Noah's HTC Shadow review

Noah Kravitz
 from  Oakland, CA
| February 25, 2008

HTC Shadow

    What is Good: Shadow is a sleek slider with a custom interface and jog dial that make it easier to use than the average Windows Mobile smartphone.  The SureType keypad fits a QWERTY layout into the space of a regular numerical keypad but has larger buttons than the BlackBerry Pearl or Samsung Blast.  Built-in WiFi and myFaves compatibility.

What's Not Good: Not everyone will like Shadow's keypad.  Wider than most slider phones.  Less powerful than many smartphones.  No touchscreen.  EDGE is slow for Web browsing.

Bottom Line: If you?re looking for a smartphone in a sleek disguise, Shadow is an interesting choice.  Though it runs Windows Mobile, it's really more like a souped-up messaging phone than a smartphone.  The custom UI is a great touch.


  • Make/Model: HTC Shadow
  • Network: GSM Quad-Band
  • Data: EDGE and WiFi (802.11b/g)
  • Carrier: T-Mobile USA (Locked)
  • Size: 103 x 53 x 15 mm
  • Weight: 150 g
  • Form Factor: Slider
  • Display: 2.6? Color LCD, 240 x 320 (QVGA) Resolution, 65,000 Colors
  • Memory: 144MB built-in, microSD card slot
  • Notable Features: Windows Mobile 6 Standard OS with Custom User Interface; SureType QWERTY Keypad; Jog dial navigation wheel; myFaves compatible


I really liked testing out the HTC Shadow for T-Mobile but I?m not sure I?d want it for my daily phone.  How's that for a strong stance, huh?  In all seriousness, the Shadow is a great mix of smartphone features with a sleek sliderphone's body, and makes great use of a custom user interface developed to harness the power of the Windows Mobile 6 platform while masking much of its ugliness.  So it?d likely make a great handset for someone who wants a compact design with WiFi and a QWERTY keyboard onboard. 

Shadow's too much phone for a barebones user and not quite robust enough for a phone geek (like, ahem, me), but could find a nice niche with T-Mobile customers who want high-speed access to Web and Email features without the bulk of an HTC Wing or BlackBerry Curve.

Design & Features

HTC Shadow openAt first glance, Shadow looks like a slightly oversized version of almost any sliderphone currently on the market.  Shadow's is just a few millimeters longer and wider than a slider like Samsung's T819 (also for T-Mobile), and the extra size affords a roomy 2.6? color display and a SureType-style keypad.  The 20-button keypad puts two letters on most keys in a QWERTY arrangement, so it's sort of a compromise between the standard 12-button arrangement and a full typing thumbboard.  I found it pretty comfortable to use, thanks in large part to the roomy buttons, but it takes some getting used to and even then is something of a love/hate proposition.  Deft thumb texters would probably opt for a smaller handset with a regular dialing layout, and Email addicts won't be giving up their BlackBerry buttons for Shadow's SureType system anytime soon.  But there's probably a sweet spot for Shadow amongst folks who get frustrated trying to tap out messages on standard little cell phone buttons.  Success typing on Shadow also involves learning to trust the predictive text software, which worked pretty well for me.

I really liked the scrolling jog dial / navigational pad on the front of the handset.  The wheel can be scrolled and clicked like an iPod wheel to navigate through menus, and it can also be used as a four-way directional pad, as well.  The wheel is flanked by six buttons, and they?re all easy to get to and click.  Shadow also features a so-so two megapixel camera mounted on the back, and a microSD memory card slot so you can load up a bunch of music and movies to play back on the Windows Media Player software that's built in.

Usability & Performance

T-Mobile and HTC deserve a lot of credit for the work they did customizing Shadow's user interface.  Windows Mobile 6 is something of a beast to behold, and Shadow's top-level UI all but masks it from the average user's view.  The Shadow home screen features a vertical row of icons down the left side - scrolling through them gets you just about everywhere you?d want to go on the phone, from messaging options to WiFi and Bluetooth connectivity management.  Configuring HotSpot access and pairing with Bluetooth devices was a snap with Shadow.

It's easy to dig down to the standard WinMob menu scheme if you want to (and not all that hard to accidentally wind up there), but Shadow's custom UI is much easier to use, and this isn't a power user's smartphone.  For myFaves, Email/messaging, and Web browsing, the custom menu system will suit most Shadow users just fine.  Though Shadow isn't as powerful, hardware-wise, as current high-end smartphones, I didn't encounter any real performance issues while testing it.  Menus were generally responsive and as long as I didn't try to run more than two or three applications at once, Email, Web browsing, and media playback were all satisfactory.  As with any Windows Mobile handset, I highly recommend ditching IE and downloading Opera Mobile or Mini (or the new Torch Mobile browser) for your Web surfing. 

HTC Shadow keypadShadow performed quite well as a phone, grabbing a good signal and producing loud, clear sounds through both its earpiece and speakerphone.  The handset doesn't support T-Mobile's HotSpot@Home calling plans, but is myFaves compatible, and a recent software update adds support for ?Audio Postcards,? which so far as I can tell are just MMS messages with a fancy name. 

The built-in 2 MP camera captures video but lacks a flash of any sort, and performs about as well as most other mid-range cameraphones out there: It's not great, but it's fine in decent lighting.  HTC's proprietary headphone system is a bit annoying, but USB earbuds are included in the package and stereo Bluetooth support allows for wireless enjoyment of your multimedia - and while ?only? capable of 65,000 colors, Shadow's QVGA display performed pretty well during video playback.



I?m guessing that Shadow's keyboard will have a lot to do with how potential users take to this phone.  Shadow packs a nice feature set and a great UI into a cool little package, but it may prove to be a case of ?neither here nor there,? trapped between smaller, simpler low-end phones and larger devices with more email-friendly keypads.  True messaging addicts may well opt for one of T-Mobile's Sidekick devices or even the HTC Wing or BlackBerry Curve and their full QWERTY boards.

Still, HTC and T-Mobile are to be commended for the work they did packaging the power of a Windows Mobile smartphone in a consumer-friendly offering.  Shadow's size, style, and friendly, efficient user interface go a long way towards making advanced features like WiFi connectivity and integrated Email much easier for the non-geek to get a grasp on.  Shadow may wind up being a critics? favorite that struggles to win over customers, but it should serve as a sign of good things to come in the realm of user experience and industrial design on mobile devices.

HTC Shadow both

Products mentioned