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Reviewed December 5, 2007 by Lisa Gade, Editor
Feb. 2009 update: the Shadow is replaced by the T-Mobile Shadow 2.
Have you outgrown that Moto RIZR but don't want the business-geeky bulk of a Pocket PC phone like the T-Mobile Wing or the teen-fashionable SideKick? T-Mobile and HTC have the answer: the Shadow-- a Windows Mobile smartphone that looks as slick and cool as a RIZR or LG Venus, is as slim as a RAZR and more user-friendly than the usual WinMo smartphone. The Shadow's arch-rival is the BlackBerry Pearl, another compact, attractive smartphone that uses the SureType keyboard where two letters share a single key.
The Shadow is made by HTC, who makes the Wing, Dash and many other Windows Mobile phones. It runs Windows Mobile 6 Standard Edition (the new name for the smartphone version of the OS, which lacks a touch screen and features more phone-like ergonomics). It features a bright portrait orientation QVGA display, Bluetooth 2.0, WiFi 802.11b/g, a 2 megapixel camera and slider that conceals the SureType keyboard. The Shadow has the typical 201MHz Texas Instruments OMAP processor with a better than average 256 megs of flash memory and 128 megs of RAM. Sounds like your average MS Smartphone... but the changes (other than lovely looks) come in the form of usability improvements.
Windows Mobile isn't as simple or intuitive as a feature phone by a long shot, so T-Mobile opted for navigation wheel and home screen (called a Theme in Windows Mobile lingo) that makes several common tasks as simple as a feature phone. Click the navigation wheel down or up (don't spin it) to move horizontally between categories: MyFaves (if you have a MyFaves plan), notifications, Message Center, calendar, Web, Music (Windows Media Player), My Photos, Manage Connections (HTC's Communication Manager). Spin the nav wheel in a category to see all programs or options. For example you can spin through your MyFaves contacts, spin to select text message, picture messages, voice notes and email accounts. This makes for quick and convenient one-handed navigation, though the spinner is a bit too slick and we didn't always scroll through the vertical list with great precision. Nonetheless, the experience is faster and more pleasant than the usual multiple clicks required to get to these apps on a standard Windows Mobile smartphone. Power users have no fear, if you prefer you can change the theme back to the Windows Mobile standard with the usual home screen. But short of editing the registry or downloading hacks, there is no way to alter the T-Mobile Today Screen (say you don't want to have your photos or MyFaves on the home screen).
Underneath, it's still Windows Mobile. Press the Start Menu soft key to see the usual programs group and when you use that friendly T-Mobile launcher to play music, you'll still face Windows Media Player 10 Mobile unaltered (and un-improved). The operating system's functionality, look and feel are still largely controlled by its author: Microsoft.
The Shadow is more rectangular than the Pearl and doesn't look quite as small or feel as nice in hand, but the measurements are nearly identical, though the Pearl weighs considerably less. Weight isn't always a bad thing in moderation, the Shadow is well-built and feels and looks solid. The smartphone says quality and has an understated modern elegance. It's available in two colors, copper and sage, and these are both muted and classy looking (no bright LG Chocolate colors here). It's a phone you can take to work, yet it has enough fun features to easily avoid boredom.
The SureType keyboard isn't a full QWERTY but beats a number pad for texting. The Shadow has XT9 predictive text to guess what you meant and does an OK job but not great. There's multipress for entering names and URLs, which XT9 has no hope of getting it right. The keys are quite large for a phone this size, but they're flat which means you'll need to keep an eye on what you're doing lest you slip off to the wrong key. Keys have a tactile click and they're backlit in gentle white. If you're coming from an MDA or Wing, this might not be the keyboard for you. But if you're a Pearl user or looking to improve on a numeric keypad for text entry, the Shadow does the job.
