Product profile

The HTC Shift marks the start of a new generation of PDAs that combine the features of notebook and tablet PCs - but is this sleek hybrid worth the price tag? 

HTC Shifts the goal posts

HTC'S Shift, priced at £850 (excluding VAT) is the latest Ultra mobile PC (UMPC) designed to give business people a lightweight, easy to carry device that helps them stay connected to email, the Internet and office systems on the move.

It is very similar to a laptop in many ways, running the Windows Vista Business operating system (OS) and sporting an almost full (if cramped) QWERTY keyboard, 1GB of RAM and either a 40GB or 60GB hard-drive.

The compact dimensions of 207x129x25mm mean it is only slightly longer and thicker than a DVD movie case - and, at 800g (including the battery), it is much lighter than the ultra portable class of notebook PCs, such as the Sony Vaio.

The integrated 800MHz Intel processor will run run-of-the-mill applications like Microsoft Office with ease, but might struggle with anything more processor intensive, though there is a graphics accelerator to add a bit more muscle when displaying high resolution images.

For those users who do not want to boot into Vista, the Shift cunningly contains a second 400MHz Qualcomm CPU and 64MB RAM. By pressing a button on the side of the unit, users can switch between Vista and a low-power mode based on a version of PocketPC called SnapVUE.

SnapVUE provides access to email, calendar, contacts and other simple applications commonly found on smartphones and PDAs, as well as telephony functions, but does not waste battery life by powering up the hard-disk or other main system resources. 

The 7in touchscreen display is perhaps the cleverest part of the Shift, offering resolutions up to 1024x768 and flipping over from the standard clamshell design to face upwards, in emulation of a tablet PC. The sliding mechanism looks solid enough, but,as with so many aesthetic touches, it will be interesting to see how resilient it proves during the rigours of daily travel.

As you would expect on a device this small, input/output options have been kept to a minimum. A single USB 2.0 port might cause problems when attaching multiple peripheral devices, and there are no serial or parallel ports. There is an SD card slot, and a VGA port that can connect the device to larger monitors or projectors for presentation purposes, as well as a 3.5mm stereo audio to hook up some external speakers.

The integral 3-megapixel VGA camera and microphone offer conferencing and recording options, and the internal speakers are better than most. Security is provided by a biometric reader embedded in the case, and there is a tiny track pad for mouse control.

The inclusion of Windows Business Vista as standard may - or may not - prove attractive: as a new operating system, Vista has yet to be updated with the service packs that usually fix the teething issues that users discover in the first six to 12 months of any operating systems life. Also, Vista was created for desktop and laptop PCs with more power and bigger screens, so squeezing it into a 7in display may prove hard on the eyes with prolonged usage.

It is unlikely that any Shift owners will find themselves unable to get Internet or email access in whatever country they happen to roam: the device features a range of inbuilt connectivity options, including Wi-Fi and 3G, as well as UMTS, GSM and EDGE. This means some network, somewhere should always be available - it is just a case of working out how to pay to get onto it.

At the time of writing, the only UK operator shipping the Shift bundled with a monthly mobile data tariff was Orange; anybody wanting to use a different network will have to insert their own SIM from their operator of their choice. 

HTC promises three to four hours battery life when running Vista Business, and up to two days in SnapVUE mode, but the actual figure will vary hugely according to what applications are being used and whether WiFi or cellular connectivity is involved.

The Shift even features an ‘Auto' brightness setting that claims to utilise a light meter to adjust the screen brightness to suit your environment, though this might prove a double-edged sword and should be tested thoroughly before being used in mission critical situations.

At time of press, the Shift's list price is £849.99 excluding VAT, which is expensive even when compared to larger, heavier but more powerful ultra portable notebooks armed with more features. That said, the Shift can be found advertised online for as little as £649.99 excluding VAT and delivery, which may tip the balance.

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