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T-Mobile Shadow first impressions; HTC and Microsoft reveal a refreshing UI

After checking out the BlackBerry Curve for a couple weeks I scheduled a time on my calendar to visit T-Mobile and pick one up for myself. However, the sun came out before my appointment and revealed the T-Mobile Shadow so I now had a choice to make at the local T-Mobile store. I went on 31 October, the release day for the Shadow, and the T-Mobile store in Seattle was packed. I checked out both the brown and green Shadow, as well as the Curve again, and a few minutes later I walked out of the store with a green T-Mobile Shadow. I have 14 days to decide if I am going to stick with the Shadow or go back and get the Curve so if you have any thoughts on why one is better than the other, feel free to leave a comment. My thoughts, video, and photo gallery below are my first impressions after about 6 hours of using the Shadow. I plan to post a more detailed review prior to my 14-day trial period expiration.
Written by Matthew Miller, Contributing Writer

After checking out the BlackBerry Curve for a couple weeks I scheduled a time on my calendar to visit T-Mobile and pick one up for myself. However, the sun came out before my appointment and revealed the T-Mobile Shadow so I now had a choice to make at the local T-Mobile store. I went on 31 October, the release day for the Shadow, and the T-Mobile store in Seattle was packed. I checked out both the brown and green Shadow, as well as the Curve again, and a few minutes later I walked out of the store with a green T-Mobile Shadow. I have 14 days to decide if I am going to stick with the Shadow or go back and get the Curve so if you have any thoughts on why one is better than the other, feel free to leave a comment. My thoughts, video, and photo gallery below are my first impressions after about 6 hours of using the Shadow. I plan to post a more detailed review prior to my 14-day trial period expiration.


 Image Gallery: The T-Mobile Shadow brings a refreshing UI to Windows Mobile 6.  
Image Gallery: Retail box
 
Image Gallery: Shadow in hand
 

Out of box experience: Windows Mobile users seem to have generally been the mobile enthusiasts, techy people, or business people who are more into spending time with their devices and seeking more than just a phone. I have been evangelizing high end devices to family and friends for years, but they still seem satisfied with the free phones their carriers give them. That is fine for many people, but I still think that many others could really use these higher end devices. The prices for the higher end models are now dropping to within a reasonable consumer price range (US$149.99 for the Shadow for a new subscriber), but there is still the issue of the phones being too complicated for common users. HTC and Microsoft worked together to create an experience on the Shadow that I think will significantly help with this impression and improve the out-of-the box experience. I covered much of the UI in my video above and will write a bit more about it below. You can check out more details regarding this cooperative effort and know that HTC really does care about the end consumer. Like the HTC Touch packaging, HTC has made the unwrapping of the HTC Shadow a special experience with solid packaging and presentation that helps give people a sense that they purchased a premium product.

Specs: The HTC Shadow is a Windows Mobile 6 Standard smartphone (non-touch screen) that runs with an OMAP 850 200 MHz processor, 256 MB ROM, 128 MB RAM, 2.6 inch QVGA 320x240 display, quad band GSM radio (850/900/1800/1900), 802.11 b/g WiFi, Bluetooth 2.0 (A2DP stereo support), 2 megapixel camera, microSD card slot, 920 mAh battery, and 20-key QWERTY keyboard/keypad. The ROM and RAM are quite impressive for a Standard device and it is great to see Bluetooth stereo support since the Shadow uses the HTC proprietary port for headphones. There is no HotSpot @Home UMA support or 3G radio in the device, which would have really put the device over the top.

Home screen and plugins: The Home screen UI is the first thing you will see when you power up the device and the major differentiating factor in the Shadow. If you compare the standard Windows Mobile 6 Standard home screen with the T-Mobile Shadow you will see a MAJOR difference. MyFaves is heavily customized on the Shadow and I added this service to my family plan to see if it reduces some of my minutes for calls to my home and others. One thing I learned is that you lose the free T-Mobile to T-Mobile functionality if you have MyFaves so there is definitely a bill history review that you should conduct before making the switch. The MyFaves feature is fun, which I think is an important aspect that may help sell the Shadow since people want an enjoyable experience with their mobile phones.

Counting the MyFaves plug-in, there are eight home screen plug-ins designed by HTC and Microsoft. These include Notifications, Message Center, Appointments, Internet, Music, My Photos, and Settings. I run through each one in my video above and as you can see it brings the most common functions of the device to a simple UI.

Hardware features: HTC included a new navigation wheel that rotates 360 degrees. You can use your thumb to move the wheel around and around, but I found it to be a bit of a novelty since my thumb kept slipping and not causing it to rotate consistently. There are slight cuts in the wheel, but it is slick and not easy to manipulate. It is a good directional pad though and the left, right, up, and down works well. The center action button lights up and has great feedback.

There are two small soft keys integrated into the display with a Home and back key below these. The black display is glossy and face grease shows up and means you will be wiping it down regularly. The back of the device has the cool rubberized covering seen on other Windows Mobile devices, like the Dash.

Fonts appear very clear and crisp, but many of the icons are pixelated and look a bit sloppy. The UI is attractive and it is a shame to see these funky icons. I read online that the display may actually be VGA, but that graphics are downgraded to QVGA because there was too big of a hit on battery life. I'll try to see if this is true, but it seems to make sense given that the icons look so poor.

I have only had the device for 24 hours, but I have already seen the battery drop down to a very low level twice and had to recharge it twice. It doesn't appear to last that long, but it may take a couple of charges to condition the battery and I'll have to do more testing over the next two weeks.

New subscribers can purchase the Shadow for US$149.99 after a US$150 instant discount and US$50 mail-in rebate. The full retail price is US$349.99. I had a small upgrade allowance so I was able to pick up the Shadow for US$269.99 with a contract extension. I have been with T-Mobile now for over 5 years and have no plans to leave so I went with the savings.

Final first impressions: HTC and Microsoft did a great job on bringing common functions to the home screen and the UI is fun to use. Using the iPhone is also fun and I think much of its success is due to making a device that is enjoyable and fun. The T-Mobile Shadow is also a full Windows Mobile 6 device so you can still get a lot of work done too with Office Mobile, ActiveSync Exchange Server support, and much more.

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