HTC might be best known for its range of Windows Mobile-powered smartphones and PDAs, but its latest offering, the Shift, is a different beast. It’s more of a UMPC, but by encompassing some smartphone elements it hopes to inject new life into what has become a sector in decline.
Despite a natty box and assortment of accessories, our first glimpse didn’t give much away. The 7in widescreen display takes up most of the front of the device, with room only for a handful of buttons and controls, a mini-trackpad and a fingerprint reader around the aluminium bezel. The rest of the unit is finished in a glossy gunmetal grey; it’s a bit plain and chunky.
Considering how much smaller it is than a traditional laptop, the Shift isn’t that light. Without the power supply, the HTC still weighs 790g, and its dimensions preclude it from being carried in most pockets. Build quality is beyond reproach, however.
What the Shift lacks in looks it makes up for in usability. Other manufacturers’ offerings based on the UMPC form factor, such as the Samsung Q1 Ultra , are designed primarily as handheld devices. The Shift, however, is a little different. Slide the display upwards and you’ll reveal a full QWERTY keyboard. The nifty hinge is the real talking point, however: you can leave the display flat when you’re typing on your lap, and tilt it forward for a more comfortable position at a desk.
Fitting a keyboard into such a small device is tricky, but this is the best keyboard we’ve encountered on a UMPC, with each key offering a light, responsive action, and even a little travel. It’s still cramped, but a little practice helped us get up to a reasonable typing speed.
When it comes to navigating around Windows, there are a couple of options. A tiny trackpad on the right-hand side of the unit allows you to control the cursor with a thumb, and there’s also a touchscreen.
The small size of the trackpad makes accurate cursor control a little hit and miss, but it soon becomes second nature to resort to a prod of the finger where possible.
That touchscreen display is of impressive quality, too, and the 7in panel gives a bright, vibrant image. The native resolution of 800 x 480 may leave the Windows Vista desktop looking cramped, but a button allows you to switch quickly to 1024 x 600.
As with most UMPCs, the Shift’s modest dimensions mean limited performance. The Intel A110 processor is a single-core model running at 800MHz, and with just 1GB of memory it managed a lowly score of 0.25 in our benchmarks. It’s more than capable of basic office tasks and surfing the web, but Vista Business feels sluggish.
What’s peculiar is that the Shift houses two processors: one for powering Vista and one 400MHz Qualcomm part for powering an additional Windows Mobile interface. Even with Vista in Sleep mode, or completely shut down, pressing the key at the bottom left of the display instantly opens a cut-down version of Windows Mobile, which HTC has dubbed SnapVUE.
SnapVUE lets you receive SMS text messages and push email, with the help of the device’s mobile data GPRS/EDGE, 3G and HSDPA support. You just add a SIM card. There’s also the facility to access Windows Calendar events and, less usefully, weather reports. Voice calls aren’t on the agenda, however. We were able to view contacts, and the interface offers the option to call them, but the Shift refused to do so. Attempts to call the Shift from another phone were similarly fruitless.
There’s no arguing that many aspects of the Shift’s design are excellent, but limitations such as this are impossible to ignore. Its inability to make voice calls means you’ll still need to carry a traditional phone around, which is a missed opportunity.
Battery life is underwhelming, too. The Shift expired after just 2hrs 39mins of sitting idle, and under the strain of our heavy-use test that dwindled to 1hr 32mins. When you consider that making use of the 802.11bg, HSDPA or Bluetooth connectivity will further reduce battery life, it’s clear most users will have to suffer the added bulk of a spare battery.
HTC should be congratulated for making the shift more usable than any other UMPC before it, but it's heavy for it's size and battery life is poor. When many of its abilities can be duplicated by the cheaper combination of a smartphone and an Asus Eee PC, it's easy to wonder what all the fuss is about.