I hate taking big quotes from past articles and using them as the premise for an introduction because it feels like I'm using previous work as a crutch. That being said, I've been meaning to reference something I wrote about HP three years ago and now is as good a time as any to dust it off:

"These PC OEMs could either wait for Microsoft to deliver with Windows 7 and hope that it will be enough to compete with Apple, or begin to try and solve the problem themselves....While these are mostly unpolished attempts at freeing OEMs from being Microsoft dependent, this is just a starting point. I'm not suggesting that PCs in the future will be completely devoid of Microsoft software, there will simply be another option.

HP noticed this same Microsoft dependency issue, just like the rest of the PC OEMs and over the coming years you're going to see companies like HP and Dell become more like Apple, offering systems as complete packages of hardware and software solutions. We'll see broader adoption of Linux and open source software and finally some out of the box thinking."

The lesson I learned back then wasn't that everyone had to be free of Microsoft in order to survive in the future, but rather that you need to actually own some tangible IP in order to differentiate yourself. There's this entire category of manufacturers that I like to call glorified parts assemblers. They simply pull technologies from other companies, bundle them all together and sell the final product without contributing anything substantial on their own. These companies are the gift wrappers at the mall, they don't really contribute to the gift inside, they just make it look pretty. When times get tough, they are going to be the first to go.

It's not just device manufacturers I'm talking about either. The SoC market has over half a dozen players in it today, and based on how pretty much every market matures over time - the majority of them aren't going to be players over the long term.

I bring this up at the beginning of a HTC device review because I feel like HTC is really trying to be more than just a gift wrapper at the mall. Sure HTC makes a whole lot of smartphones, many of which look very similar and rely on the underlying hardware to make them successful, but HTC is also pretty active in software development as well. Its Sense UI started as a bandaid to fix shortcomings in Google's Android OS. Over time, as the Android experience improved, I questioned the need for 3rd party skins. Most of them are just cumbersome and don't really contribute much positively to the overall experience. For the most part I do prefer the stock Android experience. The UI skins and enhancements are generally not as polished, cohesive or functional as the plain old Android. However, as I alluded to above, the mobile market today is far from mature. There are no right answers today, only a mixed bag of attempts that make varying degrees of sense. The fact that HTC is still trying with its custom UI and apps isn't just a sign that it needs differentiation to remain relevant, but also that perhaps Google doesn't yet have all of the answers. There is room for improvement, or at least an alternative take on functionality, and HTC wants to have a hand in providing it.

Which brings us to the device at hand: the HTC Flyer. This is HTC's first tablet and unlike the Android tablets that launched last year, it doesn't suck. At the same time, unlike those that came out this year - it doesn't run Honeycomb. You see, NVIDIA was Google's target partner for Honeycomb and Qualcomm was pretty behind on porting the OS to its hardware. As a result the only Honeycomb tablets on the market today use Tegra 2.

Qualcomm is a minority shareholder in HTC and as a result the Taiwanese manufacturer tends to only ship Qualcomm SoCs in its products. With the NVIDIA option pretty much off the table, so was Honeycomb.

2011 Tablet Comparison
  Apple iPad 2 ASUS Eee Pad Transformer HTC Flyer Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1
SoC Apple A5 (Dual ARM Cortex A9 @ 1GHz) NVIDIA Tegra 2 (Dual ARM Cortex A9 @ 1GHz) Qualcomm APQ8055 (Scorpion @ 1.5GHz) NVIDIA Tegra 2 (Dual ARM Cortex A9 @ 1GHz)
GPU PowerVR SGX 543MP2 NVIDIA GeForce Adreno 205 NVIDIA GeForce
RAM 512MB 1GB 1GB 1GB
Display 1024 x 768 IPS 1280 x 800 IPS 1024 x 600 1280 x 800 PLS
NAND 16GB 16GB 16GB 16GB
Dimensions 241.2mm x 185.7mm x 8.8mm 271mm x 175mm x 12.95mm 195.4mm x 122mm x 13.2mm 256.6 x 172.9 x 8.6mm
Weight 601g 695g 420g 565g
Price $499 $399 $499 $499

Yet HTC clearly saw it as very important to deliver a tablet this year. I'm getting close to overusing this quote but I will never forget what AMD's Eric Demers told me: the best way to lose a fight is to not show up. The tablet battle has only just begun and only through tireless iteration will we see clear leaders emerge, so not showing up to this early fight isn't an option for most of the players.

If you don't have the hardware platform to ship Honeycomb on time and all non-Honeycomb tablets seem to fail horribly, what is a company left to do? Try something different of course.

