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.
HTC has been a veteran of smartphones but has only just recently ventured into handheld computers, and the Shift represents its first full-fledged attempt at an ultra-mobile PC. The system promises to take all of HTC's experience with handsets and translate it into a full-fledged Windows computer that happens to have the conveniences of a cellphone; but its real challenges may be both to compete with a new wave of notebooks as well as extra-capable cellphones like iPhone 3G.
design, touch, and the keyboard
The Shift isn't the first UMPC and takes advantage of this fact in its basic design. The core handheld has a rounded (but not slippery) casing which is more usable than some sharper-edged equivalents. HTC also goes so far as to include a very convenient (if not animal-friendly) leather wrap-around case that makes the Shift much more totable without having to shop for a case.
Display-side buttons fall to hand quite easily, including the mini-trackpad: it's surprising how persistently comfortable and usable the trackpad is despite having a fraction the surface area of the same input on a notebook. And where tap-to-click is often something of a nuisance on normal portables, here it's more of a convenience; if there's a fault in this aspect of control, it's that the dedicated left and right mouse buttons are slightly counterintuitive.
The 7-inch touchscreen, which is undoubtedly the centerpiece of the Shift, actually works surprisingly well given HTC's past reputation. Where the Touch smartphone requires too much pressure and often isn't very usable, the Shift's requires gentle presses and works well with fingers. Despite some signs of imprecision, the screen is accurate enough that it's possible to type reasonably quickly using the onscreen keyboard without any forced mistakes.
The screen is also sharp enough at 800x480 to be workable for most tasks you'd expect to use on a small portable, although at 800x480 it's often just smaller than the 1024-pixel width assumed by many modern websites and apps.
However, the display is also a potential deal-breaker for some users. Quite simply, the display is (almost) unusable in bright sunlight. Most detail is washed out, and it often becomes necessary to use part of the leather case as a hood to create shadow. In most other conditions the Shift is entirely usable, but it can be disappointing to take a pass on using the Shift in the park on a bright summer day, even if many portable devices suffer similar problems.
There's also no doubt that the size contributes to potential problems toting the Shift. The Shift is small compared to a notebook, but it's very large compared to even a very large smartphone and absolutely needs a bag or briefcase if it's to be carried for anything more than short trips. At just shy of 1.8 pounds, it's also fairly heavy for its size. There are times when a smaller, five- or six-inch screen would definitely have been preferable.
It's in the keyboard that some of the Shift's strengths over other UMPCs, but also its weaknesses against other devices, become the most apparent. HTC's keys are quite large compared to some UMPCs and are surprisingly comfortable; mistypes are rare as long as you don't expect a full-size keyboard. This is is especially true for the Shift's trademark tilting keyboard: the Shift is one of the very few UMPCs that can be usable for typing on a desk without an add-on, and there are no doubt some mobile professionals (or just well-heeled students) who will abandon a notebook in favor of the Shift for meetings or class lectures.
That said, the keyboard doesn't escape the fundamental flaw of UMPCs: trying to type in handheld mode. While the keys are again large, any input that requires a key combination (including, ironically, the Shift key) becomes cumbersome and requires a hand free as well as a steady grip with the other. In that sense, the Samsung Q1 Ultra and UMPCs with a split keyboard on either side of the screen make more sense, although it can be argued that the key size and logical layout of the Shift do ultimately trump whatever convenience their is in the Q1 and similar devices.
This does raise the question of whether the Shift is truly appropriate for frequent typists; for those who depend heavily on writing and not just reading content, mini notebooks like the ASUS Eee PC or HP Mini-Note could well be better choices with either larger keyboards or an existing and more adjustable keyboard angle than on the Shift, which has to lock into one of two positions.