Tablets are very, very hot right now. So how is yet another Android tablet meant to grab our easily diverted attention? The HTC Flyer is a seven-inch uber-portable slate that packs more features than a particularly meaty issue of the Economist - and we got a special hands-on preview of just what makes it great. Our conclusion? We like what we see - and here's why.
At seven inches, the Flyer is easily held in one hand and navigated with the other. Though it packs Android Gingerbread rather than the tablet-optimised Honeycomb, HTC's new, tab-friendly Sense interface adds the same swish, 3D look we're loving about Honeycomb. Unfortunately, it is missing some of the fresher, tablet-centric features like the homescreen customisation - but then again, HTC has confirmed an upgrade will be available soon. A bundled 'smart' pen lets you write on the Flyer to make notes, mark ebooks and even scrawl on photos.
An intuitive interface lets you rotate the eight customisable homescreens on a 3D carousel. On startup, you're prompted to load your email, Facebook, Twitter and Flickr accounts, making this one of the easiest tablets to use out of the box. Notifications of new alerts - messages, emails, Twitter mentions - appear in a toolbar at the top of the screen, where you can swipe down to view and immediately head to the relevant app. You can also adjust internet and battery statuses here.
Appropriately, the paperback-sized Flyer can also be used as a digital notebook. Tapping the corner of any screen brings up a palette of pen weights and colours, and we found the Notes app wonderfully sensitive in reproducing handwriting. An excellent extra lets you highlight and draw on ebooks too, a great tool for students. You can also draw on photos - moustachioed friends are always amusing - and mark up screen-caps of webpages. We also liked HTC Watch, an HD video download service that lets you rent films for 99p, buy them for £1.99, or watch trailers for free. The video player supports a ton of formats, including DivX, WMV and H.264.
A-GPS and the Car Panel app also add sat-nav oomph to the tablet - you can fire up the app for a default sat-nav homescreen. The app gives you a road-ahead view, voice directions and info on nearby points of interest. HTC's signature social app, Friend Stream, is preloaded too, with a homescreen widget to view Facebook, Flickr and Twitter updates in a single view.
The model we saw wasn't running on final software, but during our preview period, we found the touch-screen more responsive than on any HTC device so far. Swiping through the interface was fast and smooth, while HTC's small design flourishes make a powerful device a pleasure to use.
Seven inches and 10 inches seem to be the two popular tablet sizes - though LG and Samsung have both bucked the trend with the 3D Optimus Pad and Galaxy Tab 8.9 respectively - and the advantages of seven are portability and one-handed use. HTC's preloaded 'trace' keyboard makes writing messages particularly comfortable by allowing you to drag a finger from letter to letter to spell a word.
As with HTC's Android smartphones, social networking is top-notch, with a super-social contacts book that pulls together all the communications info you have on a friend, whether it's social network, email or third-party apps like the IM-er WhatsApp.
The Flyer packs a 4000mAh battery - much larger than a smartphone's - with a stated life of 8-14 hours on continuous use. We couldn't test this fully, but apparently the battery is so powerful it needs its own special charger as the standard microUSB ones would charge far too slowly.
Packed with features for social networking, web, media and even studying, the HTC Flyer is a powerful tablet that - perhaps more importantly - is incredibly easy to use out of the box.