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HTC flyer

The world waited patiently for a tablet-optimised version of Android, and it finally got one in the form of Android 3.0, which is used on the Motorola Xoom, the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1V and Asus Eee Pad Transformer.

However, HTC clearly didn't want to use Google's new interface, having lovingly crafted its own. HTC Sense is a permanent fixture on the company's Android phones, and its gotten a size bump to appear here.

HTC flyer

While the official version number given for the Flyer's interface is Sense 2.1 for Tablet, it bears more than a passing resemblance to Sense 3.0, which is soon to feature on the HTC Sensation.

Using Sense enables the pen to have support in many basic apps, and also allows HTC to offer its own tablet-friendly versions of apps that are designed for phones normally in Android 2.3.

In portrait mode, many apps look much the same as they would on phone like the HTC Desire S, but put them into landscape mode and you start to see the difference.

HTC's Mail app offers you a split view, much like Android 3.0 and the iPad do. On the left is a list of your messages, while the right displays the selected email. The app is fast to respond, and emails render quickly, though there can be some occasional fitting issues.

HTC flyer

You'll notice from the screengrab that there are loads of buttons and options available here. For your inbox, you can choose to see in a conversation view, see your favourites, see unread or see attachments. On the right, you have all the options of what to do with a message. At the top, you can choose which inbox to view, as well options to search and compose a new message.

All well and good, but it takes up a vast amount of screen space on a pretty small screen. It's not just the buttons, though. There's an unnecessary black bar around the edge, and even the gap between the different windows in needlessly large.

Seven-inch tablets still divide opinions, with many thinking they're too small to really offer an advantage over phones. If you fill that small amount of space with unused black areas, that definitely becomes true.

Friend Stream, which offers an almost identical UI, but collects together your updates from different social networks, has the same problem. A long status update from someone will take up most of the left-hand pane, when there is more space that could be used.

HTC flyer

It's a bit of an inconsistent social network client anyway. Select a Facebook status update and it'll load any comments, but choose a Twitter reply and it won't show the whole conversation. A Twitter update with a link in will load the web page underneath, but one with a hashtag won't do anything.

There are official Twitter and Facebook clients on the Flyer, but they're the usual Android phone versions, so don't offer a great experience.

Other changes to Sense include a new Lock screen that enables you to drag an app's icon into a circle to open that app immediately. It's nothing we haven't seen on other devices before, but is still welcome.

The Home screens are now arranged in a 3D cylinder, so they rotate around as you go from one to the other. There is no practical application for this, but it looks nice.

HTC flyer

The HTC widgets have been optimised for the additional space of a tablet, though this mostly means they've just been given a little more space and controls made clearer.

The Music app has had the same upgrade to twin-pane view as the other HTC apps. You can still switch to a Cover Flow-style layout that takes up the whole landscape screen if you want, but it's far easier to browse in the other mode (and the wasted space is nowhere near such an issue here).

The Gallery app for viewing photos and images is another one in this template, and again it offers a good way to browse your photos and videos. Ultimately, a larger screen is always going to be an advantage for looking through lots of images.

On top of the redesigned apps, there's also those optismised for the pen. Notes is a general note-taking application that ties into Evernote seamlessly. If you take a screengrab from another app with the pen, Notes is where it will save to.

HTC flyer

It's a comprehensive app, offering the ability to write by hand or type, record audio notes, import pictures manually, take new photos and add them, and tie a note to a day in the calendar.

We should mention that the audio recording is totally useless if you're taking pen notes, however. All you'll hear is tapping.

In the Reader ebook app, you can highlight passages of text using the pen, or make any annotation you like on the page. It's all pretty intuitive, once you get used to how the pen works, which we'll detail on the next page, along with our judgement of how well it works.

HTC flyer

So was HTC right to stick with Sense on Android 2.3 instead of using Android 3.0? Those who love Sense will probably think so, and those who like the pen will probably find it a necessary price, but for most people we reckon it's a mis-step.

HTC may have optimised its apps for the tablet screen somewhat, but it hasn't done that good a job of it. This would be fine if you could replace them with other, better-optimised apps. However, being stuck on Android 2.3, all you've got are phone apps on offer from the Android Market.