About a week ago I sent the Shift review unit back, so I figured it’s time to tie up my thoughts on this controversial device.
Prior to receiving the Shift, I read several reviews of the device, and they all seemed to sing the same tune: it was too slow and too expensive. In my experience only one of these was the case.
In the current market, with competition from low-cost ultra-portables like the ASUS Eee and the HP Mini Note 2133, the Shift is too expensive. Sure it has features that the other two don’t have, like a convertible Tablet PC form-factor, built-in 3G (in UMTS and CMDA varieties) and the clever SnapVue PDA mode, but when you take into account a top-spec HP 2133 is almost half the price, the value does come into question.
That said, I did like the form-factor. On the train, the Shift made a fantastic web surfing device. In the fake 1024×600 mode, web browsing and MSN chatting over HSDPA was a breeze, and Vista’s fabulous handwriting recognition and OS integration meant I was never really wanting for the keyboard.
At the coffee shop, it was great to be able to slide the screen up (to the interest of fellow caffeine-addicts nearby) to get some work done on the keyboard. While cramped, I did find after a few days I could work up a respectable speed, with pretty good accuracy to boot. If you are the kind of person who wants to do a lot of typing at the coffee shop, then you would find the size too much of a limiting factor. The keyboard is best use for responding to some emails and instant messaging, essays and other longer stretches of typing are a bit too much.
And it does make a fantastic coffee shop surfer with the built-in HSDPA modem. I have become attached to my ExpressCard modem with my MacBook Pro, but it’s even better having it built-in. Speeds were excellent in Sydney, exceeding 1.5Mbit consistently, as was signal strength. I was able to get a weak (but stable) signal inside my university classroom, where my BlackJack II gets no signal, and my Nokia N95 8GB gets 1 or 2 bars (one of the best phones for signal I have used).
The screen was a bit of a disappointment. 800×480? Come on HTC, that’s just lazy. Fujitsu have stuck a 1024×600 5.6″ display in their UMPC for goodness sake! Faking it with software interpolation isn’t a solution either, it just doesn’t compare to a true 1024×600 display. The irritating thing is it’s almost necessary to run the Shift in the FAKE 1024×600 mode, otherwise windows get cut off, toolbars litter the screen, and websites need sideways scrolling.
The SnapVue mode has been panned by many for its questionable usefulness, but I did find it came in handy when I was carrying the Nokia 8800 Arte. It was able to effectively serve as my PDA when I wasn’t carrying a smartphone, and for some users this could work. It’s certainly faster than booting into Vista and checking in Outlook.
And speaking of the devil, Vista, there is plenty to not like about Vista on a low power device. It doesn’t run terribly well on slower hardware, especially when you having indexing enabled, thrashing the hard drive repeatedly. With that off, and some of the auto-starting clutter disabled, I found the Shift to be and adequate performer. Of course it wasn’t the fastest machine I’ve ever used, but it wasn’t slow enough to make me climb the walls, or go for a walk while waiting for something to happen. It just didn’t feel as bad as the reviews I have read made it out to be. Simultaneously running Firefox (with several tabs), Office applications and some music in the background never saw the Shift bogging down or becoming unresponsive, it soldiered on at a reasonable pace.
I did give video calling a go using Skype, and while it worked, it wasn’t fun. The video was jerky and out of sync, making it unusable. This was the only area where the Shift stumbled in regards to performance. Voice calls worked perfectly however.
I did have the unit crash twice for no apparent reason, but then again Windows loves to do that on occasion. I’ve had it happen in my car once or twice…
It was a sad day when my Shift review unit went back. I know the screen resolution is pathetic, the battery life is a sickly two hours, and the keyboard is a bit squishy, but it was so solid and got the job done, that lugging my MacBook Pro around again felt so inconvenient. I only wish I had the dollars to buy one 😛