Since their inception, UMPCs and other tiny Internet tablets have occupied an uncomfortable middle ground between smartphone and laptop--and an even more uncomfortable high ground when it came to price. The HTC Shift is no exception: the CDMA-equipped tablet offers push e-mail and mobile Web browsing (like a smartphone) and Windows Vista (like a laptop), all for $1,499. No doubt that price reflects the cost of shrinking what is essentially a full laptop into a tiny, two-pound case. However, it's difficult to justify paying so much in a world that includes both the more portable iPhone and the far less expensive Asus Eee PC. As it is, the HTC Shift, though attractive and relatively full-featured, seems destined to be a toy for well-heeled executives.
|Processor||800MHz Intel A110|
|Memory||1GB of 400MHz|
|Hard drive||40GB at 4,200rpm|
|Chipset||Intel 945GM Express (integrated)|
|Operating system||Windows Vista Business|
|Dimensions (wide x deep x thick)||8.1x5.1x1.0 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||7 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||2.2 / 2.7 pounds|
A bit heavy for a UMPC, the two-pound HTC Shift nevertheless cuts a trim profile; it's about the size of a DVD case, only slightly thicker. Its size is similar to the Samsung Q1 Ultra and just a touch smaller than the more laptop-like Eee PC. Unlike other UMPCs we've seen, the Shift comes attached to a brown leather folio that the company tells us is irremovable because of FCC regulations. That's a shame because the wrap, while attractive, detracts from the overall usability of the device, getting in the way when you're using it as a handheld and taking up space when you're using it on your desk.
The Shift incorporates a 7-inch touch-screen display that can switch between 800x480 and 1,024x600 resolutions, depending on how much screen real estate you need. A button along the right side of the display bezel lets you quickly toggle between screen resolutions, which we found extremely helpful. The higher resolution allows for Web browsing without constant scrolling, while the lower resolution is ideal for navigating menus, especially within the included Microsoft Origami Experience software.
There's no shortage of input options on the HTC Shift. You can navigate the touch screen using your finger or the included stylus, which is just a hair thicker than the stylus that comes with the Treo 650. You can also navigate by dragging your thumb on the "micropad" touch pad, a half-inch square along the right side of the display bezel, while pressing the two buttons on the left side of the display bezel that represent left and right mouse-clicks.
Like the Sony VAIO UX390, the HTC Shift conceals a full QWERTY keyboard beneath its screen, accessible by sliding the screen upward. Unlike the VAIO UX390, the Shift lets you also tilt the screen upward, creating what looks like a tiny laptop. Adding a keyboard greatly increases a UMPC's usability, but we have yet to find such a device with a comfortable keyboard. In the case of the HTC Shift, the keys are a bit too large for comfortable thumb typing and a bit too small for standard 10-finger typing. Oddly enough, we found that index-finger typing (most often associated with hunt-and-peck typists) produced the most error-free text, though the technique still seems best suited to quick e-mails and would be awkward (at best) when riding transit.
In addition to traditional forms of input, the HTC Shift includes two buttons along the display bezel that provide fast access to oft-used applications. On the lower left corner, the SnapVUE button launches a helpful black-and-white dashboard that includes a clock, calendar, weather, and a preview of your Outlook mail, plus shortcuts to SMS messaging, your Outlook calendar, and your contacts. The SnapVUE application can run without booting Windows, which helps conserve battery life. A similar button on the right side of the screen launches the HTC Control Center, which gives quick access to volume, brightness, and wireless settings, plus a quick "flight mode" setting to disable all the wireless radios with a single click.
It doesn't have its own hardware quick-launch button, but the included Microsoft Origami Experience software warrants mention. Essentially a version of Windows Media Center designed for touch-screen devices, the Origami Center provides fast access to music, pictures, and videos, plus a Web browser, RSS feeds, and favorite programs. The large icons in the Origami Center make it possible to navigate using just your fingers--great for using the device on public transit.
|HTC Shift||Average for UMPC tablet category|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone jack||Headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||One USB 2.0, SD card reader||Two USB 2.0, mini-FireWire, SD or multiformat memory card reader|
|Networking||WWAN (Sprint CDMA), 802.11 b/g Wi-Fi, Bluetooth||Ethernet, 802.11 a/b/g Wi-Fi, optional Bluetooth, optional WWAN|
By virtue of their small size, UMPCs generally have a rather spare list of ports and connections. The HTC Shift is no exception, with just one USB port, a headphone jack, an SD card reader, and VGA-out to connect to an external monitor or projector. Some nice extras you'll find on the Shift include a fingerprint reader for quick text-free login, Bluetooth 2.0 with stereo support, passable (though tinny) stereo speakers, and a VGA-resolution Webcam on the upper left corner of the display bezel. Most important, of course--especially considering the Shift lacks an Ethernet jack--is the built-in CDMA WWAN radio, which lets you access Sprint's data network. The Shift also includes 802.11b/g connectivity for those reluctant to pay for an unlimited cellular data plan. Despite HTC's history as the maker of cell and smartphones, the Shift does not include dialing capabilities, unless you use VoIP software within Windows.
Like the Samsung Q1 Ultra, the HTC Shift is built around the 800MHz Intel A110 processor, which Intel built specifically for pocket-size devices. Unlike the Samsung Q1 Ultra, the Shift excelled on CNET Labs' benchmarks--at least, when compared with other UMPCs. Even the Intel Core Solo-based Sony VAIO UX390N trailed the Shift on our Multimedia multitasking test. That said, the Shift felt a bit sluggish to us, considering we've grown accustomed to dual-core systems. (Even a rather average Core 2 Duo laptop, the Toshiba Satellite M205, performs three times as fast as the Shift on our Multimedia multitasking test.) Applications were slow to launch, and the system seemed to hesitate when switching between windows. It wasn't painfully slow, just sluggish. Also worth noting is the Shift's fan, which was surprisingly noisy for such a small computer. It obviously does its job--the device stayed quite cool even at the end of a day of use--but it was noticeable in quiet environments.
The Shift's battery lasted 1 hour, 46 minutes on our video playback drain test--the shortest battery life of any of the UMPCs we've tested lately. Anecdotally, the Shift's battery lasted about two and a half hours of mixed Windows use (Web surfing, media playback, and note taking) during our review period. That number doesn't tell the whole story, though, because the SnapVUE software works independently of the OS, giving you access to e-mail, weather, contacts, calendar, and SMS without booting Windows. According to HTC, this pared-down functionality increases the battery life to several days (CNET did not test this claim).