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Jul 25 2011

HTC View 4G Review

I have been interested in a smaller tablet for a while as the iPad is not always an ideal size, especially for one-handed usage. I have a WiFi only iPad and I really wanted the “always on experience” for data rather than chasing hotspots around.

iPad, HTC View and HTC Evo

I was on a business trip and my Sierra Wireless internet hockey puck ( I mean Overdrive 3G/4G) decided to give up the ghost, so I siezed the opportunity to slide sideways into another kind of device.

Since I am fairly committed to Sprint, my options were pretty limited. I had a brief flirtation with the Samsung Galaxy Tab 7 inch. It was well constructed and the Samsung software overlay was nice, but it just felt a little underpowered. At $199 with a 2 year contract it was a great deal, but it felt a bit like buying last years model. Oh wait, it IS last year’s model!

The bigger display with the 1 Gig processor and the 3G connection speed left me feeling let down. Since I was within my 30 day return period, it went back to Sprint and I walked back out with the HTC View and the hyped up gimmickry of the Scribe stylus pen!

Before I dive into the depths of the HTC View let’s take a quick look at the specs.

Specs

Processor:
MSM8655 (1.5 GHz processor) + SQN1210 (WiMAX)

Operating System:
Android™ 2.3 with HTC Sense™ for tablet

Internal Memory:
32GB eMMC / RAM: 1GB, LPDDR2

Display:
7″ inch 1024 x 600 resolution Capacitive touch screen / supports active pen

Network:
CDMA2000 1x/ EVDO/ EVDO rev. A (800/1900MHz) and WIMAX

GPS:
GPS/AGPS

Camera:
Two: 5 MP Color CMOS with auto focus, 1.3M front Camera

Connectivity:
Bluetooth® 3.0Wi-Fi®: IEEE 802.11b/g/n compliant, 3.5mm stereo audio jack, micro-USB (12-pin micro-USB 2.0)

Battery:
4000 mAh Lithium Polymer battery, Non-removable

Dimensions:
7.69″ (L) x 4.42″ (W) x 0.52″ (T)

The View is the cellular version of the HTC Flyer WIFI Tablet

Build construction is up to HTC’s very high standards. It feels chunky and well made with a slightly rounded back that makes it fit in your hand nicely. The View features rubberized bumpers at the top and bottom that keep the View from sliding around when you place it on a flat surface.

The power button along the top, volume rocker along the right side and a power/sync connector on the bottom are the only objects around the outside of the case. The sync cable has an odd cutout on it.

Connector Comparison with a Micro USB

Luckily the port will accept a Micro USB cable as well so you will not find your self tearing your hair out looking for an oddball cable at 10:30 at night since you forgot your charger! I did have this exact scenario with the Samsung so I REALLY appreciate the standard connector.

Although not immediately obvious, there is a Micro SD card slot on the View. It is underneath the cover for the camera lens.

Micro SD card goes in the slot on the right hand side

I found removing the cover VERY difficult with 4 tabs across the edge that you have to push down on the cover to disengage. I bought the biggest SD card I could find (32 gig) and I hope to NEVER have to do that again. I was convinced the entire time that I was breaking my new toy.

The unused internal memory (20 Gigs worth) shows up as an SD Card to the system, which is a bit confusing and the SD Card I inserted shows up as SD Card2. Depending on your storage requirements and how cloud-friendly you are, you may not need the additional storage but I wanted some elbow room for media storage.

The screen is gorgeous and actually works well even in sunlight. The HTC Sense overlay is beautiful especially in landscape orientation where you can see your other pages wrapping around and receding into the background.

The only oddity in the portrait/landscape orientation is that there are only two orientations as the action buttons (home, menu and back) are actually backlit in the bezel so the screen will only flip to a HTC logo on top or front facing camera up orientation. When it does this, the buttons light up at the new “bottom” of the device. A little odd to get used to if you are expecting constant rotation on the display, but not bad.

A little more jarring is the lack of the dedicated search button. While this function is accessible via an icon in most applications I do miss having a specific button like on the phones.

The response of the tablet is notably faster than the Samsung I had previously. Websites do not have to redraw when I scroll and the graphics have a notably snappy feeling that was lacking in the Tab. While it is only a single core processor the extra half Gig of speed is definitely noticeable.

From a size standpoint, I really like the portability of the View. I was able to slip it into my front pocket if I was not wearing jeans. Although that would not be my favored carry method, it is nice to know that I can if I need to. I love the way the size of it compares to a paperback book since much of what I do on it is text-based.

As you can see from the picture, the contrast for text versus a paperback is pretty favorable. This particular comparison is to the Nook app and the word density on the paperback is about 30 percent higher on the book (309 on the view versus 425 on the paperback). It is high enough that I don’t feel like I am turning the page every two seconds on an e-book app.

THE SCRIBE

One of the strong marketing spins on the View is the stylus. It is a pressure sensitive “pen” that allows you to interact with the View in a variety of ways depending on what the application supports. Because the system uses a different layer to sense the interaction with the screen your finger will not accidentally mark up a document if you hold the tablet wrong. Unfortunately, it also means you cannot use the stylus to navigate any of the functions not specifically programmed by the folk at HTC. This includes navigation and I found myself struggling a bit when I tried to open the standard menu with the pen.