The Shadow's 2.6" 64k display is absolutely lovely-- extremely bright, colorful and glossy. It puts the Dash to shame. The resolution is the standard Windows Mobile smartphone QVGA 240 x320 in portrait orientation (unlike the Dash and Motorola Q9 Global which are landscape orientation). Photos and videos look great on the phone's display and despite the uninspiring 201MHz CPU, the Shadow handles video playback better than most MS smartphones. We do suggest you stick with video encoded at 300kbps or less though or you'll notice frame drops.
Like most high end feature phones, smartphones and PDA phones, the Shadow can double as your portable MP3 player. The customized home screen has basic controls to stop and start music playback, and for full control over playlists and library updates you'll use Windows Media Player Mobile. While Media Player's features can't compete with the desktop version or a dedicated MP3 player, it does get the job done. The Shadow's microSD card slot supports SDHC for high capacity cards. We tested it with a 4 gig SanDisk card and a library of MP3s and it worked fine. Audio through the included earbud headphones is good as it was through the Plantronics Pulsar 590 and Motorola S9 stereo Bluetooth headphones. The smartphone supports the Bluetooth A2DP and AVRC profiles for stereo Bluetooth music. The mono speaker didn't make for a pleasant music playback experience though it was passable for movie watching.
The Pantech Duo, LG Venus and Shadow.
The Shadow is good for entertainment, be it light video watching, music playback or games (there are many smartphone games on the market), but that means little if it doesn't do a good job making calls. We found reception in the Dallas metroplex where T-Mobile has strong coverage to be good and comparable to the Dash. Voice quality was just average on our end but volume was good. Our callers said we sounded a little tinny but easily understandable. The Shadow is a quad band world phone that works on the 850/900/1800/1900MHz bands and it's locked to T-Mobile (that means you can only use it with a T-Mobile SIM card, not AT&T, Vodafone or any other GSM carrier's SIM). The phone played well with a variety of Bluetooth headsets managing 15-20 feet of range and reasonable voice clarity. T-Mobile includes Microsoft Voice Command 1.6, an excellent voice recognition and command application that handles voice dialing and other tasks. There's also speed dial, smart dialing and support for common call features like muting a call, speakerphone and call hold/switching. The speakerphone is plenty loud but it's tinny and grating.
Data is available in two flavors: EDGE and WiFi. EDGE is long in the tooth these days, with the other 3 major carriers offering high speed data ranging from 300-900k. We got an average of 90kbps on DSL Reports Mobile speed test, which is a tiny bit better than the Dash. Thankfully there's WiFi 802.11b/g which works when in range of a WiFi hotspot or access point. You can use WiFi with your home WiFi network, workplace or school network free of charge. T-Mobile's $20/month Internet plan provides unlimited EDGE and use of T-Mobile Hotspots such as those at Starbucks, FedEx Kinkos and more. Not a bad deal. Unfortunately, the Shadow doesn't work with T-Mobile@Home service as does the BlackBerry Curve 8320.
Battery life is the Shadow's weak point. Though T-Mobile claims up to 5 hours of talk time, we got more like 3 which is puzzling for a phone that has no 3G, a fairly slow CPU and a small display. Under moderate use the smartphone's 920 mAh Lithium Ion battery required nightly charging, while the Dash made it 2 days on a charge. We didn't use WiFi, which is a notorious power-drainer but we did talk on the phone 30 minutes, listen to music for an hour, surf the web over EDGE for 30 minutes and check email hourly from 9am-8pm. Streaming music over Bluetooth to a stereo headset also drains power, especially if the source is a streaming Internet radio station. Our advice: get a second battery.
All Windows Mobile phones sync to Outlook on Windows. Mac users will need a 3rd party program like Missing Sync since there's no solution in the box. Windows XP folks will use the ActiveSync 4.5 installer on the included companion CD and Vista users will run Mobile Device Center to sync. There's an Outlook 2007 trial installer on the CD, but you can use your current installation (older versions such as Outlook 2002 work). You can sync using the included USB cable or over Bluetooth if your computer has Bluetooth.
