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The Flyer isn’t part of the pack of tablets running the latest version of Google’s Android software, 3.0 Honeycomb. Instead, HTC has slapped its Sense custom user interface, seen on the company’s smart phones, over the top of Android 2.4 Gingerbread.
For those keeping track of version numbers, Android 2.4 and Android 2.3 are both known as ‘Gingerbread’, since these two versions of the operating system are almost identical. Android 3.0 Honeycomb is a version specifically designed for tablets, rather than for smart phones.
Sticking to the older version of Android has given HTC the time to customise the interface significantly. We haven’t seen the Flyer’s user interface in action yet, but HTC told us that it’s tweaked all of its apps to take advantage of the tablet’s extra screen space. For example, the email app will have two panels, showing your inbox and an email at the same time.
HTC is one of the only companies that’s done a great job of skinning Android. Its Sense user interface has been making geeky phone software better-looking and easier to use ever since it first appeared on the Hero. Consequently, we’re cautiously optimistic about HTC’s software efforts on the Flyer. We also loved the Samsung Galaxy Tab, even though it only ran Android 2.2, so there’s hope for the Flyer too.
But — and this is a big but — the Galaxy Tab came out about five months ago, before Honeycomb was even out. At the time, we were thrilled to embrace a more pocket-friendly, Android alternative to the iPad. But even Google has said that Android wasn’t well suited to tablets before Honeycomb emerged. Even if HTC’s Sense skin overcomes the fact that Android 2.4 isn’t optimised for tablets, we think it’ll be hard for any self-respecting geek to break the piggy bank open for a gadget that’s not cutting-edge.
You may disagree, though. After all, HTC has proven with its phones that it can do a great job of designing a user interface. You may not particularly care which version of Android your tablet runs either. Also, HTC has promised that the Flyer will get an update to Honeycomb eventually.
Being stuck on Gingerbread doesn’t mean the Flyer is likely to miss out on many features. You’ll still have access to the Android Market, which is full of apps and games to install on your robot friend. Android apps tend to be less elegant than the apps available for the iPad, and there are fewer of them. But, on the plus side, some of them offer wilder features — like augmented reality — and they tend to be very cheap or even free.
The Android browser is also a treat, because it renders Web pages quickly and accurately. It supports Flash Player too, which means you won’t miss out on online videos, and you won’t have to rely on the separate YouTube app. Even if you have no interest in the latest cute cat videos from Japan, having Flash support in the browser is fantastic just for moving around the many sites that use it for menus and navigation.