An excellent UMPC but limited by price and technology. (July 4th, 2008)
Product Manufacturer: HTC
Price: $1,599 (3 yr. Rogers), $1,499 (US unlocked)
- Good overall ergonomics, including controls.
- SnapVUE is genuinely helpful
- Very simple, always-present 3G and Wi-Fi Internet access.
- Surprisingly fast for a Vista-based UMPC.
- Good expansion, including a bundled USB hub.
- Prohibitively expensive to buy and maintain.
- Very short battery life with few options to extend it..
- Long load times for Vista and some apps.
- Relatively heavy; unwieldy for some purposes.
Windows Vista and performance
In part thanks to the well thought-out controls, Vista is surprisingly usable on the Shift. Heavy-duty work isn't practical on this device, but most apps you'd expect to run on an ultraportable computer can be controlled without the frustration that's all too easy with such a small control set. The storage space also allows for many of these apps as well: a 40GB hard drive is built-in, and even with both Vista as well as other preinstalled apps, about 20GB is free. A 60GB drive is also available in some editions.
What's less helpful with that space are load times. By using a very small 4,200RPM hard disk, HTC has virtually guaranteed that software can take a long time to load, particularly with Vista's notoriously long startup time. Taking the system out of standby mode can take upwards of two minutes. That's enough time that smartphone owners could wake their phones, perform basic tasks, and put the phones to sleep before the Shift has finished logging in. Load times are generally better inside the OS and with many apps, though they're not better than with full notebooks using a similar hard drive. A future version would be helped greatly by a switch to faster flash memory, even if it drops the capacity versus rotating storage.
There's also little software preloaded in Vista that isn't provided by Microsoft; the primary inclusions are the utilities necessary to setting up the Shift as well as a trial version of Microsoft Office. As much as this minimizes wasted space, more apps to take advantage of the UMPC format would have been appreciated.
Performance is at least pleasantly quick; although the Shift is running a now-obsolete, 800MHz Intel A110 mobile chip (versus the improved Atom), Windows Vista appears to defy logic on the Shift and runs well in the one- or two-app situations it's clearly designed for. The clearest signs that it's not a fast PC are signs of graphics tearing when dragging a window quickly across the screen (a sign of the integrated Intel video) and the need to run the Aero Basic visual interface rather than the more elaborate Aero Glass reserved for faster video chipsets. Still, combined with 1GB of RAM onboard, the perceived speed is enough to overcome initial reservations about performance versus Windows XP, although those who dislike Vista's frequent permissions requests or other quirks won't change their minds.
Apart from design, HTC's key differentiator among UMPCs is SnapVUE. It's essentially the TouchFLO interface from the Touch and other, pre-Diamond HTC phones writ large and gives both an at-a-glance view of new messages and the date as well as some simplified tools for contacts, e-mail, SMS, and weather.
Here, it's dramatically more useful than on the Touch. The screen size gives HTC more room to provide meaningful information and an interface which is easy to use, although it's uncannily similar to the Windows Mobile version when checking mail or editing contacts.
More importantly, SnapVUE is fast -- so much so that it's faster than HTC's own Windows Mobile phones. Rather than simply tack it on as a software app for Vista, the company has put aside an extra set of RAM and ROM just for this interface to be turned on without booting Windows itself. Startup is virtually instant and ultimately helps the Shift's appeal over other same-size devices; when it's only necessary to quickly check for an urgent message or reply to one, there's no need for the lengthy wait to reload Windows.
Even so, SnapVUE is also potentially self-defeating precisely because it's so useful. Anyone who depends very heavily on it without booting into Windows would likely be served by a smaller and more focused device than the Shift.