Rogers debuts HTC Shift ultra portable PC

One thing you can say about the HTC Shift is that it looks good. An ultra portable PC that’s a cross between a smart phone and a laptop, the Shift comes in an attractive leather holder that opens like a book to reveal a sharp, clear display.

Produced by Taiwanese electronics manufacturer HTC, who brought us the HTC Touch designed to rival Apple’s popular iPhone, the Shift has been brought to Canada by Rogers Wireless and offers always-on, speedy connectivity through the carrier’s 3G network. The HTC Shift is available from Rogers for $1,999.99 without a contract, dropping down to $1,699.99 on a three-year contract, with a current promotion reducing that to $1,599.99.

Weighing-in at 1.7 lbs., the Shift functions similarly to both a PDA and a notebook. The 7” display can be accessed like a tablet PC with a stylus, or it can be “shifted” to reveal a QWERTY keyboard, and the screen tilted to look like a mini-laptop. In laptop mode the stylus can still be used on the touch screen. There’s also a mouse control that I found comfortable, after some practice, despite its location: the track pad is located to the right of the display, with separate left and right click buttons vertically stacked on the left. A USB mouse could also be connected.

The Shift has two modes: SnapVue, and Windows Vista Business. SnapVue is an express display designed to give you the basics quickly, including e-mail, text messaging, contact list, calendar and a nifty live weather forecast tool. It’s useful for a quick check of text-based e-mail on the go. While Vista takes some time to load Shift is available at the press of a dedicated button, which can also be used to flip back and forth between the two modes. Direct push e-mail is also available.

The other mode is a traditional notebook experience, with a full load of Vista. You can install any apps that will run on Vista, although with no disc drive on the Shift you’ll need to connect to an external drive via USB.

The specs

On the hardware side the Shift features an Intel A110 800 MHz processor with 1GB of RAM, and a 40GB hard drive. There’s an SDIO card slot and just one USB port, as well as a built-in Webcam, microphone and speakers. For security, fingerprint authentication is built-in.

It also offers Bluetooth and 802.11 b/g WiFi to connect in a hotspot if you don’t have an all-you-can-eat data plan. I’d recommend the unlimited data plan though; otherwise even minimal Web surfing in Vista will quickly get very expensive.

Rogers and HTC promise two hours of battery life from the Shift and you certainly won’t get more than that if you use Vista at all, as it tends to be a power-hog. You are promised up to 11 days of standby time if you stick to SnapVue, and while that will drop sharply if you actually use it (HTC says you’ll get three days of e-mail), SnapVue is much more battery friendly.

I was satisfied with the performance of the Shift, despite the unimpressive specifications, but there were some quirks. It would have benefited from a Blackberry-style scroll wheel, for example. Moving through long Web and text pages with the mouse controls was awkward. The keyboard is also tricky. The keys are small, but the device is to wide to facilitate thumb-typing. The lack of backlighting is also a drawback for lowlight situations. And a button to quickly power-down Vista would have been useful.

The Verdict

As a tech guy I liked this device, but it does have some sharp drawbacks and I’m not totally clear on the market the Shift is looking to fill. Is it trying to replace my smart phone or my laptop, or to supplement them? In actuality, at this point the Shift couldn’t replace either.

While the Shift connects to the Rogers 3G network for data, there’s no voice function so I need my phone still. Even if it did, it’s too bulky to fit in my pocket anyways. With its two-hour battery life and other limitations though it’s out as a laptop replacement, and I don’t particularly want to carry around three devices.

I could perhaps see the Shift as a good commuter device for those that take the train into the office, or need something to connect to the office between meetings to do some work beyond simple e-mail. With its Vista OS the Shift does offer more horsepower and applications than a PDA, and in a smaller package than a laptop.

However, sticking with a PDA and/or ultra portable laptop may still make more sense for most users. Add a 3G card to a sub-$1000 notebook at you’ll get the same functionality in a slightly larger package.

The HTC Shift is cool technology; but I don’t think the negligible size difference from the value ultra portables on the market is worth a 100 per cent premium. Get the battery-life up there though, and it could be another story.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Jeff Jedras
Jeff Jedras
A veteran technology and business journalist, Jeff Jedras began his career in technology journalism in the late 1990s, covering the booming (and later busting) Ottawa technology sector for Silicon Valley North and the Ottawa Business Journal, as well as everything from municipal politics to real estate. He later covered the technology scene in Vancouver before joining IT World Canada in Toronto in 2005, covering enterprise IT for ComputerWorld Canada. He would go on to cover the channel as an assistant editor with CDN. His writing has appeared in the Vancouver Sun, the Ottawa Citizen and a wide range of industry trade publications.

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