HTC Scribe Hands-on and First Impressions at CTIA 2011
“Wait – a tablet is coming out with a stylus? In 2011?”
I asked myself that question upon hearing the announcement of the HTC Flyer, an Android Gingerbread-powered 7” tablet at MWC 2011 last month. I couldn’t bring myself to accept the idea that HTC actually expected anyone to use a pen this decade, but that’s exactly what it sounded like.
At CTIA this week, I had the opportunity to use the aforementioned pen with the HTC EVO View 4G, Sprint’s newest Android tablet due to come out sometime this summer. The EVO View 4G is basically a Sprint-branded HTC Flyer with CDMA and WiMax built in.
The feature that utilizes the pen is called HTC Scribe, and fortunately does not try to dominate the user’s experience with the Flyer by any means — and thank heavens for that. Instead of finding the Scribe experience littered all over the Sense UI like dust over an unused couch, the service is only available in certain applications. When I’m in an application that can use the Scribe, I’m not forced to use the pen. I can definitely use my finger whenever I want.
So if I can use my finger like I normally could on any other tablet, what’s the point of the Scribe? The stylus was around for several years, and believe it or not, it actually stuck around for that long because it worked. And worked well. Palm was the master of the stylus, throwing in a special program on its hardware called Graffiti that gave us the ability to write notes or draw doodles or whatever else we wanted to do, because we used a stylus as a regular pen. When introduced, this electronic pen-and-paper of sorts was groundbreaking and incredibly helpful as a PDA/Organizer tool.
Fast forward to 2011. The stylus was rapidly replaced by the capacitive screen, a type of touchscreen that made our fingers almost as accurate as a stylus; after that, using a stylus or pen of any sort on a touchscreen just felt cumbersome and unnatural. Which sums up my surprise upon hearing that the HTC Flyer was attempting to go backwards in time. It’s not going backward in time by any means; quite the opposite, in fact.
The “stylus” in question is digital: it comes complete with buttons on the side that enable an eraser and a highlighter. To activate the feature, there is a red touch-sensitive “Scribe” button that appears next to the row of navigation keys (menu, home, back, and search). Touch that button, and a small menu shows up in the bottom right corner of the screen that offers choices of color, brush size and style, and other options.
When reading an ebook on your Flyer, press the Scribe button and then you can highlight lines or sections as you normally would on a regular book. Then, you can use your pen to write notes on the pages of the book and save it for later.
If you’re surfing the web and stumble across something you want to point out to someone, press the Scribe button and you can write on the page, circle stuff, underline, whatever you want to draw on the site, and save a screenshot to be sent to a multitude of email and social media sharing options such as Gmail, Flickr, Facebook, and others. If I’m making up a birthday present wishlist, I can go into a shopping site, circle which items I want on the page, and send it as an email attachment to my wife (sadly, no technology could dictate whether or not she actually GETS me that present, but that’s besides the point).
Let’s say you’re taking notes in a long lecture for school. Go into the notes app, press the “record audio” button, and then start taking notes while Scribe records the entire lecture. I wish I had this feature in school, because then I could not only have the entire audio feed of the lecture, I could reserve my note-taking for impressions or other random thoughts that would come to my head at the time, instead of worrying about typing or writing out everything the professor is teaching in that lecture.
These are just a few examples of why I like HTC Scribe. Contrary to my original impression of the service when I first heard about it, I now understand how it enhances the entire tablet experience. It doesn’t take away from anything you can already do on a typical Android tablet; rather, it adds an extra element to the overall experience that makes the HTC Flyer/EVO View 4G an even more appealing tablet option. For more details on how it works, watch the video below.
This isn’t a full in-depth review because of the limited time I had with the tablet, but so far I’ve come away impressed and eager to check it out when it’s available. It was easier to use and more accurate than I originally anticipated, but I will not make any other judgments on the Scribe until I review the finalized software. It is, after all, a few months away from being released, so we’re for sure seeing an early build. If it already impresses me now, it should only get better as the bugs get worked out and comes closer to the final version.