The Hardware
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  • aranyagag - Tuesday, June 21, 2011 - link

    99.999% of the time. I am the only person in the surgery wards, OPD, and OTs carrying a tablet. Because my Samsung galaxy tab (the original 7 inch version) can fit into trouser pockets (even though just barely). There are four other people in my department who have iPads (both versions 1 and version 2), but they are always, and I repeat ALWAYS left at home. The only time when another tablet comes into our domain is when somebody from another department comes in with a galaxy tab (7 inch). This is because THEY say that instead of carrying along and iPad it is easier to carry along their laptops.
    It seems, however, that Samsung must have done a lot of research before deciding the dimensions of of my tablet, because even with a cover it refuses to fit into any pocket. This means that while it may fulfill one aspect of my use-- Using the tablet while on rounds, the HTC flyer cannot be carried as easily and hence is not as useful.
    To summarise, I would like to quote something that my head of the department said oon seeing me use my tablet, "I have an iPad 2 , but it remains on my bedside table acting as a radio".
    Reply
  • Impulses - Tuesday, June 21, 2011 - link

    Altho I agree that it's too expensive (specially for a service that may forever lag behind the pack in OS updates), I do hope it does well enough for HTC to release a Flyer 2 next year. The digitizer is intriguing, particularly if it gains more app support.

    Personally I don't have a problem spending $500 on a tablet, but I know companies like ASUS will have brought prices down across the board within a few months... And there's still plenty of innovation to come from devices like this and the ASUS Transformer (part of what makes Android great imo).

    If the smartphone market is still in it's infancy, the tablet market is barely out of the womb...
    Reply
  • chomlee - Wednesday, June 22, 2011 - link

    499 for a 7" pad???? I was hoping HTC was going to be the company to break the IPad streak like they did with the EVO and Iphone. What a joke. These marketing people at all the tablet companies should all be fired, except for Asus. Asus is the only company to offer a decent alternative at a lower price. What kind of idiot are you if you are trying to compete in a market and say " are device is going to be smaller than the competition, not as good, and with much less battery life, but we are going to charge the same".

    They need to take a lesson from Asus and realize that you can't offer a device that is "almost" as good as the current leader and charge the same. You either have to be noticably better, and/or cheaper.

    Maybe the only reason why they did so well with the EVO was because loyal sprint customers couldn't get an Iphone.
    Reply
  • ap90033 - Wednesday, June 22, 2011 - link

    TOTALLY AGREE WITH YOU!!! Flyer=Fail... Reply
  • ap90033 - Wednesday, June 22, 2011 - link

    Looks lame to me. To be so small it seems to have crappy battery life. Seems like the wanna be Tablet with a "special" UI that isnt really that awe inspiring. Its to big to be a phone, its to small to be a tablet. Its like a Phablet! I also dont get the reference to all the suck behind honeycomb. I have the Eee Pad with 3.1 and its GREAT. No issues, 9+ hours battery life and zippy performance. All for the low low price of $399 (that cheaper than the poser Flyer btw)... Maybe I am wrong here, but I feel a tablet and a phone are currently two different things. I bought a tablet as a fairly functional camera/browser/video/email/word processor type device and I have a Phone (HTC Evo running 2.3.3) for my phone and more on the go needs... Reply
  • grenzo - Tuesday, July 05, 2011 - link

    I bought the 3g+WiFi 32gb Flyer with pen here in Singapore for usd730. For weeks I was waiting for the arrival of the 10in tegra 2 honeycomb tablets but I found that I wanted my tablet to be more portable, something I can carry without a bag and hold with one hand while standing in the train. 1.5ghz with 1gb ram is plenty powerful for this device. Games like Gun Bros and Pocket legends perform very well. It would have been great if this was running honeycomb but very happy with what HTC has done with HTC sense. I can wait until HTC is ready to upgrade this to hc. In the 7 in space the Flyer is way ahead of the rest. Yes it seems a lot of money to pay for the specs, but in terms of real world use this is a fast smooth tablet with a great screen. Web browsing, email, news, weather, games, all work almost perfectly. Camera is bad but i can live with that. Pen is just a nice plus. Evernote integration is great but I use the screen keyboard more often than the pen.

    I saw a video comparing the browsing speed of this and the iPad 2 and at times this came out faster. They also showed that Angry Birds loads slightly faster on this device than the iPad 2 but they still dissed the Flyer because of its processor and OS. Its not just what's on paper but you have to see how it actually performs.

    The other Android tablets like the ASUS transformer offer more value for money but i don't want to spend hundreds of dollars on a portable device that i will leave at home most of the time.
    Reply

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