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HTC Flyer Android Tablet Comes With a Pen. That’s a Problem.

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HTC today announced the Flyer, a 7-inch tablet that runs Android 2.4 with a customized HTC Sense user interface. The company debuted the device at Mobile World Congress (MWC) and spent time demonstrating the 3-D Sense widget interface as well as another unique feature: an included stylus pen. Using the pen on the Flyer’s touch-sensitive display allows for note-taking and limited drawing activities. Also included is support for HTC’s new video download service —  HTC Watch — and OnLive’s cloud gaming system. HTC expects to ship the Flyer globally in the second quarter of 2011.

The capacitive stylus pen may be more of a gimmick than a productivity tool, unfortunately, because I’ve used dozens of tablet computers over the past seven years and one mantra has always held true: Unless there’s palm-rejection software or the display uses a dual digitizer to separate pen from touch, the pen experience will be sub-par. Indeed, the few videos I’ve seen of the Flyer show people drawing on the display without resting their palm on the screen, likely because doing so would introduce false input to the tablet due to multiple touch points. This video demo from jkkmobile illustrates my concern: Note that when asked if you can touch the screen when inking, a “we’ll have to check on that” answer was given. We’ll get a better idea of how the pen works after we see a review unit, but for now, I’m leery of the pen’s potential. One nice feature of the Scribe note-taking function: You can record an audio note that’s tagged to a written note.

Compared to other currently available 7-inch tablets, the Flyer offers similar features: a 1024×600 display, microSD card slot for memory expansion, HSPA support for 14.4 Mbps downloads, a 5-megapixel rear camera with auto focus, 1.3-megapixel front camera, GPS, Bluetooth 3.0 and Wi-Fi connectivity. However, HTC included a beefy 32 MB of internal storage, single-core, 1.5-GHz processor and replaceable 4,000 mAh battery to help the Flyer stand out in a sea of tablets. OnLive gaming is likely to expand to other devices, so the true long-term differentiators of the Flyer are the pen and the Sense UI, which has proven popular on many of HTC’s smartphones over the past two years. But will these be enough to attract buyers?

The Flyer is the first device said to be running Android 2.4, and it’s not clear what that version adds to Google’s Android (s goog) platform. Although Honeycomb is specifically optimized for tablets, some features are sure to trickle down to lower Android versions. And since HTC has to integrate its Sense overlay with Android, it likely couldn’t do so with Honeycomb and still hit a mid-year shipping target for the Flyer. The company has more than year’s worth of experience melding Sense with Android 2.x, so the lack of Honeycomb on the Flyer could be due to the inclusion of Sense.

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26 Responses to “HTC Flyer Android Tablet Comes With a Pen. That’s a Problem.”

  1. First the typo: is “32 MB” of internal storage that beefy!? I think you meant 32GB, which isn’t all that large considering what can be done today.

    Your analysis of the pen is good and it will be interesting to see if HTC does a reasonable job of platform integration with it. Not impossible. Obviously the economic principle of product differentiation is at work here. I don’t think the pen will be enough to justify a price premium in a crowded market though…

  2. someone needs to edit this article. For sure it is n-trig duosense that can do multitouch and active pen (with palm rejection,) the ipad dummy foam fingers are a joke fot note taking. Let’s hope that this is just the first of nany Android slates with an active pen.

    And we need some great pen based apps too…

    • At MWC, the device didn’t have palm rejection working at all. I did see some more recent CeBIT video showing that it’s working, but not consistently, so it’s clearly still being worked on by N-Trig and HTC. If they nail 100%, there is no problem; aside from the fact that there’s no silo to store the pen. ;) But they’re not there yet.

  3. I can see the article wasn’t edited to mention the confirmation of N-trig DuoSense. We at least know that the hardware won’t be the source of any palm rejection problems because of that.

    But if N-trig has problems with palm rejection on Android, that would be bad. Very bad. They shouldn’t have the driver issues they had with Windows, where Wacom was already established and, directly or indirectly, shaped the APIs for pen input. For Android devices, N-trig is leading the charge for active pen digitizers, and they’ll have to make certain that the whole inking experience is nothing short of flawless. They need to show consumers that this is nothing like older devices with resistive digitizers and plastic toothpicks, but in a league of its own.

