The HTC Shift's design straddles the middle ground between smartphone and laptop.

Folded up and ready for transit, the HTC Shift is a touchscreen tablet wrapped in a leather a shell. However, the screen slides up and even tilts backwards at an angle, which makes this unit a versatile mobile computer that you can easily use either in-hand, or on a surface.

The HTC Shift distinguishes itself from competing ultramobile PCs (UMPCs) in several ways. This is the first shipping UMPC to showcase Microsoft's Origami Experience 2.0, a customised interface and software suite that runs on top of Windows Vista.

The HTC Shift also integrates a cellular radio.

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Under the hood

Almost by definition, you can never expect any UMPC to pack a performance punch. But, certainly you're hoping for enough oomph to make Windows Vista Business run at an acceptable pace (at the least, a pace that out-runs snails).

Surprisingly, in spite of its modest components - Intel's A110 800-MHz Pentium M processor and an anemic 1GB of RAM - the HTC Shift performed serviceably in our hands-on tests.

We found basic tasks and programs jammed on to the HTC Shift's 40GB hard drive (about 23GB are available with a factory-fresh machine) snappy enough. My biggest annoyance was the unit's pokey boot time: about 90 seconds from dark to startup.

In addition to using the Windows Vista Business operating system, the HTC Shift incorporates Origami 2.0, an optimisation for underpowered mobile processors attempting to slog through a full-fledged OS. Origami 2.0 promises to provide better performance for multimedia players, photo viewers, web browsing and other resource-intensive apps.

Does it work? Our initial impressions are that it has little more spring in its step than its predecessor.

NEXT PAGE: SnapVue, and our expert verdict > >

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The HTC Shift's design straddles the middle ground between smartphone and laptop.

SnapVue: the "other" OS

Another unique feature of the HTC Shift: the device features HTC's at-a-glance operating system overlay. With the flick of a button, the SnapVue mode kicks in, working outside the unit's operating system to provide access to core mobile data.

The SnapVue mode has some passing commonalities with the TouchFLO interface HTC designed for its HTC Touch mobile phone (reviewed here).

SnapVue also looks, feels, and operates a whole lot like Windows Mobile 6.0, even though HTC's spokespeople won't confirm or deny that particular influence. SnapVue gives you quick-access to such features as push-email, SMS messaging, contacts, and a calendar - without that nasty Vista overhead.

The applets for these functions (the calendar) look identical to what you'll see on any Windows Mobile 6.0 smartphone. ??We used the Shift to send out SMS messages -- that worked well enough. We synchronized it with Yahoo email – just like one does in Windows Mobile 6.

Another bonus for SnapVue is that it manages to do all this without sucking down battery power. According to HTC, if you shut down Vista and just left the HTC Shift with SnapVue on, the device would last for about three days. With Vista on, we hit the two-hour mark in our informal battery life tests.

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Features and connectivity

The HTC Shift's small size alone makes it an excellent traveling buddy; but, it also happens to bristle with buttons and features conducive to those on-the-go.

It has one-button access to a Communications Manager tool, from which you can control the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity, as well as adjust volume and brightness.

Below that, another button toggles between 800-by-480- and 1024-by-600-pixel resolutions; a fingerprint scanner is tucked into one corner of the screen, and a webcam pokes out of the other.

For those who would prefer to mouse around, a touchpad surface the size of a stamp is sensibly flush against the right side of the screen; left- and right- mouse buttons sit on the opposite side.

It may seem superfluous to have a mouse in addition to the HTC Shift's effective touchscreen, but we found the touchpad an incredibly handy addition.

Running around the sides of the device, you'll find a combination headphone and mic jack, an SD Card slot, a VGA port, and a single USB 2.0 port (our test unit came with an external 3-port USB hub).??Considering the HTC Shift's small form, we found the keyboard reasonably sized, with the keys small, but adequate to type on.

Together with the adjustable, tilting screen, we found the HTC Shift a highly usable device. The screen's tilt, in particular, enhances the Shift's versatility, and made it conducive to set the device on a surface to view or create content.

As useful as the tilting screen is, we would have preferred to see more of a clamshell design to protect the touchscreen, though. Or maybe even a tri-fold screen - anything to keep the screen from getting battered.

The tri-fold leather case that comes with the Shift will help protect against scratches, but we fear it won't do enough. We were also annoyed that the leather case was actually bolted to the Shift.

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HTC Shift: Specs

  • HTC SnapVUE
  • Microsoft Direct Push technology
  • up to 2 days battery life (standby)
  • Windows Vista Business
  • 1GB DDR RAM
  • Intel A110 800-MHz Pentium M
  • Windows Media Player 11
  • 7in widescreen touchscreen display
  • 40GB hard drive
  • QWERTY keyboard
  • Mouse buttons and microPad
  • Worldwide (Tri-Band) UMTS with HSDPA
  • Quad-Band GSM/GPRS/EDGE
  • Bluetooth 2.0 and Wi-Fi
  • USB 2.0 connectivity
  • Fingerprint sensor
  • colour CMOS VGA camera for video-conferencing
  • 207x129x25mm
  • 800g with battery
  • HTC SnapVUE
  • Microsoft Direct Push technology
  • up to 2 days battery life (standby)
  • Windows Vista Business
  • 1GB DDR RAM
  • Intel A110 800-MHz Pentium M
  • Windows Media Player 11
  • 7in widescreen touchscreen display
  • 40GB hard drive
  • QWERTY keyboard
  • Mouse buttons and microPad
  • Worldwide (Tri-Band) UMTS with HSDPA
  • Quad-Band GSM/GPRS/EDGE
  • Bluetooth 2.0 and Wi-Fi
  • USB 2.0 connectivity
  • Fingerprint sensor
  • colour CMOS VGA camera for video-conferencing
  • 207x129x25mm
  • 800g with battery

OUR VERDICT

While this isn't a true mobile-phone/lapto hybrid (it doesn't have mobile-phone capability), the HTC Shift is a great, but mighty expensive mini-notebook built for business and data-centric tasks. The high price tag may be appropriate for business users, but may deter consumers seeking an ultraportable computer.

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