At the simplest level, when you touch the screen in any app that is not supported, it takes a screen shot and allows you to do mark ups on top of this with a range of “brushes” ranging from fountain pens and pencils to paint brushes and highlighters. You have control of color and line thickness as well and the pressure sensitivity of the pen allows you to vary the density of the line.
The picture below shows an example of this with the highlighter brush in a couple of different colors.

Since there is not a good universal, non-Rooted screen capture app for Android this end of the software is actually pretty useful for me as I am reviewing software, but may be of limited use for you in normal operation.

The included HTC e-book application allows you to underline and scribble in a book that you have active. Probably most useful though is the Notes application.

Notes allows you to scribble, take pictures, date and GEO tag events as well as record audio and have the notes time stamped to the audio recording. This makes it easy to jump to a location in the recording. Add this to the fact that it is also sync compatible with Evernote and this is pretty powerful app. Please note that Notes does NOT support OCR so you are uploading a graphic of your notes but there are a host of sharing options including Facebook, Twitter, mail and WordPress as well as Dropbox. This makes it simple to send a hand written note to your sweetie via Gmail or upload a screen shot to your blog!

On the whole the pen is nice but a bit gimmicky for my taste and while it is currently free with the purchase of a View, if that deal passes away, I might not invest the money.

Camera

Front and rear facing cameras are good but not great as I have come to expect in this kind of device. The View lacks a flash and struggles in low light situations. To me it feels awkward to hold it as a camera and I don’t expect to get a lot of use out of it. I would have probably complained if it were not in the package though, so I guess a manufacturer can’t win!

Battery Life

My first couple of days with the tablet were less than pleasant on the battery front. I am horribly spoiled by how good the iPad’s battery management is and I expected the View and its 4000 milliamp hour battery to perform similarly.

It did not. A bit of fiddling with some settings and installing the free version of Juice Defender made a huge difference. I turned email checking to manual set Juice Defender to balanced and I am now getting two days of usage without charging. Previously I was having to charge the tablet every evening even if I was not using it.

3G/4G/WiFi

Now this was interesting. The graphic shows a Speedtest results page with Wifi at the top and then 4G and 3G.

Speed test results

I ran each test twice and they are all in line but it was fascinating to see that the upload speeds were actually BETTER on 4G than my Comcast cable service! Granted I ran this test at about 5:30 in the afternoon so the load on the cable was higher but it is indicative of just how powerful 4G service can be.

I also like the fact that the tablet will shift its connection to what makes the most sense. If I leave all three radios on and I have connected to a WiFi spot somewhere it will default to that. If it has a 4G connection it will default to that and finally settle on a 3G if it can’t get anything better!

View versus the iPad

So here is the core question: What are the differences and which one is better?

Not to be too painfully obvious but the View is smaller. This both a positive and a negative. It is easier to tote but the screen real estate is more precious. To me this is a toss up and makes this category a tie between the two. Your needs and interests will really dictate who wins this category.

On the apps front, Android still has some strides to make to catch up with Apple. There is less fragmentation in the hardware so you always know if an app is going to run on your iOS device and if it is available for the iPhone there is at least a way to run it on the iPad in close to full screen mode. There continues to be some confusion on the Android tablet software support and View is actually not running the tablet software so there are further challenges there. Advangtage goes to Apple’s iPad here.

On the wireless front they are roughly equivalent on the Wifi front but high speed cellular on the HTC gives the nod to the View in this category.

Accessories and access to things to extend the capabilities of the platform would have to go to Apple as the breadth of compatible products for the iPad is overwhelming.

Based on this the iPad is still the winner unless the portability is a big deal for you in which case it is sort of a tie. For me the portability IS a big deal so this pushed me towards the View but does not have me abandoning the iPad just yet.

OS Confusion and App Choices

The View does NOT run Android’s tablet operating system, Honeycomb, but rather the latest version of the smart phone operating system Gingerbread (2.3.4 as of today). While this has not been a huge issue for me there are certain apps that will run in a phone sized window in the middle of the View’s display (Opentable comes to mind) and unlike the iPad there is no button to zoom this to fill up the screen.

I was informed by the Marketplace that Google Voice was not compatible with the View, but this was simply not an option for me. I sideloaded the GVoice app onto the View via Astro (covered that here in my blog, if you care) and it worked perfectly, so I wonder if Google might even be a bit confused themselves on what ports well to a tablet platform.

When Google finally brings the development paths of Android back together into a single operating system late this year I expect these issues to go away, but there is no guarantee that this device will get the upgrade. More adventures to follow.

Conclusions

I have really enjoyed the View, and unlike the 7 inch Tab, this one is a keeper. I like the combination of size and power and particularly combined with a Bluetooth Keyboard like the Verbatim, it is a LOT of computing power in a small package.

The software additions HTC adds to the View build a lot of value. Their widgets are beautiful and the Notes app is a very powerful tool. The Reader and Watch apps (books and movies for those playing along at home) are nice but until they can rival the product depth of iTunes and their ilk they are a bit stillborn.

Perfect? No, but definitely intriguing and no matter what Steve Jobs says there is DEFINITELY a place in the market for a smaller tablet!

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