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HTC Shift

<p> Although HTC announced the <a href="http://www.htc.com/uk/product.aspx?id=8662">Shift</a> over a year ago (the official press release is dated 27 March 2007), it has taken a while to get a fully working review sample in our hands. This arrived courtesy of <a href="http://shop.orange.co.uk/shop/show/handset/htc_shift/detail/small_business">Orange</a> &mdash; the only UK network operator to take the device on and bundle it with a data tariff; you can also get the Shift SIM-free from vendors such as <a href="http://www.expansys.com/p.aspx?i=165686">Expansys</a>. </p>
Written by Sandra Vogel on

HTC Shift

  • Small and portable
  • Integrated HSDPA connectivity
  • Fingerprint scanner
  • Camera for two-way video calling
  • Touch-sensitive screen
  • Short battery life
  • Poor performance
  • Keyboard is too small for touch-typing
  • Not a viable alternative to a notebook computer
  • Editors' Review
  • Specs

Although HTC announced the Shift over a year ago (the official press release is dated 27 March 2007), it has taken a while to get a fully working review sample in our hands. This arrived courtesy of Orange — the only UK network operator to take the device on and bundle it with a data tariff; you can also get the Shift SIM-free from vendors such as Expansys.

Either way, the HTC Shift will cost you the better part of a thousand pounds including VAT. Given that mini-notebooks such as the ASUS Eee can be obtained for around a third of that price, the Shift raises a number of questions. Can it function as an everyday notebook? What extras does it offer over a low-cost alternative? And how does it compare with similarly priced notebooks?

The HTC Shift is small and light, measuring 20.7cm wide by 12.9cm deep by 2.5cm thick and weighing 800g with the battery in place. When it was announced, the Shift looked promising compared to poorly received Ultra-Mobile PCs (UMPCs) like the Samsung Q1 Ultra. However, since then a new class of inexpensive mini-notebooks like the ASUS Eee PC and the HP 2133 Mini-Note PC have considerably stiffened the competition in this area.

The HTC Shift looks at first sight like a small tablet-style device with a 7in. screen and a slate-grey frame housing various buttons and controls. When you push the screen away from you with the device held in landscape orientation, a QWERTY keyboard is revealed. Push as far as you can go and the lid clicks into a locked position; you can now tilt it upwards to an angle of about 45 degrees — much as with HTC's TyTN II Windows Mobile handheld.

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HTC's Shift has a slide-out keyboard mechanism that's reminiscent of its TyTN II handheld.

The whole thing feels quite slick, but there are issues even at this early stage.

Although the Shift's sliding/tilting touch-screen is a clever piece of engineering, it's not particularly practical. Whereas convertible Tablet PCs allow you to hide the screen when it's not in use, the Shift's permanently outward-facing screen feels vulnerable.

The screen also exhibits a major flaw: its 800-by-480-pixel native resolution simply can't cater for a professional working environment. You can get a maximum of 1,152 by 864 interpolated pixels, but at the cost of some fuzzy text rendering.

The keyboard offers a full set of QWERTY keys and a full-sized number row, but is simply too small to use comfortably. Individual keys are 12mm wide by 10mm tall, and we found them too cramped for fast touch typing. Hunt-and-peck typists may find the small keyboard easier to get on with, though.

There's no room for a conventional notebook-style touchpad. Instead, a pair of buttons to the left of the screen act as left and right mouse buttons, while the right-hand side carries a small touchpad that you can navigate with a thumb.

We found prodding at the screen with a fingertip to be a more efficient navigation method. There's also a stylus, which is housed on the left side of the device; this is particularly useful when you're using Windows Vista's handwriting recognition software.

As supplied by Orange, the HTC Shift comes with a mains power charger, a spare stylus, a stereo headset, a screen protector, a printed manual and a getting-started guide, an envelope-style carrying pouch and a drawstring accessory case. You'll need the latter for the AC adapter and the three-port USB hub and Ethernet connector that's also supplied with the device.

The HTC Shift is a fully-fledged notebook running Windows Vista Business and a secondary service called SnapVUE. This will be familiar to users of HTC's Windows Mobile devices, as it looks similar to the information display used on those devices.

