HTC Flyer: Two months later

I thought I’d start this blog entry by jumping to a bit of a conclusion – I’ve given up on the HTC Flyer and am now using an Acer Iconia A500. Although I’m not using the HTC Flyer, I have to say that it is probably one of the best devices that I’ve used to date. A big part of why I really like the HTC Flyer is because of the form factor. WIth those things being said, let’s jump into the review of my fabulous HTC Flyer

Just a quick recap about the HTC Flyer – it’s a 7″ tablet from HTC and is pre-loaded with Android 2.3 or commonly known as Gingerbread. The hardware specs aren’t spectacular – it’s a single core 1.5 GHz processor, front-facing and rear-facing cameras, wi-fi only and weighing 420 grams. It is only one of a handful of 7″ Android tablets out there; the other notable ones are the Samsung Galaxy Tab and the Dell Streak. From a software perspective, there are a few software that it comes with – HTC Sense, Kids Mode, Reader, Notes Watch and Car Panel that are worth calling out.

The most unique feature of the HTC Flyer is the built-in N-Trig layer which combines a digitizer along with the standard capacitive screen allowing for very fine-grained writing with a stylus. Although the device comes with a weird connector, a standard micro-usb can be used to adequately charge the HTC Flyer. While this may not seem like much, in comparison to the other tablets, this is a really useful and desired hardware feature on any device. Although it doesn’t have a dual-core processor, the device works really well. There aren’t any moments when I feel like the HTC Flyer is under performing. There are a few really nice touches such as the buttons automatically lighting up depending on how you orient your screen.

There are a few things that irk me a little. One of them being that with a larger screen surface, I’m finding that the screen is smudging much more and that for some reason, the wi-fi tends to drop after a few days regardless of which wireless router I connect to. Also, like most HTC devices I’ve used to date, the camera leaves lots to be desired. However, one thing to note – it is not always the most convenient thing to take photos with a 7″ tablet.

While I’ve always felt that the HTC Sense software has always been mediocre at best for phones, I found myself liking it a lot for the HTC Flyer. I found it for some reason more usable than either ADW Launcher or Go Ex Launcher which I love on the HTC Desire Z. At the time I was using the HTC Flyer, the unlock screen was pretty unique – you could drag a ring towards one of 4 app icons to launch it directly from the lock screen. The one thing that HTC Sense has always been known for is their gorgeous widgets and the HTC Sense for the Flyer really is no different.

Notes is a bit unique – it’s an HTC-written app that integrates directly to Evernote. What is unique about this app is that it supports handwritten notes which is otherwise not supported by the standard Android Evernote app. It does some things really well including doing offline synchronization with Evernote but it also does some things really poorly such as it lacks the ability to display shared notebooks and the way it organizes notebooks isn’t exactly intuitive. Overall though, the application works well. One feature that would really differentiate it would be the ability to sync with other note taking apps like Spring Pad. Reader is like Notes from the perspective that it is written by HTC and synchronizes with a third-party service. In this case, the third party service is Kobo. Just like Notes, it would make itself a killer service if it could synchronize with other services like Amazon as well.

Car Panel is really a GPS app that is provided by Route 66. I have to say that I am a bit mixed about my experience with it. The features are surprisingly limiting especially given the maturity of GPS software today. It provides the most basic of features such as being able to search for a destination and routing to it. Some features that I would have loved to use would have included multi-destination and being able to edit my favourite destinations. Car Panel does well to integrate to the HTC Flyer but would have been nice to see it integrate with the Android ecosystem a bit better.

The very best thing about the HTC Flyer really is the form factor. I found myself loving that it was small enough to be portable but large enough to expand on how I use a mobile computing device. I would describe how I use the Flyer is that it is truly a mobile computing device for me. It is intentionally not a phone; I never feel compelled to lift it to my face to make a call. I would, however, happily and productively communicate with others through IM, email and DM. I would never feel compelled to take photos on it but it is quite a pleasure to view photos, movies and music on it. It is definitely a pleasure to write and read blogs on it. The most typical use case for me is to listen to music while reading or writing on it in transit. I also find it convenient to carry it in my back pocket of my jeans around the house although oddly enough I wouldn’t do the same with my phone. Another thing to consider about the form factor is that apps written for a 4″ device tends to scale really well to a 7″ form factor.

