I’ve been using the HTC Shift for several weeks now and it truly is an amazing product. Weighing about half what the Macbook Air weighs, the Eee has several advantages and a couple of disadvantages which will keep it from selling in the same volumes that the Macbook Air enjoys. While it costs $1,600, for the right person this could be the perfect product and if nothing else it is unique in the market.
HTC Shift Advantages
The positive aspects of the HTC Shift include a size that could easily fit in many purses without substantial problems. It uses an always on 3G (Sprint in this case) high speed WAN (Wide Area Network) connection (substantially faster than the 2.5 G iPhone) making it an ideal box for folks who have to stay connected all the time.
It has two modes, an always on Windows Mobile mode which gives the device battery life that should last most of the day and a Windows Vista mode which gives you about 2 hours battery life on the standard battery and nearly twice that on the $50 extended battery with the broadband radio on. For example the Macbook Air only gives you 2.5 hours of battery life and it doesn’t even have a 3G radio to turn on.
This is a touchscreen based notebook and the keyboard nests underneath it. Unique to this and the HTC Tilt, is the ability for the screen to tilt up once the keyboard is deployed and this is both unique and kind of cool to use. More useful, at least to me, was the touchpad to the right of the screen. This feature made it vastly easier to navigate around the device.
The HTC Shift has the second generation Origami interface which, for media consumption, actually creates an ease-of-use experience that is arguably closer to the iPhone than it is to the Macbook Air making good use of the touchscreen. Like the Media Center interface this is an overlay and you can’t live in it, but for looking at pictures, playing music, and watching videos it is a sign of things to come and vastly better than the unfinished first version of Origami.
It has a user facing video camera and a fingerprint reader for security. In addition it is wrapped in a leather protective cover that is permanently attached to the device limiting, for now customization, which would be ideal for this class of product, is difficult to do as a result.
Even though it uses a slow processor it was actually fast enough (even when connected to a 20” monitor, external keyboard, and mouse) to use daily as a desktop machine (but it is sure no gaming box).
I’m rather impressed with this offering but there are trade-offs that likely will have many still looking for a better compromise.
HTC Shift Challenges
I actually found the screen was only a problem when I migrated to the device because the Vista migration tool for some silly reason sets a minimum resolution which this device won’t meet without an external screen. (It, fortunately, works fine with a big monitor). What hung me up was the keyboard which is too big to thumb type and too small to touch type. For those that hunt and peck (and I’m not one of those) it could be the perfect size though.
It looked kind of dumpy to me, particularly when taken against the Macbook Air, and while it did tend to draw a crowd, I think if it was actually closer to the Macbook’s size but much thinner it would be more attractive to, and purchased by more people. Thin is in and, while not fat, the device doesn’t look thin.
It was harder to use than I’d like. Like many men, I don’t believe in reading manuals and found myself buried in the reviewers guide far more often than I can recall for any other recent product. Part of the problem is they appear to have overly crippled the Windows Mobile side of this offering making it more difficult to adjust some settings then I think it otherwise would have been.
For me, the perfect accessory for the device was an iGo folding keyboard which made the device vastly more useful but also made the built in keyboard redundant. This would suggest a design similar to the old ThinkPad Butterfly that had an expandable keyboard, would likely be vastly more useful and popular.
Wrapping Up: Cool Product for Some
The HTC Shift is an amazing little product, but not yet right for most of us, though just the addition of a larger keyboard could change that a lot. In the end we are going to see a lot of folks explore unique designs and product sizes over the next couple of years. Wait until you see what some of the gaming guys have coming, and you have to believe the second generation Macbook Air will be much better as well. For hardware, the next couple of years should be an amazing time.
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