HTC Flyer: First Impressions

The HTC Flyer 7-inch Android tablet is already available overseas, but U.S. shoppers will be able to find it at Best Buy and Best Buy Mobile starting May 22. I just received a shipping unit, so here are some first impressions.

First, let's get the basics out of the way. The Flyer is a Wi-Fi-only variant of HTC's tablet, and costs $500--without its distinctive accessory, an $80 stylus. The 4G version will appear on Sprint later this summer as the Sprint Evo View 4G. The Sprint tablet will have a black case and 4G connectivity, while the HTC-branded tablet is silver with white accents.

The Flyer has an attractive design and measures 7.7 inches by 4.8 inches and is half an inch thick. That's comparable to the Samsung Galaxy Tab 7-inch, which is, to date, the only other 7-inch tablet from a mobile manufacturer, and measures 7.5 by 4.7 by 0.47 inches.

Although the Flyer has approximately the same thickness and dimensions as the Galaxy Tab, I found this tablet more comfortable to hold. That's because the edges are curved and gently taper, as compared with the Galaxy Tab's dated-looking, boxy design. Also, the tablet gently curves upward at the top/bottom (or left/right if you're holding it in the landscape position); the curve gives the tablet a place for your thumbs to rest.

I was surprised that I preferred holding the Flyer considering it weighs slightly more than the Tab. The Tab weighs 0.84 pounds, while the HTC Flyer weighs 0.92 pounds, but in-hand, I didn't notice the difference.

I do like the 7-inch form. It's very friendly for one-handed operation. For that matter, I also like the T-Mobile G-Slate, which has an 8.9-inch screen. By comparison, Apple's iPad 2 (9.7-inch screen) and the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 (with a 10.1-inch screen, natch) are too unwieldly to hold for any length of time in one hand.

The HTC Flyer is unique for the moment: it's the first tablet running Android 2.3.3 Gingerbread. Samsung recently announced plans to migrate the Galaxy Tab to 2.3.3 as well, but that roll-out started mid-month in the United Kingdom before beginning moving to other European markets and hasn't yet come across the Atlantic.

I was disappointed that HTC decided to ship the Flyer running Google's phone OS, and not Android 3.x. The layout and organization of Android 3.x is far better suited to tablets, and, more critically, the Web experience is far better in Honeycomb than on either 2.2 or 2.3.3. On the Flyer, just as on the Tab, most Web pages present detect the browser as a mobile browser. But I really want the full Web page experience on the tablet, even if I have to enlarge areas to read them fully.

Along with the inclusion of the pen, HTC brings something extra with its HTC Sense overlay. This version of Sense has clearly been optimized for the larger screen of the tablet, and brings a pleasing visual interactivity that Android 2.3.3 lacks otherwise. Unfortunately, as much as I liked Sense on the Flyer, I found myself more looking forward to what HTC will do with its Sense interface on Honeycomb than I did appreciating what it added in the here and now.

The good news is that HTC says the Flyer is upgradable to Honeycomb, and that a Honeycomb update will come. The bad news is the company wouldn't say when. At least HTC has a relatively solid reputation of issuing updates for its phones, so hopefully that efficiency will translate to its tablet, too.

Stay tuned for more hands-on with the HTC Flyer.

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