    The HTC Flyer may not be perfect by any means, but I see an opportunity here-an opportunity for more penabled tablets. If the Flyer catches on, N-trig could be seen as a must-have feature on more Android tablets when people realize how much paper they could do away with on such a system. It would surely have more exposure than the Windows Tablet PCs we’ve become acquainted with for about a decade (to say nothing of old GRiD hardware and PenPoint dating back to the late 1980s).

    But more than anything else, given that Android is already largely a touch experience, I feel that expanding it with active pen input will end up closer to the ideal of the Courier concept experience than keyboard-and-mouse Windows with Tablet PC extensions will.

  4. If that’s the only objection, then it’s time to change the article.

    Reports say it has palm rejection because only one input (pen or screen) at a time is used.

    The Flyer should be nicknamed the Mini Courier, because that’s what it reminds one of.

  5. Kevin, you are spot on! I use an IPAD daily to take handwritten notes. I think I have tried every note program that allows stylus input and have found that it is virtually impossible to do so successfully and efficiently unless you can turn off the hand rest sensitivity while writing. One great example for the IPAD is the note programs Penultimate and Noterize. Penultimate has very few features but does allow for the option of turning off the portion of the screen where your hand rest while writing. Great program for taking hand written notes. Noterize has a ton of great features but unlike Penultimate you cant turn off the hand rest sensitivity making this feature rich program worthless (in my opinion) for taking hang written notes.

  6. junkyardwillie

    Its too bad that the pen doesn’t look like it will work with a hand on it. The main problem with annotations is getting them back out in a reasonable manner, some sort of email or text output of just your annotations would be great for ePubs and PDFs rather than needing to scroll back through an entire book.

    I enjoy my Evo but for an Android tablet, I’m definitely going to be avoiding any that overlay their own software. All it really does is delay you from updates like Honeycomb, I think Android’s getting to a point where the skins aren’t necessary with Honeycomb. For my next tablet I want an Android with a Wacom like pen with Honeycomb, until then I’ll continue fumbling around with my iPad

  7. In JKK’s vidoe at around 4:00 mins it seems as if JKK’s finger would actually hinder the pen input.

    I’m not sure, if that is how I want my palm rejection to work.

    But on the plus side I have to say that the complete Evernote integration instead of “save to Evernote” only sets this device way above the Asus Eee Note 800. And to be honest, I would buy an Eee Note with full Evernote integration.

  8. montevale

    How is this a problem?
    this is not any different then an aftermarket pen and HTC will be including it with the tablet. Great.
    Sure palm rejection is a nuisance and unless active digitizer is used it will be only partially functional… but a problem?
    This is a benefit as no one is including such pens and you have to search to even find a pen.

    • Try writing on a tablet of paper while holding it in one hand and then not touching it with your pen hand. Yes, it works, but ergonomically, it’s not enjoyable. The only way I could do this on prior tablets with any success was to train myself to rest my pen-holding hand on the device bezel. Will mainstream consumers know to do that if they have to? Will they want to? I’m not so sure…

  9. ozoneocean

    Looks like a great looking device. If the price is right I’d buy it. I’ve learned that HTC make fantastic hardware that’s very focussed on the user experience while also having an open customisable android system- it’s the best of all worlds- unlike Apple with their user focuss but poor openness and silly control over things and LG, Samsung etc with their greater focus on hardware and less on usability and user experience.

    For this tablet I’d expect the pen to be a decent art tool, all other functions are secondary. I don’t think it’d match up to my Citiq or even a Wacom Bamboo though, of cource.

  10. If that’s a capacitive screen and you definitely can use your finger too. Actually a capacitive pen will be a big plus if you need to draw something or sign the document.

  11. Look at some bigger images of the pen! It even has buttons, so I’m very sure that it’s a reala ctive digitizer.

    In fact, it looks a lot like the battery powered pens from N-Trig.