Overall, the HTC Flyer is my favourite tablet to date because of the form factor. I do like my Asus EEE EP-121 but it is limited to OneNote usage largely because Windows is still not yet a touchscreen friendly operating system. The HTC Flyer is the first Android device that I haven’t felt the need to root as it works really well out of the box. Also, HTC has promised to upgrade the Flyer to Honeycomb in the very “near” future.

I’ll post pictures of the HTC Flyer in a few days

Android Apps that are Optimized for the Tablet

Here are a list of apps that I’ve tested out with the Acer Iconia and seem to be optimized for the tablet form factor

Google Maps

Gmail

Contacts

Calendar

Talk

You Tube

Docs To Go

Evernote

Feedly

Pulse News Reader

SwiftKey Tablet X

Thumb Keyboard

IMDB

Due Today

I plan to continually update this page as I find new apps that are interesting.

 

Asus EEE Pad EP 121 – Two month review

I’ve always been a fan of Asus and always felt that Windows 7 would make a great tablet for me. I first experimented with the ExoPC but quickly felt that it was quite under powered making it’s use to be cumbersome. I used it for a few weeks but quickly realized that it wasn’t meeting my needs. When Best Buy in Canada announced that it had devices in stock, I quickly ordered it and picked up the device the very same day.

Asus EP-121 with all accessoriesPower Supply

Here are my general thoughts for it:

Handwriting
The Asus EP 121 has a built-in Wacom digitizer on it allowing for very fine grained writing. The handwriting recognition is quite mature on Windows. It does a number of things really well. Windows has a handwriting bar where you can write and it does OCR to translate it to something legible quickly and fairly accurately which is nice. It is more usable then the soft keyboard that comes with Windows 7 which is an absolute disaster in comparison to other OSs like iOS and Android

Windows 7
Having Windows 7 is both a strength and a weakness. It’s great because it is a rich OS. Apps like OneNote and Outlook which I love are available for this device. A number of apps like Kindle and IE support multi-touch really well. Where it fails miserably is that multi-touch is not supported by the OS but rather it’s a bit of an afterthought. Most apps get confused with the multi-touch input. Other things that is a detriment is that Windows isn’t a fast boot up device and it tends to burn through power really quickly. I can probably only get through a couple of hours before runnint out of batteries.

12 inches
The size is actually massive for a tablet in general but it’s a perfect notepad size. I like having all of the real estate on the screen to write efficiently. A 10″ feels cramp to write on in general.

No compromises on performance
It’s an i5 processor that is quad-core with 4 GB of memory and a 64 GB hard drive. It can run most productivity apps that I can throw at it without any lag most of the time. It’s a full blown notebook with USB ports, Bluetooth, WiFi and HDMI capability. When needed, I can dock the tablet to attach a wireless keyboard and mouse and it acts like a real notebook

Wacom digitizer
Unlike many tablets, this is one of the few that has both a digitizer as well as multi-touch capability which means it supports touch as well as pen input. It does both really well from a capability perspective however, it’s multi-touch is limited by the Windows OS in terms actual usability. Hopefully Microsoft will solve this in Windows 8. Another thing about Wacom tablets is that I’m able to buy third party pens from Cross.

Asus
This is my 5th Asus device and Asus has had yet to let me down. I love the build quality of it and traditionally Asus has a worry-free warranty for a year. Short of losing it, they will fix anything for free. Another thing about Asus is that they make very nice looking devices and their build quality in general is simply fantastic.

Upgrading and Accessorising
The Asus EEE Pad EP 121 comes with a case, pen, spare nibs for the pen and power supply. The case makes it look like a proper portfolio and it comes with a slot for an extra pen. The case also allows you to prop the tablet in either landscape or potrait mode. The power supply is extremely slim and has a port for USB charging. I love the little things that Asus does to make their devices stand out. There are a few things that I would probably like to do over time. The first is of course to upgrade the hard drive. After the warranty is over, I’d like to open up the casing to put in at least 120 GB of hard disk space. A stand would be nice too. I have one from the ExoPC and it’s great to use when I get home. I also have a Logitech MX550 keyboard and mouse attached when I’m at home.

