HTC's Shift takes the form of a small tablet, on which the screen can be "shifted" up and then propped at an angle to reveal a full keyboard, essentially turning it into a mini-laptop. However, the keys are a little too small to be useful, and after you figure out you can't type with your thumbs or all your fingers, you resign yourself to using your index finger on both hands, all the while trying to rid yourself of the image of Mr Bean typing. It also lacks an F11 and F12 key, so if you use them at all and don't feel like registry hacking to change key assignments, steer clear.
On the right-hand side is a small trackpad with which the mouse can be controlled with your thumb, on the left-hand side are the left and right mouse buttons — although by and large you'll simply use the stylus, as the active touchscreen is one of the most accurate we've used. Of course, this leads to difficulty when trying to clean the touchscreen while it's active, as the mouse will fly all about the place and click randomly as a result.
A fingerprint scanner is included on the right-hand side under one of the two speakers, which output adequate sound considering the size, but are definitely not for playing music. A quick access button to HTC's SnapVue lives under the left speaker, offering one of three interfaces supplied with the Shift. A 640x480 webcam is nestled in the top left, meaning unless you've got access to some clever software, you won't be able to look at the screen dead on and fit your face within the camera framing.
There are two buttons at the top on the right-hand side — one opens a control panel that allows you to enable the modem, wireless, Bluetooth and direct push e-mail (annoyingly, the wireless and Bluetooth would shut themselves off every time you shut down), as well as volume, brightness and advanced settings. The screen flips to a resolution of 1024x600 from the native 800x480 — it's not true resolution switching, but scales the higher resolution down to the smaller one, creating fuzzy graphics and smudged fonts. It's useful for overcoming problems with applications that weren't ever designed to fit in the Shift's screen resolution, but frankly we'd prefer a higher native resolution, or a dedicated operating system than this work around.
On the left side of the device is a headphone jack, on the right the power button, an SDIO slot, a USB port and a power jack. The rear has a VGA port, and your SIM card can be inserted under the battery on the underside of the device for SMS and HSDPA use.
The lack of unified interface is one of the Shift's key problems — it comes with Vista, Microsoft's own UMPC interface called Origami, and HTC's own SnapVue, a cut down Windows Mobile offering.
Vista for the most part runs surprisingly well, given the fact that it has an Intel A110 800MHz CPU and 1GB RAM. The 40GB hard drive is a nice touch too, and the touchscreen is accurate enough to make it highly usable (except in Word 2007, where the scroll bar hated the stylus), and after the initial load up it was fast enough for day-to-day tasks.
Origami is like the bastard child of a mobile phone interface and Windows Media Center. Its biggest problem isn't its design, or the fact that the integrated Intel GMA950 graphics chip can't handle the smooth transitions Microsoft's developers clearly envisioned — it's the fact it runs on top of Vista, wasting the already limited resources available to the UMPC, and offering nothing more than a skin for applications you already have access to. The fact that it's set to autoload when Windows starts, but doesn't manage to do so until several seconds after you've already seen Vista's desktop, and using the Start menu doesn't help its case either.