HTC's Flyer may be a standout in crowded tablet market

The new tablet uses a special version of HTC's Sense overlay software to create a unique user environment.

I got a close up look at the new HTC Flyer tablet at an HTC event here at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

HTC wouldn't let anybody touch the new tablet today, but a rep gave me a close up demo, and showed me what I wanted to see. I liked what I saw. You can see said demo in the video.

The tablet is small-more the size of a Samsung Galaxy Tab than an iPad. The screen is seven inches across. It's also light, weighing in at only 530 grams, lighter than all of the other new tablets I've seen at the show. To me, the size of the Flyer and its seven-inch display seems just right. But this is a matter of taste.

Hands On With the HTC Flyer

The Flyer has a nice brushed-steel body and it tapers at the edge, which makes the device seem even smaller. The Tab, by contrast, has squared off edges.

But as more and more Android tablets come out, it's getting harder and harder for tablet makers to differentiate their products from the others in the market. The main differentiating point so far seems to be the size of the device itself--this can only last so long as tablets of all sizes and shapes appear. But HTC has done some things with the Android UI that I hadn't seen in other tablets.

As you'll see in the video, HTC has built a special tablet version of its Sense UI on top of Android's Gingerbread (2.4) OS. It turns the rather flat-looking Gingerbread interface into a 3D environment with a lot of movement. For example, the weather app shows a beautiful shot of clouds floating by. When scrolling through titles in the Books app, it looks like you're spinning a virtual cube with books on each surface.

HTC reaches back to yesteryear by including a pen stylus with the Flyer. Don't worry, you don't need it to operate the device. The pen is used mainly in the Notes app: you can draw out ideas whiteboard style-and talk while you're doing it-and the app records everything that happens. Or you can just back up the whole thing to Evernote.

You can also use the stylus to make comments on web pages or in e-books, and share them with your friends. Pretty cool.

The tablet will become available in the second quarter of this year, and wireless carriers in the US will make their own announcements later about launch dates and prices.

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Mark Sullivan

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