HTC Shift hands-on

HTC's Shift finally launched in the US this week, and what do you know, we landed one to check out. Sure as hell ain't too shabby for a UMPC, but while it's got a number of things working in its favor (versatile form factor, solid hardware, lots of niceties like a fingerprint reader, 3G, Windows Mobile, etc.), it's got a number of bits working pretty hard against it. Some thoughts:

  • The screen hinge is significantly improved and feels really solid. Without putting it through 20,000 open / close cycles, we think it's fairly trustworthy, definitely good HTC gear.

  • The microscopic keyboard keys are an absolute nightmare to type on with two hands if you've got normal human mitts. Unfortunately, it's just too small to use regularly, and too large to use with your thumbs; with that kind of real estate we'd have preferred a proper split thumb-board with a nice big track pad in the middle. Major bummer.

  • The trackpad is pretty sensitive, but a little difficult to control. The machine itself is certainly snappy enough, though, even running Vista with Aero.

  • Hitting SnapVUE / Windows Mobile-mode is instantaneous, albeit a little jarring -- especially since the screen is so huge and WinMo is so clearly not intended for it -- but it's nice to have a lighter weight interface than full-on Windows.

  • Try though we might, we simply could not find a way to disengage the unit from its leather-bound case. Maybe this was outlined in the Shift's documentation, of which we received none. Quite annoying.

  • HTC kindly bundles a screen protector, a spare clicky stylus, external USB hub with Ethernet (ahem, Air), and headphones with mic.

All in all not bad, but it's going to take a hell of a lot more than what the Shift's offering up to get us to drop $1,500 on a UMPC of any kind. And it isn't winning it any further points considering that one of the device's main draws -- the keyboard -- may as well not even exist for us fat-fingered fools. Check out the extensive unboxing and hands-on gallery below.

Update: Apparently the case is permanently bolted to the unit and can't be removed, part of some weird FCC requirement regarding antenna distance / SAR. At very least they HTC could have used Philips head screws (and not Torx) to facilitate ease of removal.