Friday, June 6, 2008

HTC Shift

  • Pros Incredibly solid build. Touchscreen system actually works. Very usable slide-out QWERTY keyboard
  • Cons Processor and 1GB of RAM struggle to run Vista at full whack. Keyboard is small and a struggle to type on at speed. No voice call functions

The HTC Shift wants to be everything. You can power it up in full, manly Vista Business mode, or just hit the switch and use its 7in screen like the world's biggest text messaging tool and calendar thanks to Windows Mobile.

But it also has something unusual for a UMPC: a SIM card slot. This means easy access to HSDPA, 3G, GPRS, EDGE or whatever acronym your provider lets you use.

Dearer than an Eee
As ever when reviewing something that's small and a computer, we first have to mention the Asus EeePC 701, which is a quarter of the price of an HTC Shift. Now, the Shift is engineered like a brick and feels very satisfying in the hand, but is it worth nearly £900?

It is if you need Vista. The Shift runs nu-Windows pretty well. Not at desktop levels of speed, but well enough to manage most tasks.

The Shift’s 7in display is all one big touchscreen, so you can give it a good poke in iPhone fashion. It works well enough, but prodding away at tiny boxes and options with a stylus can be a bit of a pain.

What is nice, though, is the tilting screen. This is no basic mobile slider – extend the QWERTY keyboard and it's possible to bend the screen upwards so it takes on a proper ultraportable laptop feel. Hinge technology has really moved on.

Play it like a PSP
One of the reasons the Shift works as a tablet PC is its innovative and superb thumb-based control system. The touchpad is located on the right-hand side of the machine, so you move the mouse cursor with your thumb. Don't laugh, it works.

Then, over on the left, another two buttons are your left-click and right-click, which let you hold the machine like it's a big PSP or Nintendo DS. It's an awesome system that does away with the need for a stylus, and its responsive on-screen keyboard makes the cramped physical QWERTY feel a bit redundant, too.

Talkin’ bout the resolution
If your eyes are going, there's a resolution switch button on the case. This flips between the native 800x480 resolution and a boosted 1024x600 version. The latter makes web pages fit better, but also makes them harder to read and prod your way around.

The Shift's other magic feature is its dual operating systems. Press a button and the HTC SnapVUE kicks in. This alternate, power-saving SMS and organiser feature is basically a rejigging of Windows Mobile 6 and lets you use the simple text messaging, weather reporting, calendar functions and MS Exchange push email to gain days of extra battery life.

When running Vista at full whack with Wi-Fi on and the brightness around medium, the Shift manages about two and a half hours of battery life. That’s pretty much the standard lifespan for something this small – it only weighs 800g, remember.

Sluggish processing
Problems? Obviously the old line graph of power versus price is a problem here. The Shift's 800MHz processor and 1GB of RAM combo means you see the old rotating Vista 'Please wait for me to open this app' icon pretty much every time you boot something up.

Compared to the lighting speed of the Eee PC's Linux build, you're left twiddling your thumbs for an awfully long time when waiting for Vista to open up its numerous menus. It's not unusable, but we can't help wondering how utterly kick arse the Shift would've been had it had XP instead of the lumpen Vista Business.

Still, if you absolutely must have a fully featured version of Vista on the go because you’re literally doing business every second of the day and you want a tablet PC that finally - finally! - works like PC makers have been promising for over a decade, the HTC Shift is a very decent machine.