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HTC Flyer

HTC shrugs off Google's Honeycomb OS and opts for its own Sense user interface in the Flyer, a risky approach to the booming tablet market, but one that could certainly pay off.

First impressions

Developing tablets is a big gamble for the world's smartphone manufacturers this year, but HTC is stepping further out on a limb with a tablet that is considerably different from the rest. Rather than taking the safe and perhaps cheap route of using Google's new Honeycomb tablet operating system, HTC has redeveloped its Sense user experience for a larger tablet display to overlay the latest Android smartphone system, Gingerbread.

The gamble is HTC's assumption that those shopping for a tablet don't really know or care about the difference between Honeycomb, Gingerbread or even iPad's iOS system for that matter. For this wager to pay off in HTC's favour the Flyer needs to deliver a superior user experience, and from what we've seen so far it could do just that. The new Sense is great to look at and HTC has done a great job of optimising individual apps to maximise the available screen real estate.

Its smaller size and weight also differentiates the Flyer from the Motorola Xoom, Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 and the LG Optimus Pad. HTC's tablet sports a 7-inch display and weighs 415 grams, or the same weight as an average paperback novel, according to HTC. But do users want a screen larger than 7 inches? No one really knows, or is likely to know until the end of this year.

Beyond size, shape and operating system, the HTC Flyer will ship with a bevy of unique digital services installed. HTC Watch is a new streaming video service that gives users access to a library of feature films to rent and buy. Also, HTC's new partnerships with OnLive cloud gaming and TomTom could prove to be powerful selling points, though we're unsure at this stage which services will be available for the Flyer when it launches in Australia.

There's also the very interesting addition of the HTC Scribe touchscreen pen, which the company showed off at Mobile World Congress. Besides simply letting you draw on the screen, the Scribe pen also allows you to annotate web pages and send the results via email to friends and colleagues, as well as take audio notes in a very similar way to the LiveScribe pen we reviewed last year. We can't imagine that this will be a major drawcard for tablet lovers, but it does add a unique value that no one else can match.

Outlook

HTC's commitment to its Sense user experience defines the 7-inch Flyer and only time will tell if this commitment is a gamble that pays off or one that dooms the Flyer. The Flyer is also the smallest and lightest of the tablets we've seen from major manufacturers, a fact we believe will be a positive for HTC when tablet shoppers weigh up their options in their local Vodafone store when the device is released mid-year.

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