SnapVUE is an HTC feature that provides a range of information without Windows Vista needing to be booted up.

SnapVUE can be called up via a button on the bottom left side of the screen. Windows Vista does not need to be booted up, so SnapVUE is very quick to access. You can switch in and out of it when Vista is running simply by pressing the hardware button.

SnapVUE delivers basic information such as the current date and time, appointments, incoming email and SMS alerts and a local five-day weather forecast which it picks up over the air via the device's built-in HSDPA connection.

The HTC Shift's HSDPA connectivity is clearly the reason it appeals to Orange; this, along with its handheld-like access to information, makes it a viable mobile email device for professionals. The larger screen and keyboard, notwithstanding earlier comments on their usability, make it an interesting device for such users.

The HTC Shift runs on an 800MHz Intel A110 processor, which is very much last year's platform as we eagerly await the arrival of mobile devices running Intel's new Atom CPU. It has 1GB of DDR2 RAM plus 128MB of ROM and 64MB of RAM for the SnapVUE module.

The minimum specifications for Windows Vista Business, according to Microsoft's web site are a 1GHz processor and 1GB of system memory. The lack of CPU muscle made the HTC Shift painfully slow to work with in Windows Vista mode — an impression fully borne out by the system's pitiful Windows Experience Index (see below).

Which is a shame, because the Shift is crammed with features. We have already noted the HSPA connectivity. We also installed and used Vodafone's USB Stick modem. The software installation took an age, but the Stick worked successfully.

There is a VGA camera for making two-way video calls to the upper left of the screen. A fingerprint sensor sits on the lower right edge of the screen, while a pair of speakers flanks the screen.

Our review sample had a 40BG hard drive, and a 60GB option is available. There's no optical drive, which is something you'd expect to find in all but the smallest of notebooks.

Bluetooth (2.0+EDR) and Wi-Fi (802.11b/g) are both integrated and are easily managed via the Control Centre, an interface that pops up when you hit yet another screen-side button. This also lets you turn the modem on and off, adjust volume and screen brightness, turn Direct Push on and off (for mobile email), and put the device into Flight mode. Unfortunately, you can't access the Control Centre in SnapVUE mode.

Around the edges of the HTC Shift are a 3.5mm headset jack, a VGA-out port, an SD card reader and a single USB2.0 port. A 4GB SDHC card was successfully recognised.

Performance & battery life
The HTC Shift's Windows Experience Index (WEI) score of 2.1 is not quite the worst we've seen — the OQO Model e2 has that dubious honour with a woeful rating of 1.0 (out of 5.9). Other strugglers with WEI scores of 2.0 include notebooks from HP, Sony and Fujitsu Siemens.

Despite having competition at the lower end of the performance scale, our experience with this device was particularly unrewarding. The component ratings were Processor (calculations per second) 2.1, Gaming Graphics (3D business and gaming graphics performance) 2.7, Graphics (desktop performance for Windows Aero) 3.4, Primary hard disk (Disk data transfer rate) 3.8 and RAM (Memory operations per second) 4.5.

Turning to battery life, HTC suggests you should get two hours of Windows Vista usage. We tested this by asking Vista to play music continuously from a full battery charge. We chose the Balanced power scheme but set the screen to remain on and disabled sleep settings.

We were rewarded with 1 hour 53 minutes of battery life. You could extend this by using the power management settings more efficiently, but as the Shift is equipped with a HSDPA, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, it is really designed for fairly battery-sapping activities. As a result, we suspect that many users will have trouble getting through a working day without requiring a recharge.

The HTC Shift has a lot of competition, including fully fledged ultraportable notebooks and the new breed of mini-notebooks typified by the ASUS Eee. With a thousand pounds to spend, you could buy one of each and still have change left over.

If the HTC Shift has a saving grace, it is SnapVUE. Instant-on access to mobile email and calendaring, on a large screen with a reasonable-sized keyboard could shift a few Shifts, as it were.

However, its extreme sluggishness under Windows Vista Business makes the Shift unsuitable as an everyday mobile workhorse. HTC needs to halve the price and double the speed in order to get close to being competitive in today's mobile device market.



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