The HTC Flyer is following a different flight plan than the rest of the flock of Android tablets on show at MWC. It's ignoring Android 3.0 Honeycomb in favour of Android 2.4 Gingerbread and its own custom Sense user interface.
HTC is hoping people won't care about missing out on Honeycomb's new features, once it's dazzled them with its own big-screen versions of everything from the email client to the Web browser.
Now we've seen the Flyer in full flight, we have to agree. HTC has an artist's hand with a widget, and the Flyer's bright, white user interface is gorgeous. Compared to the dark, black and blue look of Honeycomb, we prefer the more glossy, playful look of HTC.
It does look like a gigantified version of an HTC phone, though. Moving through the 3D transitions of Honeycomb's home screens, you feel like you're in a huge rotating room. The Flyer's home screens don't give that impression.
But the Flyer definitely takes advantage of the big screen in its apps. Email, the photo gallery and most other apps all take advantage of landscape mode to display more content. For example, in the email client, you see a list of emails in the left pane, with an email displayed in full in the right pane. In the photo gallery, your albums from the phone and from Facebook are on the left and an image is shown on the right.
And, although we'd rather stab ourselves in the eye with a stylus than use one on a phone, it makes a lot of sense on the Flyer. You still get a capacitive touchscreen, so having a stylus doesn't interfere with the responsive multi-touch experience -- in fact, you can use the pen and your fingers at the same time. And if you want to use the Flyer for taking notes during a lecture or presentation, for example, we think the pen could really come in handy.
We can see using it for circling or highlighting something, rather than for writing your whole novel -- the keyboard is still best for significant amounts of text. But we love that you can annotate anything shown on the Flyer's screen, from a widget to a webpage, and then save it as an image, share it over email, or beam it to your social networks.
If you can get over the nerd shame of not having the latest version of Android, we think the Flyer holds its own against the Honeycomb tablets. HTC has managed to massage most of its apps to suit the tablet size, and the light-filled user interface is definitely crave-worthy.
The only drawback could be when you go looking for more apps in the Android Market. Developers will be targeting their tablet apps at the Honeycomb OS, so you may miss out on the best of the third-party fun. We'll have to see if that turns out to be true when the Flyer is up and running with the Android Market, in our full review.
The good news is that if you really can't stand being a few versions behind, help is coming -- HTC says the Flyer will get an update to Honeycomb, although it won't say when.
Take a flight with the Flyer by checking out our hands-on photos above.