Tips and tricks
This really is more about RTFM then about tips and tricks. If you’re like me, reading manuals are always quite optional. The Asus EP-121 is actually quite intuitive but there were two things that I found useful to know. The first is that when in boot up mode, the volume rocker buttons act as up and down navigation which is intuitive enough but I didn’t realize that the base button also acts as the enter key. This is useful when recovering from a bad reboot. The base button activates the Aero program scrolling which is very useful especially in Windows 7 where touch navigation is a bit cumbersome. Another really useful feature is that holding down the base button also acts like Ctrl-Alt-Delete which really helps to lock your screen

I’ve had the Asus EEE Slate for a few months now and I have to say that I love it. It has made my job so much more productive and I can’t imagine functioning any other way. I had always envisioned in going to meetings with an electronic notebook. I love my Asus EP 121 for this because it runs Windows and by default runs OneNote. OneNote is by far the best note taking tool I’ve ever used. Evernote comes a close second. I like that I can handwrite my notes quickly. I also like that I can organize my thoughts in Notebooks, Section Groups and Sections. It’s allowing me to combine multiple notebooks in one. Although it is pricier than most other tablets, the conclusion is that it is quite worth it. At approximately $1200, it combines a full blown notebook (and not a netbook) and tablet in one.

HTC Flyer – First Impressions

image

I didn’t think the wi-fi version of the HTC Flyer would be available today but good friend, @karatedan, mentioned that it was so I went out to pick it up while I was in the New York state on a short vacation. Here’s a picture of it sprawled all over the floor of my hotel room after I got it this evening. I managed to spend around 30 minutes with it and thought I’d write about my first impress

Some quick specifications of the HTC Flyer

  • Android 2.3 OS(Gingerbread)
  • 1.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon processor
  • 7-inch capacitive multi-touch sensitive TFT screen with 1024 X 600 resolution
  • 1 GB of RAM , 16 GB of internal storage and Micro SD memory card support
  • 5 megapixel camera with auto focus on back side and front-facing 1.3 megapixel camera
  • 4000 mAh Lithium – ion battery
  • Bluetooth 3.0 with A2DP for wireless stereo headsets
  • Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n
  • Internal GPS antenna with navigation system
  • GPS Sensors, Ambient light sensor, G-Sensor Digital compass, Accelerometer
  • HTC Sense Pen API

My initial impressions about the HTC Flyer is a positive one unlike how I felt about the ExoPC. 7 inches is a really nice form factor for a tablet. Large enough that reading on it is a pleasure but small enough to carry around with you. Android is a much better tablet OS than Windows because multitouch is supported by the entire OS and not only by certain applications. The HTC Reader app is quite nice and is linked to Kobo and Adobe. I suspect it’s actually the native Kobo Android application. Other than that, I haven’t had the opportunity to play with anything else on the device. I will write a more detailed blog in a month or two after getting a chance to use it some more.

ExoPC, here I come

Reading Tristan’s article on the iPad gave me the kick I needed to get going on my own blog entry regarding slates and tablet computers. I’ll start off with I’m neither an Apple hater or lover; just like Tristan, I like technology based on its merits and how it helps me. For me, I’m a huge fan of OS X for the desktop, Android for mobile and Linux for home servers for different reasons. For the tablet, I am really looking forward to the ExoPC that should be launching in just a few weeks barring any more production issues

I’m not exactly new to using tablets. I’ve had my Asus R1F for a while but due to a number of issues, I’ve abandoned it as my primary computer and opting instead for my 15″ Macbook Pro as my primary laptop. However, I have very fond and positive memories of my Asus R1F as a tablet. It had three shortcomings as a tablet. They were that it was heavy, the batteries didn’t last more than 2 hours and it had a bug where it couldn’t be unplugged otherwise the screen would try to keep switching modes rendering it pretty useless.

In the past few roles I’ve had, I find myself to be in fair amount of meetings where I’m often not by a computer. In order to manage my day, I typically carry around a paper notebook and a printed copy of my to do list from Toodledo daily. At the end of the day, I would have to transcribe the information from my notebook to my toodledo list. I purposely leave my notebook at work because it’d be a disaster if I didn’t have access to it during a working day. However, there are often times when I am contemplating certain issues and would love to have access to that information with me.

So why ExoPC?

