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

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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