almost literally spilling ink whenever it came close to the screen and triggering its dedicated button without contact. I did manage to fix it by fully removing and reinserting the battery (the Flyer pen takes a AAAA, included). This did keep me from taking notes until I could stop and sit to do that.

The pen itself

Other than the “leak”, I’ve enjoyed using the Flyer’s pen. It’s a bit thicker, which I like. I was concerned about the smooth metal finish and slightly stunted length, but it turns out the grip and length work fine for me. Hard for me to judge the accessibility of the highlighter and eraser buttons. They work for me, but I’ve had a lot of experience with side buttons. It could be easy or I could be used to it.

The only deficiency I would note is that, without a garage or tether, the pen needs a clip. If it’s to be held in a pocket, it needs a clip to help hold it there. I added a clip by fitting it with a cap, but it really should be built-in.

Simple is good

While it might seem like the negatives stack up against the Flyer’s inking experience, they really are minor in the larger scheme. The pen is limited in purpose, and the software focuses on notes and mark-up, but that adds up to ease of use and access. There is room for improvements, but the critical thing is HTC is headed in the right direction with their implementation of pen on the Flyer. If you want clean lines and cursor control, stick with a Windows tablet. But for ease of use and intuitive interaction, the Flyer nails it.

  

Comments

  1. Dale Strauss says

    Sumocat – do you think the Flyer has teh potential to be a “go to” yellowpad replacement? I really want to dump my 8.5×11 paper notepad and go all digital, but that has been a failure on the iPad and the Android tablets I’ve tried because typing notes in a meeting is a non-starter. My trusty 2740p – with Wacom and OneNote – are perfection but for the size and viweing angle. When on a table, it is almost too tall for comfortable writing, and the off axis viewing from the side is poor. As I noted in your part 1, I was very impressed with the Flyer, but with no pen gave up and am waiting to try the Sprint Evo version (especially if they do offer the $35/month, 3gb 3g-unlimited 4g plan).

    • Sumocat says

      “Grab & Go” note-taking is exactly the type of usage I think the Flyer is built for. It’s small, screen is like an iPad cut in half, so it’s more like a little notepad than an 8.5×11. But the convenience of being able to carry it in my belt satchel and pull it as needed is great. If you need the size of a full notepad, the Flyer won’t cut it, but it wins at grab & go.

      For typed notes, it would need to be paired with a Bluetooth keyboard and stand. Easy enough to do, but that’s not a design intent.

      • Dale Strauss says

        I’m still on the fence between the 7″ and 10″ crowds. Letter size notes are the office norm, but ONLY because that is the metaphor to the file cabinet. We are working hard to go as digital as possible, so the smaller form factor shouldn’t really make a lot of difference in that scene. If we were printing them out all the time, perhaps – but that would make it less useful. My thought is using Evernote we should be able to stay digital from entry to use on the office file server.

        Like you, I really like the smaller size of the HTC, and I am very much impressed with the overall hardware and software quality and integration that HTC has done with Android. It is a lot like the enhancements HTC offered years ago to the early Windows Mobiel phones…but that’s where I get nervous as they abandoned those as well. The latest news of HP showing willingness to license WebOS makes me wonder if I may be going down a cul de sac instead of a new highway with the HTC Sense interface…

    • Sumocat says

      It should work with a screen protector, but my experience is that protectors are a waste. Also, it’s a crapshoot as to how the pen tip with work with the protector. It could create drag at the expense of wearing down the tip, possibly creating harsh edges. OEMs test (or should test) how the pen works on the screen so as not to damage either. Striking a balance between the feel of touch and pen should also be tested.

  2. Mark says

    According to some Chinese web site, you may use the other side of the Magic Pen to select menu since the pen is made from material.  Could you try this out? 
    A reader from Hong Kong.

    • Sumocat says

      That works. The pen is made of metal and is adequately conductive to act as a capacitive stylus. The end is rounded, so it should work without scratching the screen. Thanks for the tip!

      • Dale Strauss says

        Sorry to be a dork, but how does turning the pen over work any better than sticking out a finger to select menus while still holding the pen in your writing grip?

  3. Mark says

    According to some Chinese web site, you may use the other side of the Magic Pen to select menu since the pen is made from material.  Could you try this out? 
    A reader from Hong Kong.

  4. Anonymous says

    Sumocat, reviewing your Evernote log, it really appears that the HTC Flyer is not yet the answer to mobile note taking. I was leaning towards the Flyer (and interested in reviewing the Puccini) but it looks like an iPad 2 using a boxwave, or acase stylus with a combination of WritePad/Noteshelf/iAnnotate/Evernote/Smart Pad apps may be the way to go. 
    The Flyer has the advantage of the integration of several of these features but not the quality of these features as on the iPad 2.

    Any thoughts?

    • Sumocat says

      Note-taking on the Flyer isn’t perfect, but it nails the key factors of ease of use and access. The Puccini will have the advantage of a larger screen, but if it retains the same software, pen tip, and screen surface, I don’t think it will offer much improvement in terms of handwriting quality.

      As for the iPad, while software strongly affects the writing experience, the hardware simply is not designed for pen input. The iPad has the software advantage now, but the lack of an active digitizer puts a cap on the extent to which it can advance. By contrast, the Flyer software is really rough at the moment, but it has the key hardware and interface elements in place to be a great note-taking device. Long-term, Android pen tablets should catch up and prove superior (at least until Apple releases their own pen solution).

      • Anonymous says

        Thanks, this response is really helpful. It sounds like I am probably 6 – 12 months (or who knows) away from the ideal solution: active digitizer + effective / well integrated software. Again, looking forward to your review regarding the Fujitsu STYLISTIC Q550.

  5. Xlbugpro says

    Recently, when I write the notes, it keeps saving and cannot open again which I totally delete it and lost my notes

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