The Shadow's 2 megapixel camera sounds state of the art by US standards, but the images were sub-par. The camera's maximum resolution is 1600 x 1200 with with 4 lower resolutions available and 4 quality settings. There are plenty of other settings and effects including brightness, white balance, timer, metering mode 4 effects. The entire screen becomes the viewfinder and you can easily switch between modes (photo, caller ID photo, video, MMS video sports and framed photo). Image sharpness is decent but the colors tend to be washed out with incorrect white balance and resulting skewed colors.
Colors are much too warm.
Colors are washed out in this indoor shot, though white balance isn't bad.
The camcorder can shoot video with audio at unimpressive 176 x 144 and 128 x 96 resolutions with mono audio. It can save videos in MPEG4, H.263 and motion JPEG formats though applications like QuickTime and DivX couldn't open the videos (that's rare). The only app we found that could handle the videos was VLC. The camera/camcorder application can save files directly to a storage card and send them via MMS.
The Shadow is slim, very attractive and hip looking, something we don't often say about MS smartphones. It does a good job of bridging the gap between a sexy-looking feature phone with entertainment on board and a business-minded device. Power users will be happy to hear the full compliment of WinMo features are there and novices will find navigating features easier. Though the phone has just the basic 201MHz TI CPU, performance is good by MS smartphone standards (avoid having lots of apps running concurrently though). The screen is gorgeous and music capabilities are strong. We appreciate the inclusion of Microsoft Voice Command and the basic phone accessories that some carriers leave out-- stereo headset, headphone/charger splitter and leather case with belt clip. The SureType style keyboard isn't our cup of tea, but that's purely a matter of personal preference and what you're used to (we use full QWERTY devices).
Pro: Great looking, relatively small and well made. Great display, solid slider with hybrid keyboard. WiFi and Bluetooth 2.0 on board. Ample memory for running apps and storing programs. SDHC support.
Con: EDGE is slow by today's standards. Battery life is short. The Neo home screen theme makes it easy to do common tasks but it's not customizable. Speakerphone is annoyingly bad.
Web site: america.htc.com, www.t-mobile.com
Price: $149 after $50 mail in rebate with 2 year contract.
Display: 64K color transflective
TFT color LCD. Screen size diagonally: 2.6". Resolution:
240 x 320.
Battery: 920 mAh Lithium
Ion rechargeable. Battery is user replaceable.
Claimed talk time: up to 5 hours. Claimed standby: up to 6 days.
Performance: Texas Instruments 201MHz OMAP P850 processor. 256 megs flash ROM with 143 available and 128 megs RAM with ~70 megs free at boot.
Size: 2.05 x 4.06 x 0.59 inches. Weight: 5.3 ounces.
Phone: GSM quad band 850/900/1800/1900MHz bands with GPRS and EDGE for data. Locked to T-Mobile.
Camera: 2.0 megapixel with fixed-focus lens (no flash). Max photo resolution 1600 x 1200. Camcorder resolutions: 176 x 144 and 128 x 96.
in speaker, mic, speakerphone and HTC ExtUSB stereo headphone
jack. Voice Recorder and Windows Pocket Media Player 10 included for your MP3 and video playback pleasure.
WiFi 802.11b/g and Bluetooth 2.0.
Mobile 6 Standard Edition (Smartphone) operating system.
Microsoft Mobile Office suite with viewers for Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote documents, Internet
Explorer, and Outlook.
Instant Messenger client (AIM, Yahoo and ICQ), Windows Live, Windows Media Player
10, Solitaire, Bubble Breaker, Voice Recorder
as well as MS Voice Command 1.6 and speed dial. Additional applications:
Camera, Wireless Manager, Clear Storage (wipes
out all data and resets unit to factory defaults).
ActiveSync 4.5 and Outlook 2007 Trial for Windows.
microSD card slot, supports SDHC for cards 4 gigs and greater in capacity.
In the Box: Phone, battery, charger, USB cable, leather case with belt clip, stereo headset, splitter to plug headset and charger in simultaneously and software CD.