HTC Flyer Tablet $499 At Best Buy

The Android 2.3 Gingerbread tablet with Wi-Fi, not 3G/4G, is available for preorder from the electronics retailer.

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Best Buy on Monday began offering the HTC Flyer tablet for preorder. Plunking down some cash at your local Best Buy will let you be one of the first to receive the $499 tablet when it streets later this spring. There's no word yet on exactly when that will be.

The model being offered by Best Buy only has Wi-Fi, not cellular 3G or 4G data network access. Sprint is launching a 3G/4G version of the Flyer (rebranded as the View 4G) later this year. Besides the wireless radios, the Sprint version is likely to ship with Android 3.0 Honeycomb. The Wi-Fi version being offered by Best Buy is limited to Android 2.3 Gingerbread with HTC's custom Sense user interface.

The Flyer has a smaller, seven-inch display (same size as RIM PlayBook) and is powered by a single-core 1.5-GHz processor. The global version of the Flyer supports mobile broadband via quad-band GSM/EDGE and tri-band 900/1700/2100 HSPA data radios. The presence of 1700-MHz spectrum support nearly guarantees that the device will be offered by T-Mobile USA at some point in the future. It also packs the requisite GPS, Bluetooth 3.0+HS, and a bevy of sensors, such as a gyroscope, light sensor, and digital compass.

The Flyer includes two cameras. The main camera rates 5 megapixels with autofocus, but no flash. There is also a user-facing camera rated at 1.3 megapixels for video chats. The Flyer will be able to use Google's custom-made video chatting software over 3G and/or Wi-Fi.

It will ship with 16 GB of storage in addition to a microSD slot for extra storage needs. It will have 1 GB of RAM, and support for nearly all media file types. The Flyer/View 4G weighs in at a hair under 1 pound, which puts it at significantly less than the iPad, but on par with RIM's PlayBook.

The most disappointing aspect of the Flyer is that it runs Android 2.3 Gingerbread. This would be a complete disaster were it not for the presence of HTC's Sense user interface. Sense--thankfully--saves the Flyer from being obsolete out of the gate. (How can HTC expect Android 2.3 to compete with all the Android 3.0 Honeycomb tablets hitting the market?) HTC put Sense to work solving a lot of the usability issues that come from using the non-tablet version of Android on a tablet-sized device. The Sprint representatives have said that the View 4G will likely be updated to Android 3.0 Honeycomb before release.

The international version of the Flyer that HTC showed earlier this year was white. The Wi-Fi version being offered by Best Buy also is white. The Sprint version is a much nicer looking black.

If seven-inch tablets are more your speed than the larger 10-inch tablets available, the HTC Flyer feels good and seemingly performs well. Sprint hasn't yet said when its WiMax-equipped version of the Flyer/View 4G will be available, nor what the cost of the device and data plans will be.