[image from itechdiary]

Believe or not, I’m buying the ExoPC largely because it’s on Windows 7. There are a number of reasons why Windows 7. The first is handwriting support is native to the OS. If the usage is anything like it was on my Asus R1F, I know that it works really well. Native support of the function means that all apps will have this functionality as opposed to just some apps. I manage my day mostly with Microsoft Outlook. It’s not just the ability to access my mail and calendar but also how I am able to convert emails to tasks and calendar appointments. My whole GTD process is done mostly through Outlook. I plan to use either Evernote or One Note as my primary note taking tool. To be honest, I MUCH prefer One Note over Evernote as purely a note taking tool because of the way One Note allows me to organize my thoughts on information. However, Evernote gives me the ability to access my notes everywhere including the web. I’m able to access One Note anywhere that I can have access to One Note via Dropbox but very few computers have it installed. Other additional benefits that come out of being Windows 7 include that functions like dual display, Remote Desktop and even usage of tools such as Synergy are mature and quite well established already.

I am quite intrigued with the ExoPC UI. Creating new UIs that sit on top of Windows 7 is not new. Companies like HP have long done it to support their multi-touch screens to make it more user friendly. ExoPC is now doing something similar for something smaller and for a very different device. From the demo, it looks like the UI seems quite well thought out. I like that they were smart enough to realize that the default close button for Windows will likely be too small for someone’s hand so they created an additional button to handle it. I would have loved to have seen more usage of the ExoPC being intertwined with Windows 7.

Some peripheral benefits would be the ability to not have to print out many documents before meetings because I’d have them handy to begin with. I also like the idea of being able to jot down my notes on the paper and have access to what I wrote electronically. Given that it has a mini-HDMI, there won’t be many issues trying to display from it.

Another big reason why the ExoPC? It’s being built by a Canadian company and we all know how proud I am to be Canadian.

I am a bit mixed about having USB ports. While the idea that I don’t need special drivers or adapters to use peripherals is appealing, I can’t really foresee how often I’d hook up something else outside of a mouse and keyboard. I think most of my data would already be stored somewhere in the cloud via Dropbox or access to my file server at home. 

Why not the iPad or an Android tablet?

To understand why not the iPad or the Android, we’d have to go back in time. All the way back to Windows Mobile. While people often laugh at Windows Mobile, people forget that Windows Mobile overtook Palm as the dominant PDA OS. It crushed Palm within a very short period of time. It wasn’t until late last year when the iPhone actually surpassed the total number of iPhones out there. While Windows Mobile was vastly superior than the Palm (and in my opinion still a much better mobile OS than the iPhone), it was quickly dominated by the iPhone. What the iPhone did really well was to recognize that people use a small device very differently than a desktop. All Windows did was, for the most part, shrink Windows into a smaller OS to be used on a smaller device. Very little consideration was given to how people used it. Apple seems to have taken the same approach for the iPad. It’s invariably taken an OS for a really small device and plopped it to a larger device. Already, I cringe when I see my co-workers try to type on their iPad when they are taking notes over a long period of time in meetings.

Currently, both the iPad and Android face the same challenge. The difference is that Google recognizes that FroYo is not ideal for tablets; they hope to fix this in Gingerbread. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying that it doesn’t work. Approximately 3.8 million people would say that it does. Although right now, there are very few alternatives to the iPad at the moment. As Tristan indicates in his blog, which I wholeheartedly agree, the iPad is great if you want to enter quick data, read books, play a few games and watch movies. For me, I need it to be able to also write notes, allow me to access information from multiple places, annotate existing information and access that annotation from other places as well.

So final caveat, I’ve never touched an ExoPC in my life. I’ve based a lot of my assumptions on videos as well as my previous experience using tablets in Windows 7. It’s also the reason why this is under my “Perfect-isimo” category which is more of a wish list type item. Hopefully the money I spent on the pre-order won’t go to waste.

Microsoft Courier – Potential Paper Notebook replacement

 

I’m really excited about the Microsoft Courier. If you’ve read some of my previous posts, I have reluctantly gone back to using my Asus R1F tablet and have indirectly given up on my Macbook Pro. Don’t get me wrong – there’s absolutely nothing wrong with the Macbook Pro or OSX. It’s still my desktop OS of choice. Everything just seems to work on the Mac.

Given then I’m no longer a developer, a lot of my work life is involved in meetings with the business team or the dev team to discuss new ideas, work out issues or discuss design. In meetings, I often find it a lot easier to use a notepad instead of typing on a computer to communicate or describe ideas. The tablet is both the happy medium and extension of these two solutions. It has the flexibility of a notepad and the ability to store and distribute digitally. The downside of my current tablet is that it is extremely heavy weighing at almost 7 lbs. The weight isn’t bad if all I’m doing is lugging it from home and to work. It’s a bit weighty to be lugging it around the office and sometimes across the street. The weight is not bad if you consider what it does but today, it is more powerful than what I need it to be today.

