Every six months or so, a new manufacturer takes it upon itself to flog the terminally-wounded horse that is the ultra-mobile PC. Samsung has cracked the whip three or four times, Asus had a go, and we've seen countless others try and ultimately fail in the process.
The latest to try its luck is HTC, a company best known for its mobile phone handsets. Its device, the HTC Shift, looks good on paper. It's small, packs a touchscreen, has a slide-out keyboard, and can be contorted into a laptop orientation. But can this £900 device be taken seriously, or is it just an expensive and ultimately flawed experiment?
The Shift looks like the vast majority of UMPCs -- it's rectangular, has a 7-inch screen occupying the vast majority of the front, and has a range of shortcut buttons on the screen bezel. Mouse input comes courtesy of a half-inch square trackpad on the right side of the screen and two selector buttons on the opposite side.
The accuracy of this system is often poor and you'll need several thumb strokes to get the cursor from one side of the screen to the other, which is as frustrating as trying to wipe a red wine stain off your own shirt. Still, this setup seems slightly more responsive than it was on the.
Just above the trackpad, there's a button that takes you into the 'communications manager'. Here, you can toggle the modem, wireless LAN, Bluetooth and push email settings, as well as brightness and volume levels. A button just below this lets you quickly toggle the screen resolution between the default 800x480-pixel orientation to an interpolated 1,024x600 pixels.
The face of the Shift is also home to a fingerprint reader and a 1.3-megapixel webcam. Arguably, the most interesting button of all is one that lets you switch between Windows Vista Business edition and an alternative Windows Mobile-based graphical user interface -- more on this later.
The Shift's trump card is its keyboard, which reveals itself when you slide the screen upwards. We've seen this sort of thing on UMPCs like the, but unlike the model 2, the screen can be folded vertically upwards so it sits at a near right angle to the keyboard. The Shift looks like a mini-laptop when in this mode, but sadly, the keys are so tiny you'll need the precision of a sniper to avoid making any typos.
The HTC Shift uses two separate operating systems. Users can choose between Windows Vista Business edition or the 'SnapVue' PDA-style graphical user interface. The latter is occasionally useful since it boots in seconds and gives you quick access to your calendar, Outlook email, SMS text messages, local weather and your contacts list.
The downside is that it's not possible to add any new applications, so its functions are fairly limited -- most users will end up running Windows Vista Business edition as that's the only way to do anything useful.
That's where the Shift falls down. Vista Business edition demands a PC with at least a 1GHz CPU and 1GB of RAM, but the HTC Shift's CPU runs at a maximum frequency of 800MHz, or 600MHz when it's trying to preserve battery life. It's not as if the rest of the chip's architecture helps matters -- the 400MHz front side bus is nowhere near as high as the 1,066MHz FSBs on the latest 'Penryn' Core 2 Duo laptop CPUs, and it has a paltry 512kb of level 2 cache memory.