For those keeping score against the PlayBook, they both sport 1024×600 screens. The Flyer has a faster 1.5GHz single-core processor, but the PlayBook has a 1GHz dual-core processor. While the Flyer is only 3.2mm thicker and 0.7 oz’s heavier than the PlayBook, it still feels notably chubbier. In addition, when gripping the Flyer tightly, the back panel has a hallow lack of sturdiness because one of the back panels can be removed to allow access to memory card slots.

stylus[1]The Fine Tip of the Stylus Allows for Improved Accuracy

Stylus Hardware/Function: Great, But Not Perfect

HTC deserves a lot of credit for their implementation of the fine-tip stylus. The Flyer incorporates an N-Trig DuoSense screen that responds completely differently to fingers and styluses.

Whereas styluses for the iPad and Playbook essentially mimic a fingertip, When you touch the Flyer’s screen with its stylus, something amazing happens: it immediately takes a snapshot of the screen, and then allows that snapshot to be annotated. In the included handwriting Notes application, the stylus acts as a pen, whereas your finger acts to scroll up and down. This differentiation between fingertip and screen is offsetting at first (I would touch buttons on the screen with my stylus when I meant to use my finger), but eventually proves to be useful by not confusing finger or wrist presses for pen strokes.

The hardware and overall design of the stylus is extremely well done. The stylus is weighted and feels much like any other pen, although the tip is slightly thicker, approximately 2mm. On the side of the pen near where your fingers grasp the pen are two buttons. Holding down one button makes the stylus act as an eraser, and the other button makes it act as a highlighter. This subtle change is a vast improvement over its iPad counterparts, which require accessing a menu on the screen.

palette[1]Change the Size, Color, and Stroke Type in the Corner of the Screen

When you need to change the thickness/color/stroke of the pen, you just tap a glowing touch-sensitive button that lies just beyond the bottom right corner of the screen (in the style of Android’s other buttons: back, menu, home). This brings up a small dial in the bottom right corner of the window. This dial allows you to adjust the color, thickness, and pen style (calligraphy, marker, pen, pencil, etc). It also has an undo button and allows you to pick the 5 most recent settings used. This dial interface is incredibly intuitive, non-intrusive, and effective, although it only allows for 7 colors in all.

writing[1] The Flyer’s Stylus is Much Better Than Any Current iPad Stylus

But how does it feel when writing with the stylus? While it more closely resembles the paper and pen experience than the iPad’s blunt-tipped styluses, it’s not a flawless execution. For one, there is a slight amount of lag (mere milliseconds, really) that prevents the writing from feeling completely natural. Furthermore, some of the quick and short strokes sometimes do not register, especially when crossing T’s or completing quick strokes in letters (the top of a lowercase e). Also, writing can be a bit noisy (decibel-wise) as the tapping of the plastic tip to the screen can be heard if you can actually find a quiet place in the hospital.

Lastly, at $80, the stylus is quite costly. While most retailers now bundle the stylus with the Flyer, the steep price tag could be costly to replace in the event of loss. Fortunately, resourceful Flyer owners have found cheaper alternatives for other tablets that run around $30.

notes_app[1]The Included Notes App is Only Useful for Simple Tasks

Stylus Notes App: Too Simple, With No Alternatives In Sight

Unfortunately, any real-world utility of the stylus requires high quality note-taking software, and the only app supporting the stylus is the included Notes designed by HTC. The Notes app is well-built and polished, but has some significant limitations. Starting with the positives, the Notes app brilliantly syncs with Evernote, which also has clients for the web/iPhone/iPad/PC/Mac. This goes a long way in making notes instantly accessible and usable across devices, as they are not held captive on the Flyer.

However, there are quite a few downsides to the HTC Notes application. First off, it doesn’t support any form of zooming, so what you see is what you get. Because of the smaller screen, there is not a lot of horizontal space when writing in portrait mode. In landscape mode, it resizes the screen to be a little wider, and only then does it allow for a comfortable and natural width for writing full lines of text. Another limitation of the software is that each note is only extended vertically rather than being able to flip to a next page. Also, there is no simple way for creating note templates or backgrounds. Lastly, another frustrating aspect of the software is that, like actual paper, there is no way to move written notes around, making it impossible to easily insert additional writing or rearrange text at a later date.

These downsides are not deal-breakers in and of themselves, but the more tragic flaw is that the HTC Notes application is your ONLY choice for writing with the stylus. Since the stylus interacts with the screen in a completely different way than a finger, any note-taking app must be specifically designed to work with the stylus. Unfortunately, the Flyer is one of very few tablets that support this feature, so I wasn’t able to find any other software alternatives in the Android market, and I don’t expect there to be any on the way. This severely cripples the utility of the stylus for anything beyond very simple handwritten notes.

keyboard[1]Access Alternate Numbers/Symbols by Holding Certain Keys