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.
wireless and expansion
Both 3G cellular Internet access and Wi-Fi are onboard the Shift, and the two let it almost always pick up an Internet connection as long as it's not in relatively remote areas or inside where even Wi-Fi can't reach. Signal strength was never an issue in testing, although much of the appeal of the Shift will be lost without a full-speed connection. A connection using solely EDGE (2G) or GPRS largely neuters HTC's device outside of offline work; this isn't a device for a camping trip, but for data it works well as an urban companion.
Bluetooth is also onboard and certainly helps for users who want a keyboard and mouse without occupying the valuable USB ports of such a small computer, though in practice it was more a helpful bonus than an important addition.
HTC could nonetheless have given users more control over how to manage that connection. It's appreciated that users don't have to think about which connection they need to choose, but the method of changing settings is somewhat counterintuitive: 3G and Wi-Fi have to be switched on or off in SnapVUE rather than through Windows.
There isn't much to choose from with the Shift for expansion, though HTC does go to great lengths to accommodate the system to more than just basic needs. A VGA output, an SDIO slot, and a USB port are about all owners can expect if they use the device by itself. HTC does, thankfully, bundle a three-port USB hub that turns the UMPC into a makeshift desktop after plugging in optical drives and external input.
The running time of the Shift may be its ultimate downfall. Even in its official claims, HTC gives its portable just two hours of battery life with all wireless turned on. The test unit managed to exceed that claim by almost exactly 15 minutes, but it remains the case that the Shift is closely tethered to a wall outlet. Those same businesspeople and students hoping to use the Shift as a notebook substitute will invariably have to tote the included power brick with them if they expect to use the UMPC for more than an average-length meeting or lecture. It's telling that HTC packs in a cloth carrying case for the brick, as the company itself clearly expects the adapter to follow the user more often than with a notebook.
And while it's possible to decrease the screen brightness in darker rooms or use Vista's battery life settings, the truth remains that there's little that can be done to meaningfully extend the Shift's lifespan when it's completely detached. Intel's Atom processor should extend this life in the future, but that won't help prospective buyers today.