HTC's Shift--A Small, Smart Ultraportable PC

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Hey, who ordered the supersize AT&T Tilt? That's what HTC's new Ultra-Mobile PC, the $1500 Shift (model HTCX9000) resembles.

Photograph: Robert Cardin
This crossover computer's design straddles that middle ground between smart phone (except for that whole "making phone calls" thing--there's no embedded phone dialer) and notebook. Folded up and ready for transit, it's a touch-screen tablet wrapped in a leather shell. However, the screen slides up and even tilts backward at an angle, which makes this unit a versatile mobile computer that you can easily use in-hand or on a surface.

The HTC Shift distinguishes itself from competing UMPCs in several ways. This is the first shipping UMPC to showcase Microsoft's Origami Experience 2.0, a customized interface and software suite that runs on top of Windows Vista. It also integrates a cellular radio for use on Sprint's high-speed EvDO data network and supports Wi-Fi. One drawback: The Shift is among the pricier UMPCs around (prices for the second-generation Samsung Q1 range from $800 to $1500).

Under The Hood

Almost by definition, you can't expect a UMPC to pack much performance punch. You can, however, hope for enough oomph to make Windows Vista Business run at a pace that leaves snails in the rearview mirror. Surprisingly, despite its modest components--Intel's A110 800-MHz Pentium M processor and a puny 1GB of RAM--the Shift performed serviceably in hands-on tests. Basic tasks and programs jammed onto the device's 40GB hard drive (about 23GB is available with a factory-fresh machine) were snappy enough. Boot time, however, was annoyingly pokey: about 90 seconds from dark to ready for business.

Besides using the Windows Vista Business operating system, the Shift incorporates Origami 2.0, designed to optimize performance 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. And it does seem to have given the Shift a little more spring in its step than its predecessor had.

SnapVue: The "Other" OS

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

The SnapVue mode shares some characteristics with the TouchFLO interface, which HTC designed for its Touch cell phone. SnapVue also looks, feels, and operates a lot like Windows Mobile 6, though HTC spokespeople won't confirm or deny that particular influence. SnapVue gives you quick access to such functions as push e-mail, SMS messaging, contacts, and a calendar--with no Vista overhead. The applets for these functions look identical to what you'd see on any Windows Mobile 6 smart phone.

I used the Shift to send out SMS messages to buddies, and that experiment worked well enough. I also synchronized the unit with Yahoo e-mail, just as I would in Windows Mobile 6. And finally, I obtained a quick five-day forecast--a goofy little push-application embedded on the SnapVue home screen.

Another benefit of SnapVue is that it works without guzzling battery power. According to HTC, if you were to shut down Vista and leave the Shift with SnapVue on, the device would last for about three days. With Vista on, I barely hit the 2-hour mark in my informal battery life tests.

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