Here’s where I think Microsoft Courier comes in. From the demos on Gizmodo, the product looks more like a paper notebook or portfolio which I take to my meetings right now. It has two “pages” and the way it is designed to work is that one page is used for searching and research while the other is used to work on. The form factor is ideal and I love the idea of having both stylus and finger touch. The really interesting thing about the product is that most of the function that is being displayed here already exists within the Microsoft realm of products. The note writing, embedding of images, handwriting recognition, OCR and concept of pages is embeded in a combination of OneNote and Windows 7. If you’ve never tried, the tablet function in Windows 7 is phenomenal. The gesture support is already used in the Microsoft Surface products.

 

Courier User Interface from Gizmodo on Vimeo.

As there are still a number of things that are unknown about the product, there are also a number of things that I’d love to see incorporated into the device. Synchronization to a central service is key. Notebooks are really good to start ideas however at some point, most ideas need to be finished on a computer. Also for me I tend to work on multiple computers and other peripherals so inter-device accessibility is key. I’m not sure I would install a lot of different applications on the device but the additional applications that I would use on this device are instant messaging, email and multimedia player. Bluetooth integration would be a nice touch to connect to a wireless headset. While having the ability to do both multi-touch and stylus is really nice, I hope that the hardware is able to differentiate the two as when writing, my hand tends to touch the paper and could cause the device to go awry. The biggest unknown about the product is hardware. For me to be able to use it, it would need to weigh at 2 lbs or less. It also can’t be too big or too thin as this would be a device to supplement my MacBook, not replace it. Given that I’m usually moving around for meetings, it will need to last at least 4 hours and have the ability to change batteries.

 

At first glance, I’m not convinced that the Microsoft Courier is built to compete with existing PC Tablets. Think of the Microsoft Courier as what the iPhone is to the MacBooks. While the Courier is supposedly getting the full Windows 7 treatment, it’s use will be limited by its form factor. As for the Apple tablet, it looks like it’s going to be more of a multimedia device whereas the Courier looks to be more of a productivity device. All in all, I’m still very excited to get my hands on the product.

 

Asus R1F – A Second Life

Although I really love my Macbook, there are certain aspects of my Asus R1F tablet that I really miss. The biggest one, of course, is the ability to use the tablet function. While I type a lot of things, I actually write and draw just as much. The only difference is that most of it is done on paper and they never get transferred to anywhere else and often times I lose them too. While I have my handy dandy tgrmobile (HTC Fuze) with me close to 100% of my waking hours, there are a few shortcomings to it. The first is that it’s a phone. When I type information with it during meetings, the assumption is that I am texting someone or emailing someone. It does have Evernote on it but the reality is that it is too small to be truly useful to write lots of notes or jott down my ideas fully with it. So lately I’ve been thinking a lot about going back to the Asus R1F or purchasing an Asus T91 to solve this issue. There were quite a few things that frustrated me about the Asus R1F, most of them stemming from using Windows Vista. When it was announced that Windows 7 would be released, I decided to give it another go. Although my initial install of Windows 7 RC was quite disastrous, the RTM seems much more solid. Here are some of my notes about setting up the Asus R1F with Windows 7.

 
Tablet functionality
After installing Windows 7, one of the things that I quickly noticed about my install was that I didn’t seem to have the tablet functionality. That will be fixed after the Intel 965 drivers were updated
 
Screen Rotation
This took a little bit more research but after doing some reading the answer was to install the Vista ATK Hotkey Utility for the Asus R1E. Yes, that’s not a typo. For the most part, most R1E software and drivers should work with the R1F. This is one such case.
August 13th, 2009
Biometric security
I’ve been slowly starting to use the tablet more and more and I finally got around to looking into the biometric feature for the R1F. When you install Windows 7 the first time, it will download an updated biometric driver. I actually found that it wouldn’t work properly. After some digging and testing, I found that the best way of getting this to work was to install the drivers that are available on the Upek site followed by installing the Protector Suite software after. Both will require reboots. Once Protector Suite is installed, go through the steps to activate it. In my case, I had to the Biometric Device Centre to enable domain security for biometric.
I’ll continue to update this post as I come across more fixes for the install.